FAIRMONT - Dental health is important for children - and adults - because it is an indicator of overall health, said Dr. Paul Carlson, DDS, with Carlson Dental Office, P.A.
"The habits of taking care of your mouth can translate to taking care of your overall health," Carlson said.
This is a good time to think about dental health because February is National Children's Dental Health Month, promoted by the American Dental Association.
Dental health starts with children brushing twice a day, Carlson said.
"Kids should be sure to brush after breakfast in the morning," Carlson said. "Certainly (brush) before they go to bed without eating any snacks before they go to bed."
It's a concern if kids eat breakfast at day care or school and don't brush afterwards, because the surface of the teeth need to be clean as long as possible to prevent decay.
Misinformation and bad habits can promote decay in teeth, setting kids up for a lifetime of health problems.
Sometimes people think little ones don't need to take care of their baby teeth because they will just fall out, but Carlson says that's not the case.
"Baby teeth are basically what hold the space and guide eruptions of permanent teeth," he said. "If kids are getting large decays or teeth out, eventually it can make it difficult for permanent teeth to erupt in the proper space."
Using a bottle to sooth kids to sleep is another bad idea.
"We see cavities in kids at 3 and 4 years old," Carlson said. "Parents have the tendency to let kids fall asleep with a baby bottle in their mouth," which results in tooth decay.
He knows of some kids as young as 3 or 4 years old who had decay so bad they had to go to a pediatric dentist and have oral surgery.
"The level of decay in kids has not gone down," Carlson said, even with the many tools dentistry has at its disposal.
The problem in part can be traced back to what kids eat, he said.
"Kids have more access to processed foods, pop, sports drinks," he said.
Those foods have more sugar and acid, which wear on the teeth.
"Acid softens enamel," Carlson said. "With soda, you make your mouth more acidic, and it softens the enamel. Even diet soda is high in acid content."
The way people drink can intensify damage.
"People will sip pop, and it will keep their mouths at acidy levels all day long," Carlson said.
Dentists have long known candy is bad for teeth, but now realize sour candy is extremely detrimental. Not only does the sour candy contain sugar, but acid as well.
"To get the sour aspect, it's an acid, like lemon is sour; lemon is an acid," Carlson said. "Plus, it's sticky, so kids are getting sugary, acidy candy that sticks to their teeth."
Prevention is the way to keep kids' teeth and bodies healthy, he said.
"Most dentists would like to see kids twice a year because they're going through so many changes in a short period of time," Carlson said.
The American Dental Association recommends X-rays once a year and fluoride twice a year up to age 16.
"We recommend 6-year-old and 12-year-old molars be sealed if warranted or needed," Carlson said. "Sealing fills in the grooves so food and plaque can't get caught in those grooves and cause cavities.
"For some kids, if they've had cavities, it's not a bad idea to add an over-the-counter mouth rinse - not to replace brushing, but in conjunction with it," Carlson said.
Parents can help by checking their little ones' brushing.
"They usually don't have the dexterity to get things done thoroughly," Carlson said.
Oral health is important because when a child's teeth are bad in bad shape, the child often feels bad.
"Kids can miss a lot of school because of tooth pain," Carlson said.
"Evidence (shows) infection in a tooth can affect the health of your body," he said.
Bad teeth and gums also can affect how and what a person eats.
"Kids, if they've got a sore tooth, may not eat the correct things they need to be healthy," Carlson said.
Digestion starts in the mouth with saliva, he explained, and problems with chewing can result in digestive problems.
Health care experts are "starting to use saliva as a detector for systemic problems," Carlson said, enabling earlier diagnosis of heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Taking care of your teeth adds up to lifelong health.
"A child doing a good job of good oral hygiene as they get older, just that aspect could influence how they take care of the rest of their body," Carlson said.
"The reality is your mouth is a part of your body," Carlson said. "If you keep your mouth clean, it will benefit your body."