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Vail Daily column: Early start equals a lifetime of healthy smiles

David J. Maloley
Special to the Daily
Vail, CO Colorado

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – There has never been a better time for children in America when it comes to finding excellent dental care. Today’s parents can easily arm themselves with all the tools and information they need to establish and maintain good oral hygiene habits in their children, beginning even before the very first tooth peeks through baby’s gums.

Despite all we know about proper dental care, tooth decay is on the rise among U.S. preschoolers. Three in 10 preschoolers between the ages of 2 and 5 years old are developing cavities in their baby teeth, an 11 percent increase from just a decade earlier, according to a recent National Center for Health Statistics study.

Early dental care requires parents to acknowledge the habits that can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. The goal is an early start teaching our children proper tooth and gum care, and allowing them to reap the benefits of a healthy smile as they grow older.

There are plenty of obvious culprits of tooth decay in youngsters: starchy foods and sugary drinks stir up enamel-eroding acids in the mouth for 20 minutes after consumption. Multiply those 20 minutes by every snack your child eats in a day and you will quickly see how vulnerable young teeth are to decay.

For babies taking juice, formula or milk from a bottle, the problem is compounded. When a baby is allowed to fall asleep with a bottle, the liquid pools in the mouth and can lead to serious decay in new teeth.

Tooth decay is an infection, and left unchecked it can lead to severe pain, tooth loss, speech problems and even malnutrition. The younger the child who suffers from tooth decay, the less able he or she will be to make a complaint known to their parents or caregivers. Many adults don’t realize that even toddlers can suffer from cavities, and sometimes the real problem is not addressed until severe infection and pain has already set in.

Children who have never seen the dentist or do not have access to dental care can be particularly vulnerable to tooth decay. Part of the outreach program at my practice, Vail Valley Dental Care, includes educating children in the classroom on proper tooth and gum care. In addition, Vail Valley Dental Care has provided free care to children and families in need, in conjunction with the American Dental Association’s “Give Kids a Smile” program.

With all the challenges faced by parents today when it comes to keeping their children’s teeth healthy, dentists, pediatricians and family practice physicians are increasingly working together to keep an eye on the dental health of their youngest patients, many of whom see their pediatrician or family doctor numerous times before setting foot in a dentist’s office.

Many physicians are now trained to notice early signs of tooth decay in children and, just as they refer their patients to specialists for ears, nose and throat troubles, vision problems or allergies, they are now referring children with early signs of tooth decay to the dentist.

But relying on the family physician is not the first line of defense. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children visit a dentist by their first birthday.

The good news is that tooth decay is preventable. Beginning with a newborn, parents can gently wipe the gums with a soft wet cloth after every feeding and avoid putting a baby down for a nap or the night with a bottle.

Parents can ask their dentist about appropriate brushes for little mouths, as well as the proper amount of toothpaste to use with each brushing. Your dentist can also apply preventative sealants to protect your child’s teeth from decay.

Once parent and child has established a good preventative program with their dentist, including a home care program that includes brushing and flossing, proper nutrition and fluoride guidance, a lifetime of healthy smiles can be looked forward to.

David Maloley is the owner of Vail Valley Dental Care in Avon. For more information call 970-949-3331 or visit http://www.vailvalleydentist.com.


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