(UNDATED) - It's Children's Dental Health Month and experts are reminding parents of the importance of teaching children healthy habits early.
"Our mouth is the gateway to our body," said Dr. John Clauss with Simply Dental in Fishers.
"There's a lot of research showing gum disease has a link to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, things like that, so it's not just our mouth that's affected it's our overall health," he said.
According to the American Dental Association it is never too early to start caring for your teeth. As with adult teeth and gums, your baby's teeth and gums should be cleaned. To familiarize
your baby with this, wipe his or her gums with a moist, soft cloth or piece of gauze after
As soon as the first tooth comes into place, start brushing with a soft-bristle toothbrush
designed for babies. Use water rather than a fluoride toothpaste for children younger
than 2 years, unless a health care professional recommends fluoride. Once the child is able to
spit, he or she may be ready to brush his or her own teeth by using a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste while you supervise.
Caries (tooth decay) can develop in a baby's teeth. For this reason, you should limit the
time during which teeth are exposed to drinks containing sugar--such as juice, formula or
even milk--which can encourage caries development.
Never put your child to bed with a bottle or "sippy" cup containing these liquids. Likewise,
don't dip your child's pacifier in honey or any other sweetener.
The American Dental Association recommends that you bring your baby to the dentist after the first tooth comes in and no later than the child's first birthday. This is known as a
"well-baby checkup." It allows your dentist to check for tooth decay and other things that may
affect the teeth, including habits such as thumb sucking. He or she also can show you how to
clean your baby's teeth properly.
Children should start seeing a dentist regularly when they are two or three years old unless there are obvious problems.
Dr. Clauss said many parents think baby teeth don't matter because children lose them anyway, but he said it's still essential to take care of them.
"The baby teeth do a couple of different things. They save space for the permanent teeth and also they're there to chew with, so if you don't fix a tooth it might be quite a few years before the permanent tooth moves in and that could lead to the child being in some discomfort," he said.
Brushing twice a day and flossing frequently are general rules of thumb. Brushing only removes about 65 percent of plaque and buildup on teeth, flossing can get to the rest of it, explained hygienist Holly Oden.
"You try to build life-long habits that start early, so if we can get the children to brush and learn to floss properly, that goes a long way toward their own oral health and the less amount of dental care they'll need in a lifetime," said Dr. Clauss.
Aside from brushing, diet plays a key role in oral health. The foods that pack the most powerful punch of damaging starch and sugar might surprise you.
Soda has always been a source of damaging sugar and staining syrup but sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade are also harmful to teeth, especially if children drink them while they're dehydrated when teeth will absorb more of the harmful sugars.
Food doesn't have to taste be sweet to cause damage. Salty snacks like chips and pretzels and starchy foods like pasta can cause cavities, too.
If you don't want to completely cut those foods from your family's diet, there are ways to minimize the effects. First, try to eat or drink the item in one sitting rather than sipping or snacking throughout the day. Try to brush after meals. If you can't brush, rinsing with water or chewing sugar-free gum can help cleanse teeth. Healthy alternatives to processed sugars include natural sources like fruits and vegetables.
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