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County out to better kids’ dental health

Citizen Staff Writer



It’s never too early to take care of your – or your children’s – teeth.

A new Web site on oral health and a grant-funded program for preschoolers are two tools the Pima County Health Department is using to improve dental care among the county’s youngest residents.

“The reality is, neglecting kids’ dental care is a form of neglect,” said Tucson dentist Brad Brumm, who is on the county health board. “Just because they close their lips and you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean it’s not there.”

Even a child’s first teeth need care.

“The biggest problem is we call them baby teeth,” said Margaret Perry, a registered dental hygienist who oversees the county’s oral health programs.

Both Perry and Brumm have heard adults say, “But the baby teeth are just going to fall out.”

“Cavities are communicable,” Brumm said. “They spread from one tooth to another. If you have cavities in your baby teeth, they are going to damage your adult teeth.”

Plus, baby teeth are place holders for adult teeth. If a child’s tooth gets so decayed that it has to be removed, it could ruin the placement of future teeth.

Brumm said starting at age 5, children have a mixture of adult and baby teeth.

Some baby teeth don’t fall out until age 11 or 12, Perry said.

The department’s Web site provides information on how to find a local dentist, the importance of fluoride, a question-and- answer section on bottled water and fluoride, and activities for children, including a downloadable brushing calender for kids.

The department’s Oral Health in Early Childhood Program aimed to teach youngsters oral health habits through their preschools.

Perry said a survey done during the first half of the three-year program found that 30 percent of preschoolers ages 0 to 5 had never seen a dentist, while 64 percent of those preschoolers either had current or treated dental decay.

Health department employees went into area preschools and helped teachers make teeth brushing a regular daily activity.

“At first the staff was resistant,” Perry said. “They would say, ‘Oh yeah, right, we are going to get 30 kids to brush their teeth.’ ”

However, once teeth brushing became part of the routine, the kids started to enjoy it, Perry said.

“For some of these kids, it may be the only brushing they get,” she said.

Children who were not introduced to teeth brushing at home often ended up asking their parents to buy toothbrushes so they could brush at home as well, Perry said.

The program reached more than 1,000 children in three years, Perry said. The initial grant funding will end this summer, but Perry said she hopes it will be renewed through a First Things First grant. First Things First, an initiative approved by voters in 2006, increased tobacco taxes to fund early childhood development and health care programs.

Brumm said parents are the most important factor in their children’s dental health.

“Telling your kid to brush their teeth isn’t enough,” he said. “You have to make sure the teeth are brushed and any teeth that touch together are flossed properly. Since most little kids can’t or won’t do it, especially the flossing, the parent has to. It isn’t negotiable. It has to be done, and it can be a struggle, especially at night when everyone’s tired.”

Parents, preschools targeted to improve kids’ dental health

Dental tips for parents

• Brush twice a day – once after breakfast and thoroughly right before bed. Floss any teeth that “touch together.”

• Start regular dental visits at age 2 or earlier.

• Give fluoride supplements daily. Tucson water isn’t fluoridated.

• Consider sealants – coatings dentists put on the chewing surfaces of permanent molars to prevent cavities.

Source: Dentist Brad Brumm

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