BRISTOL — The most common chronic childhood disease is dental decay. The good news is, it’s preventable! February is National Children’s Dental Health Month and the staff at Mid-State Health Center want to help improve the oral health of our community with some simple tips for you and your family.

According to the Partnership for Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives, there are “more than 16 million kids suffering from untreated tooth decay in the U.S.” This chronic condition “causes kids to miss 51 million school hours and their parents to lose 25 million work hours annually.” Tooth decay can lead to pain, sleep disturbances, difficulty eating, social anxiety, infection and possible long-term effects like tooth loss. Taking action to prevent dental decay can not only improve your child’s smile, but also impact their overall health and well-being.

Babies aren’t born with cavity-causing bacteria, they receive those germs from the saliva of their caregivers. Each time we share a spoon, or food, or place a pacifier in our mouths, we transmit our own oral bacteria to the baby. Caregivers should reduce saliva sharing to prevent transmission of germs and maintain healthy mouths by practicing good oral hygiene and keeping up with regular dental visits.

Preventing tooth decay starts with a thorough oral hygiene routine at home. Children need instruction and supervision to learn the basics of good oral health. Modeling good oral hygiene behavior, showing enthusiasm and helping them develop an oral health routine is very important. As early as possible, begin an oral hygiene routine with your children. From birth, wipe their gums with a soft, moist washcloth after feedings. As soon as teeth appear (usually between 6-10 month), brush with a child-sized toothbrush and small smear of toothpaste. Dental professionals agree you should brush your child’s teeth two times daily with fluoride toothpaste for two minutes using a soft-bristled toothbrush.

Many children need help brushing and, after taking their turn, should have their teeth brushed by an adult. Replace your child’s toothbrush every three months, and each time s/he gets sick. Do not rinse out with water or eat after brushing. We want the fluoride from the toothpaste to have time (at least 30 minutes) to work to strengthen the teeth. The early stages of tooth decay are reversible and fluoride acts to remineralize (or strengthen) tooth structure that has been weakened. The most important time to brush your child’s teeth is right before bedtime so that plaque does not sit on the teeth throughout the night. Flossing daily is also an important component of good oral health. Utilize flossers designed for children to help them develop their skills.

In addition to hygiene, nutrition plays a crucial role in oral health so it’s important to eat a healthy, balanced diet, avoiding sugary and acidic foods. Provide children with healthy snacks and avoid sippy cups filled with juice between meals. Encourage drinking water instead! Encourage the use of regular cups early and often. Do not put your baby to sleep with a bottle filled with juice or milk.

Another important piece of the oral health puzzle is visiting a dentist regularly. You should schedule your child’s first dental visit by their first birthday. Early detection of problems, preventative services like cleanings, and counseling from a dental provider can have profound impacts on a child’s oral health. During your child’s visits, ask about preventive treatments like fluoride varnishes and sealants.

We can all set a good example by showing enthusiasm for visiting our own dental providers and discussing dental visits in a positive way.

Our dental team at Mid-State Health Center in Bristol is happy to answer any questions you might have about your own or your children’s oral health. We are open Monday-Friday in Bristol and look forward to seeing you at your next dental visit! Please contact us at 744-6200 if you would like to come in to meet our dental providers Dr. Kelly Perry and Dr. Sunny Gaudet.

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