Employee & Community Health

A lifelong healthy smile starts with early care

1/16/2017 by Dr. Valeria Cristiani

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Tooth decay is the most chronic childhood disease, affecting 50 percent of U.S. first graders. It's also 100% preventable. Regular oral care, starting when your child's first tooth emerges, will build the foundation for a healthy smile that lasts a lifetime. 

Even though these are "baby" teeth, it's still important to care for them to protect your child from cavities and pain. Diseased teeth can affect how children talk, eat and even learn. A healthy smile starts with brushing. 

  • Brush teeth twice a day after the first tooth. For children three and younger, use a toothbrush with a smear of fluoride toothpaste about the size of a grain of rice. After age three, increase the amount of toothpaste to pea-size. 
  • Up until about age six, parents will need to help their children with brushing.

But brushing is just the start. A healthy smile also needs: 

  • Healthy eating habits. Encourage eating lots of fruits and veggies, little or no sugary foods or drinks and less-processed food. These same habits will also help prevent obesity. 
  • Plenty of water. Water is good for every part of our body and our teeth are no exception. Fluoridated water is the best, because the fluoridation helps strengthen teeth. Well water needs to be tested for fluoride to know if it is good for your teeth. Keep in mind that bottled water is only fluoridated it it's spelled out on the label. 
  • Regular dental checkups and care. Take your child to the dentist after the first tooth emerges or by their first birthday. 
  • Fluoride varnish. When your child comes to Employee and Community Health's (ECH) well-child visit, their doctor or nurse practitioner now can apply fluoride varnish to their teeth to prevent cavities. A tiny amount of bubblegum-flavored varnish is painted on each tooth. It dries right away, but brushing isn't recommended until the next day. 

Many children have never been to the dentist and are suffering from untreated dental issues. To help with this problem, dental clinics nationwide in Minnesota offer free dental care at Give Kids a Smile events. These will be held February 3 and 4, 2017. Appointments in Olmsted County can be made starting January 1. To find a list of participating clinics, visit the Minnesota Dental Association's website or call United Way 2-1-1. 

For a lifelong healthy smile, start the New Year off with a dental checkup, tooth varnishing and healthy eating!

Dr. Valeria Cristiani is a pediatrician with Employee and Community Health's (ECH) Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. She co-chairs Olmsted County Children's Oral Health.