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Topics > Healthy Outlook > Dental Care Can Prevent Trouble at School

Dental Care Can Prevent Trouble at School

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Sat, Feb. 07, 2004
By Lynn Pilant

MARIE WASN'T DOING well in school. The 7-year-old girl rarely talked. She missed school a lot and seldom smiled. Her parents and teacher were concerned about her, but they weren't sure what the problem was.

Fortunately, a visit to her school by a mobile dental van, which screens children for dental diseases, revealed what was wrong. She was suffering from many cavities and had a severe oral infection. When the teacher asked why she hadn't told her mother she had a toothache, Marie said she knew her mother had enough worries, and her toothache didn't seem that important.

Marie attends school in East Contra Costa and hers is not an isolated case. All across Contra Costa County, there are children like Marie who suffer from undetected dental disease that can lead to serious infection, poor performance in school and chronic pain. Marie's mother and teacher didn't realize her learning problems might be related to tooth and gum disease.

In screening programs conducted by Contra Costa Health Services' Oral Health program, two of every three children needed oral health treatment. That's a lot of youngsters with a problem that is preventable.

February is Children's Dental Health Month, and it's a good time to take a look at what causes children's oral health problems. For children under 8 or 9, not having enough fluoride in their diet means their teeth won't develop with the extra protection that fluoride provides. Some parts of Contra Costa County, such as Brentwood, Byron, Knightsen and Bay Point, have nonfluoridated tap water, which can increase the risk of dental caries (cavities). Some children drink nonfluoridated bottled water. Rarely, too much fluoride can also cause problems, so talk to your doctor or dentist about this if you are concerned.

For young children, the problem can be their baby bottle and what's in it. Infants who suck for long periods of time on baby bottles containing fruit juices, formula or other sugary drinks are at high risk for early-childhood cavities. Sucking a bottle in bed, without the head propped up, can increase the risk of ear infections. If a bottle is necessary, wipe the infant's teeth with a damp towel before bedtime, and use plain water in the bottle if possible. This can be a difficult adjustment at first, but reading a bedtime story, giving the child a special stuffed animal or doll or rubbing the child's back until the child falls asleep can help.

All children should get a yearly dental checkup starting at age 1 (yes, before their second birthday) even if they don't complain of tooth problems and their teeth appear normal. Wipe an infant's teeth with a soft damp cloth after feeding, teach children how to brush their teeth and encourage them to brush at least twice a day and minimize candy and sugared beverages.

Helping children take care of their teeth can help more than their smile. Ask your dentist or pediatrician about your child's dental health. Here are some resources if you don't have a doctor or dentist: Lynn Pilant at 925-313-6163; Denti-Cal, toll free at 800-322-6384; or the Child Health and Disability Prevention Program at 925-313-6150.

Lynn Pilant is the manager of Contra Costa Health Services' Children's Dental Health program.

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