Decline in children's oral health prompts statewide campaign

Dentists, physicians and oral health professionals are raising renewed concerns about the increasing rate of oral disease in Washington's children.

Washington Dental Service Foundation, along with Seattle Children's Hospital and Spokane's Sacred Heart Children's Hospital, urge parents to have their baby's teeth checked by a dentist or a physician by the child's first birthday.

"When it comes to health, we need to stop separating

the mouth from the body," said Dr. Irene Hunter, a dentist in Olympia and chairman of Washington Dental Service Foundation.

"Baby teeth are essential for an infant who will soon be developing language skills and chewing food."

Since 2002, experts including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry have recommended that as soon as a baby's first tooth comes in, usually between 6 and 12 months of age, parents should have their baby's mouth checked.

Already the most common chronic childhood disease in the U.S., oral disease rates among young children in Washington are increasing and, in some cases, are higher than the national average.

Besides spotting potential problems, early screenings provide an opportunity to give parents tips on how to take care of their baby's mouth.

For example, many parents don't know how to clean their baby's teeth or that putting a baby to bed with a bottle of milk can lead to significant tooth decay.

"Dental disease can be prevented and it is important to start early," said Laura Smith, president and CEO of the Washington Dental Service Foundation.

Additional steps parents can follow to protect their child's baby teeth include:

_ Beginning at birth, wipe the baby's gums with a washcloth or piece of gauze after feeding.

_ Brush the baby's teeth with a soft toothbrush as soon as the first tooth appears, usually around 6 months.

_ Use a rice-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. Resting the child's head in your lap makes it easier to brush their teeth.

_ Avoid constant snacking on sticky or starchy foods or sipping sweet liquids throughout the day.

_ Choose healthy snacks such as cheese, fruits or vegetables. Avoid snacks that are sugary, starchy or sticky.

_ If you put your baby to bed with a bottle, fill it with water.

_ Ask your physician or dentist about fluoride varnish, a quick and effective way to help prevent cavities and even reverse early decay.

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