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Article updated: 1/30/2014 4:22 PM

Health dept. urges parents to protect kids' teeth during National Children's Dental Health Month

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By Lake County Health Department

In conjunction with National Children's Dental Health Month in February, the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center is urging parents to help protect their children's teeth. Tooth decay is a common, preventable problem yet more than a quarter of U.S. children, ages 2 through 5, and half of youths aged 12 to 15 are experiencing tooth decay.

"Establishing good dental habits and having regular dental checkups at a young age carries over into adulthood," said Dr. Omar T. Cockey, Dental Director for the Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center. "Those prevention efforts will pay off in fewer cavities, less tooth pain, fewer days missed from school and overall better health."

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To protect children's teeth, the Health Department recommends the following:

• Infants up to age 2 should not be allowed to go to sleep with a bottle of milk or other liquid (other than water), which promotes tooth decay. Clean an infant's mouth with a soft cloth or infant toothbrush.

• A child's first visit to the dentist should be before his or her first birthday. Parents should bring in their children every six months after that.

• Children's teeth should be brushed twice a day. That includes children age 2 to 5 years old.

• Children can usually floss their own teeth when they reach fourth grade. Prior to that, parents can floss their kids' teeth using a special fork-shaped tool.

• Use fluoridated toothpaste (make sure the ingredients include fluoride).

• Make sure that fluoride is in your drinking water. For those who are on a private well, the water should be tested to determine the natural level of fluoride. If that level is too low, fluoride tablets can be added.

• Consider having your dentist or health care provider apply a fluoride varnish to the teeth to prevent decay.

• Children should avoid large amounts of sweets.

• All children should avoid carbonated drinks, which are bad for the teeth.

• Have a dentist apply a dental sealant on the first molars of 6- and 7-year-olds. This protects the top of the tooth from decay. It is also good to have sealants placed when children are 12 to 13 years of age on their second molars.

• School age children, in addition to brushing and flossing, should chew gum with xylitol, a "tooth-friendly" sugar-free sweetener.

• If your child participates in sports, protect the teeth with a mouth guard.

The Lake County Health Department/Community Health Center maintains five dental clinics in Waukegan (on Belvidere Road and on Grand Avenue), Round Lake Beach, North Chicago and Highland Park for all age groups. Services are based on a sliding fee scale. Public aid is accepted. While LCHD/CHC provides access to services without regard for a person's ability to pay, services are not free. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call the Health Department at: (847) 377-8410 or visit: http://www.lakecountyil.gov/Health/want/Dental.htm.

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