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Tooth Decay prevention starts early


March 24, 2016

Contact:  Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936

                Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391


Health officials say tooth decay prevention starts early


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number one chronic disease among children is tooth decay, Montana state health officials said today.

In fact, 2 out of 3 children (65 percent) in Montana have at least one cavity by third grade, compared to the national rate of 52 percent.

“The good news is that tooth decay is preventable,” said Tonette Hollingsworth, Oral Health Program Coordinator for the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS).

Hollingsworth said the key is early prevention, even before a baby is born. Despite what some believe, evidence shows that oral health care during pregnancy for women is safe and recommended to reduce the bad bacteria that can be passed from the mother to child, improving dental and overall health. 

“Prevention starts during pregnancy, and then just continues from there,” Hollingsworth said. “During pregnancy, mothers should seek regular preventive dental care to reduce the risk of infecting their baby with decay-causing germs.”

Hollingsworth suggests that after a baby is born, parents begin wiping gums with a cloth and brushing teeth to establish good habits. Also, children should see a dentist by age 1 to assess risk and prevent decay.

Parent’s dental health is a good predictor of a child’s future dental health. Hollingsworth adds that parents should also avoid sharing utensils or putting a baby's pacifier in their mouth. These sharing behaviors can pass decay-causing germs from parents to children.  Hollingsworth also notes that baby teeth are important in self-esteem, nutrition and speech development for young children, so it’s important to keep them as healthy as possible.

According to Helena pediatric dentist Dr. Kevin Rencher, parents are encouraged to play an active role helping their child establish healthy habits right from the start that will carry through their lifetime. “It is so important that we instill in our children good oral habits right away to avoid problems down the road,” he said. 

Another key is making sure a child receives adequate fluoride during early childhood to prevent tooth decay by using a smear of fluoride toothpaste during brushing, drinking tap water, and asking about fluoride during medical and dental visits.  Fluoride helps protect teeth from tooth decay and can be applied by dental or medical providers during early childhood to promote prevention.

To keep informed about this and other public health topics, consider subscribing to DPHHS Health in the 406 messages by going to www.healthinthe406.mt.gov

March message – Health in the 406 – Focus on Oral Health