2013-02-21 / Lifestyles

Area clinic offers tips to prevent tooth decay

Children advised not to sip, snack all day

ENGADINE – The American Dental Association has designated February as National Children’s Dental Health Month, and dental care professionals across the nation are taking the opportunity to help parents safeguard their children’s oral health.

Ellen Moilanen, a dental hygienist at West Mackinac Dental Clinic in Engadine, provides oral health education to elementary and middle school-aged students at schools across the U.P. as part of the “Seal! Michigan” program. Engadine Consolidated Schools in Engadine, and Three Lakes Academy in Curtis, are among the schools Moilanen has visited since she began coordinating the program in 2011.

Along with emphasizing the importance of daily brushing and flossing, Moilanen teaches children to avoid frequent consumption of food and drinks high in sugar and starches.

“A steady diet of sugary foods and drinks can ruin the teeth, especially among those who snack throughout the day,” she said. “People of all ages should avoid ‘grazing’ habitually on foods with low nutritional value and frequently sipping on sugary drinks.”

She notes that when sugar is consumed over and over again, whether in food or beverages, the harmful effect on teeth can be dramatic. Sugar on tooth surfaces provides fuel for bacteria, which produce acid. That acid can eat away the enamel on teeth.

Moilanen said that some foods containing natural sugar offer important nutrients and add enjoyment to eating. However, these foods still pose a risk for tooth decay if consumed frequently throughout the day.

“Many starches turn to sugar in the mouth. Starches can be found in everything from bread to pretzels to salad dressing, so read labels and plan carefully for a balanced, nutritious diet for you and your kids,” she said.

The following are tips to reduce the risk of childhood tooth decay:

-If you choose sugary foods and drinks they should be consumed with meals. Saliva production increases during meals and helps neutralize acid production and rinse food particles from the mouth.

-Limit between-meal snacks. If children crave a snack, offer them nutritious foods.

-“Fresh vegetables, fruits and low-fat meats and low-fat dairy products are good options for snacks. They offer good nutrition and most are much less likely to contribute to tooth decay,” Moilanen said.

-If your kids chew gum, make it sugarless. Chewing sugarless gum after eating can increase saliva flow and help wash out food and decay-producing acid.

-Monitor beverage consumption. Instead of soft drinks, milk or juice all day, children should choose water.

-Help your children develop good brushing and flossing habits.

-Schedule regular dental visits.

Along with oral health education, the Seal! Michigan program offers parents the opportunity for their children to receive dental screenings, and have fluoride varnish and sealants applied at school.

These services are offered to first, second, sixth and seventh graders and are free to the families.

For more information about Seal! Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov. The West Mackinac Dental Clinic is part of the federally qualified health center known as the U.P. Association of Rural Health Services, Inc. Visit www.upruralhealth.org for more information.

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