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TEETH   Do you know which is the most common nutritional disease of childhood? It is tooth decay. There are many things you can do to prevent problems of the gums and teeth.

We develop two sets of teeth. The first set, called the primary teeth, start to come in by about seven months of age. Teething symptoms usually occurs a month or two before the first tooth comes in. Symptoms of teething may include irritability & restlessness. There may be a very low grade temperature or loose bowel movements. Many children gnaw on hands or toys. A cool teething ring or clean washcloth to chew on may make sore gums feel better. Tylenol and teething biscuits primary teeth may also help. There are 20 primary teeth and they are all through the gum by 36 months of age. The figure to the right illustrates the age each primary tooth appears.

Primary teeth are very important. They help your child chew food for better digestion and good nutrition. They help round out the shape of the face and give your child a nice smile. They help your child form sounds and words when learning to talk. They save space in the jaw so permanent teeth grow in the right place.

There are 32 permanent teeth. These teeth first appear around age six or seven years old. The first teeth to come in are the central incisors and the six year molars. A permanent tooth replaces each primary tooth until the age of twelve or thirteen years old. The picture below illustrates the age each permanent tooth appears. permanent teeth

It is very important to teach your children how to take care of both their primary and permanent teeth. At first, clean your baby's teeth and mouth with a damp washcloth. Putting your baby to bed with a bottle or while at the breast can cause damage to their teeth. Milk or juice coats your child's teeth and eventually causes cavities. Don't use bottles and breasts as pacifiers. If your child must have a bottle at bedtime, fill it with water. Children are ready for a full dental examination by 3 years of age. At that time, the dentist will clean your child's teeth and you will receive dental health care information. As soon as teeth are touching each other, flossing your child's teeth once a day is important to prevent plaque buildup. Flossing should be a regular part of your child's dental hygiene. Children do need supervision and help brushing their teeth until they are about 8 years old. Then let them floss and brush their teeth twice a day.

Smart eating habits are another way to prevent plaque buildup and cavities. Avoid foods and drinks with a lot of sugar. Snacking is especially bad for children's teeth. The problem with snacking is that children don't usually brush their teeth afterwards. A snack such as raisins is bad because they are high in sugar and stick to the teeth. To minimize your children's sugar intake, have them snack on raw vegetables. Remember that there is an increased risk of choking hazards until a child reaches 3 years of age. If your child does have sweets, you should give it to him right after a meal. This is because teeth cleaning should always follow meals.

A natural safeguard against cavities is fluoride. A trace element found in most food and municipal water supplies, fluoride helps teeth resist dental decay. As a public health measure, most communities fluoridate their water to an optimal level to provide this protection. Children who have consumed fluoridated water since birth have had up to 65% fewer cavities than those children not consuming fluoridated water. To find out if your water is fluoridated, ask me, your dentist, or local health department. I can prescribe fluoridated vitamins for your child.

Another treatment to reduce cavities is dental sealants. Your dentist applies a thin plastic coating to the chewing surface and grooves of back teeth. Sealants protect children when they are most prone to cavities. Sealants last up to 5 years. Studies show that sealants can reduce tooth decay by as much as 90%-100%. A trip to the dentist's office doesn't have to be an unpleasant experience. Parent's anxieties about going to the dentist are often unconsciously transmitted to their children. Prepare your child for a visit to the dentist in a positive way. Tell them that going to the dentist is a part of growing up; it's something everyone does. Assure your child that the dentist is a nice doctor who will keep them healthy.

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