Healthy Living in the North

Baby teeth: Why they are important

Spirit mascot in front of poster

You can keep your child’s teeth healthy by brushing them in the morning and before bed, starting as soon as those teeth erupt. Use a little smear of toothpaste that has fluoride in it.

They eventually fall out and are collected by the tooth fairy anyways, so why are baby teeth so important?

Healthy baby teeth are important for many reasons:

  • Baby teeth hold the space for the replacement adult teeth.
  • Baby molars will not fall out until your child is about 12 years old.
  • Early loss of a baby tooth may cause the movement of the other teeth, possibly resulting in crowding or bite problems.
  • Baby teeth are important for appearance, proper chewing of foods, and speech.

But, since those baby teeth are not meant to last a lifetime, their outer covering (enamel) is not as thick or hard as the enamel on adult teeth. The enamel in the first 18 months after a tooth erupts is fragile and can decay very quickly.

Why does this matter? Just like in adults, tooth decay in our kids may cause pain, infection, difficulties chewing, problems sleeping or concentrating, and poor self-esteem. Tooth decay is largely preventable. Health care providers, child care providers, and parents can all work together to spread healthy messages regarding oral care and we can all model behaviours that can lead to a reduction in tooth decay and oral health problems.

You can keep your child’s teeth healthy by:

  • Brushing your child’s teeth in the morning and before bed, starting as soon as those teeth erupt. Use a little smear of toothpaste that has fluoride in it.
  • Do not put your child to bed with a bottle or, if you do, offer only water in the bottle.
  • Help your child to learn to drink from an open cup (not a sippy cup). This can be used for small sips of water starting at 6 months and for milk starting between 9-12 months.
  • Limit how often your child gets sticky, sugary foods and drinks. Children one year and older benefit from 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day. These should be spaced 2-3 hours apart. Choose a variety of healthy foods that do not stick to the teeth.
  • Make an appointment for your child’s first dental appointment by their first birthday or about 6 months after their first tooth erupts.
  • Lift your child’s upper lip once a month to check for any whitish marks on the teeth which may be the start of decay.
  • Avoid saliva sharing habits like using the same spoon.
  • Parents should have any decay treated to reduce the chances of passing on the cavity causing bacteria to their child.
Brenda Roseboom

About Brenda Roseboom

Brenda was born and raised in Terrace. She has worked in the community first as a certified dental assistant and then as a hygienist. After being in private practice for many years, she joined the Northern Health dental team in May of 2016. Brenda enjoys gardening, quilting, and many other crafting hobbies. The beauty of B.C. continues to amaze her and keeps her rooted in the north.

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The end game: What are your bold new ideas to reduce the harmful and costly effects of tobacco use?

Mascot with smoke-free spaces sign

The 2015 Canada Winter Games in Prince George were smoke-free! What are your bold ideas to contribute to tobacco-free communities?

You probably have a friend or family member who has experienced one or more of the debilitating diseases caused by smoking or chewing tobacco.

Tobacco use* remains the leading cause of premature death in Canada and kills over 37,000 Canadians every year. Tobacco kills half the people who use it and is also harmful to the people breathing second-hand smoke.

Although there has been a significant reduction in tobacco use over the last several decades, 15 per cent of Canadians still smoke. In our northern communities, the rate is over 20 per cent. Even though everyone knows that smoking or chewing tobacco hurts our bodies, over 100,000 Canadians start smoking daily every year. Most of these are youth.

We need a bold, new approach to reduce the use of this deadly product!

In partnership with all Canadians, the Government of Canada has set a goal to reduce the rate of tobacco use to five per cent by 2035. You can help make this happen! Is there something that you can do in your community to help youth stay tobacco-free or to help current tobacco users reduce or quit? Let the government know!

The Federal Tobacco Control Strategy ends March 2018. The Government of Canada is seeking input from interested Canadians to plan a new approach to radically reduce the use of tobacco in our country. Provide your feedback on the future of tobacco control in Canada. You can provide feedback by email or mail. Feedback must be received by April 13, 2017.

Contribute to helping Canadians to lead healthier, tobacco-free lives! Take part in the consultations on the future of tobacco control in Canada.


*In this story, as in most public health messages, “tobacco use” refers to the use of commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco as opposed to traditional uses of tobacco. Northern Health supports the cultural and ceremonial uses of tobacco and recognizes that the benefits of traditional uses can outweigh the potential harms.

Nancy Viney

About Nancy Viney

Nancy is a registered nurse working in Northern Health’s population health team. She often imagines a day when no one in northern British Columbia suffers from the harmful effects of tobacco. In her time off, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, especially her two little grandchildren! Nancy also enjoys quilting, knitting, crocheting and many other home spun crafts.

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Oral Health Month: Caring for the health of our children’s teeth!

Spirit the caribou entering fluoride varnish clinic

Brenda and her colleagues offer free dental assessments and fluoride varnish applications to children ages 0-6.

Most adults realize having strong, healthy teeth is important. But did you know that having healthy baby teeth is just as important? Childhood tooth decay may result in pain and infection. Pain impacts your child’s ability to chew, sleep, and concentrate at school. Active decay also increases the risk of cavities in adult (permanent) teeth.

The good news is childhood decay is very preventable, but it does require a few good daily habits such as daily brushing with a fluoride toothpaste and healthy feeding practices.

My Northern Health regional dental program colleagues and I work to educate parents and caregivers to prevent decay in children’s teeth. We offer oral health instruction, feeding tips, and fluoride varnish applications. We want to teach the public how the systemic use of water fluoridation improves the dental health of a community. Finally, we teach community partners and other health care providers prevention strategies to ensure that good dental messaging is being presented by all sorts of different people and different professions involved in the care of our children. Our partners are nurses, early childhood care providers, and parent groups – and our education helps to ensure that they have accurate dental messages to provide to their community.

For many families in our region, it isn’t always easy to access a dentist’s office. My colleagues and I in Northern Health’s dental program aim to encourage a family’s relationship with a dentist and support the parent or parents to make changes that can reduce the risk of tooth decay for their child. We offer free dental assessments and fluoride varnish applications to children ages 0-6. The fluoride varnish helps to stop or lessen tooth decay and is used by Northern Health to reduce the rate of childhood cavities.

Since joining the dental team in the spring of 2016, I have come to realize how great the needs concerning early childhood caries are. From 2010-2014, for example, 1,504 children in northern B.C. required treatment in hospital operating rooms for dental work. This is three times higher than the provincial average and uses valuable hospital time and resources.

I provide fluoride varnish clinics two times a month at the Terrace Health Unit and once a month at the Kitimat Health Centre. Come see me! In addition, I am available to do clinics at other locations and provide education for parent groups and caregivers. My greatest reward is being able to offer encouragement to those who need it, providing advice on changing a habit, or having a reluctant child get to the point where they can have a complete exam and any necessary dental work done in a dental office instead of in the hospital!

I hope that by sharing what I’ve learned and what I do with the dental team, I will motivate parents and those involved with caring for our children to value children’s dental health. Modelling good behaviours and providing daily brushing with a fluoride toothpaste can result in better dental and oral health for children.

Brenda Roseboom

About Brenda Roseboom

Brenda was born and raised in Terrace. She has worked in the community first as a certified dental assistant and then as a hygienist. After being in private practice for many years, she joined the Northern Health dental team in May of 2016. Brenda enjoys gardening, quilting, and many other crafting hobbies. The beauty of B.C. continues to amaze her and keeps her rooted in the north.

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Heart Month how-to: Heart attack recognition

Grandfather and granddaughter eating marshmallows.

Do you know the signs of a heart attack? Learn the signs today and take steps to ensure that your family can enjoy many more gatherings and BBQs together!

Imagine this: You are enjoying a BBQ at your grandparents’ home. Your grandmother is standing at the grill, serving up the burgers. When you approach with your plate, you can see she is sweating. It’s hot near the flames, so you don’t pay much attention.

You all sit down at the picnic table with your plates. Everyone is laughing and jostling, but your grandmother looks serious. She says she feels nauseous and lightheaded and wants to lie down.

Just then, your uncle goes over and puts his arm around your grandmother. He speaks quietly in her ear. You can see your grandmother nodding. Within minutes, your uncle is calling 9-1-1 and shortly after, the ambulance arrives. Your grandmother is fine, all because your uncle recognized the signs of a heart attack and knew what to do to help.

Heart attack – the medical term is acute myocardial infarction – occurs when the blood supply to the heart is interrupted. This can happen for different reasons, but it’s usually due to a blockage in one of the arteries in the heart. It’s a life threatening condition and needs immediate treatment.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the signs of a heart attack include:

  • Chest discomfort – pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain, burning, or heaviness
  • Sweating
  • Upper body discomfort – neck, jaw, shoulder, arms, back
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Light headedness

These signs may not show up suddenly or seem particularly severe, and different people experience these signs differently. In particular, men and women tend to have different symptoms. The woman in the story above, for instance, never experienced the chest or upper body discomfort so commonly associated with heart attack. This is why it is so important to know these signs and to act immediately if you or someone you know is experiencing any or all of them.

What do you do if you or someone you know has the signs of a heart attack? According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation:

  1. Call 9-1-1
  2. Stop all activity
  3. Take your normal dosage of nitroglycerin (if you take nitroglycerin)
  4. Take Aspirin if you are not allergic to it (either one 325 mg tablet or two 81 mg tablets)
  5. Rest and wait
  6. Keep a list of your medications with you

Knowing the signs of heart attack can help you and others get to treatment quickly and increase the chance of recovery.

If you would like more info about heart conditions such as heart attack, or are looking for prevention and treatment info, visit the BC Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Happy Heart Month!

Jess Place

About Jess Place

Jess Place is the regional manager of chronic diseases strategic planning and evaluation. She has worked in the fields of health, health human resources, and health services for over a decade. The Regional Chronic Diseases program helps northerners in the areas of chronic diseases. It promotes well-being, provides leadership, and operates (or supports the operation of) specialized services in the areas of cancer care, cardiac and stroke care, HIV and hepatitis C care, kidney care, and chronic pain care.

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10 tips for talking to kids about tobacco

Family walking in woods.

Talk to your kids about tobacco!

You can make a difference!

1. Don’t assume kids will learn all they need to know to be tobacco free at school and that you don’t need to get involved. Parents can help their kids to avoid the use of tobacco.

2. Let them know how you feel about tobacco use and help them develop the skills to say no to tobacco.

3. Kids do listen. They may feel a need to rebel at first but they will value the message, especially coming from you.

4. Make an emotional appeal – telling them how hurt or disappointed you would be by their smoking or chewing will have more impact than reasoning with them about the health dangers.

5. Know that peer pressure is often used as an excuse for tobacco use – it may provide an opportunity to start, but kids continue to smoke or chew for individual reasons.

6. Be a good role model – if you do smoke or chew, explain that you know it’s wrong and ask them to help you quit. If you aren’t ready to quit, share the reasons why you started, how hard it’s been to quit, and how you don’t want them to struggle with the same addiction you have.

7. Encourage your children to never try tobacco. It may only take a few cigarettes to become addicted. Instead, encourage them to develop healthy lifestyles and avoid the use of tobacco.

8. Have extended family support to keep kids tobacco free – often older siblings or other relatives introduce them to smoking or chewing.

9. Don’t believe that smoking or chewing is safer than “something else” – most kids are at real and greater risk from tobacco use than from other dangers. Research shows smoking is a gateway to other drug use.

10. It’s never too late to intervene. Kids are flexible and they can change for the right reasons.


In this article, as in most public health messaging, “tobacco” is short for commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Using these is highly addictive and is a leading cause of disease and premature death. However, Northern Health recognizes that natural tobacco has been an integral part of many Indigenous cultures in B.C. for thousands of years. Traditional uses of tobacco in ritual, ceremony, and prayer is entirely different from smoking or chewing commercial tobacco. Northern Health supports the cultural and ceremonial uses of tobacco and recognizes that the benefits of traditional uses can outweigh the potential harms.

Nancy Viney

About Nancy Viney

Nancy is a registered nurse working in Northern Health’s population health team. She often imagines a day when no one in northern British Columbia suffers from the harmful effects of tobacco. In her time off, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, especially her two little grandchildren! Nancy also enjoys quilting, knitting, crocheting and many other home spun crafts.

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What are your reasons to quit?

Do you smoke cigarettes or chew tobacco? Everyone knows that smoking cigarettes or chewing tobacco is bad for your health. Are you wishing that you never started? Do you hope that your kids never start?

You are probably planning to quit someday. Why not make it today!

Do you like top 10 lists? Write your own reasons to quit or, if you need to be inspired, here are 10 reasons to quit smoking now:

  1. My health will improve within eight hours of my last cigarette.
  2. I can stop worrying about how smoking is hurting my health. I will lower my chances of getting cancer, heart disease, lung disease and other disabling diseases. I will also look younger.
  3. It’s cold outside. I won’t have to go outside in nasty weather to smoke or buy cigarettes.
  4. I will save money!
  5. My clothes, house and car won’t smell like smoke.
  6. I won’t have to live with the constant cravings to smoke or chew once I have quit.
  7. I will feel more in control of my life.

    There are many resources available for you to quit smoking today!

  8. Smoking isn’t cool anymore.
  9. I will no longer expose my friends and family to the harmful effects of second hand smoke.
  10. I will help prevent my kids from getting addicted to cigarettes or chewing tobacco.

Want more information about quitting smoking?

Visit quitnow.ca or call HealthLink 8-1-1 for free self-directed programs and many helpful tools and resources. Get free counselling by phone, text or email.

You can access free nicotine patches, gum, lozenges or inhalers through the BC Smoking Cessation Program by visiting your pharmacist. You may be eligible for prescription smoking cessation drugs at reduced cost.

Quitting smoking or chewing tobacco is the best thing you can do for your health.

Nancy Viney

About Nancy Viney

Nancy is a registered nurse working in Northern Health’s population health team. She often imagines a day when no one in northern British Columbia suffers from the harmful effects of tobacco. In her time off, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, especially her two little grandchildren! Nancy also enjoys quilting, knitting, crocheting and many other home spun crafts.

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It’s always a good choice to stop smoking, no matter how old you are

Are you a senior who smokes? Do you know or love a senior who smokes?

grandfather walking with grandchild

Quitting helps reduce your family’s exposure to second hand smoke

Smoking is hard to give up at any age, but it can seem even more challenging for those who have smoked for decades. Seniors may think that there is no point in quitting since they have smoked for so long that it won’t make any difference. They may also believe that if they haven’t had any negative health effects yet, they never will. Many seniors grew up in an era when there was no research to support the ill effects of smoking. That has changed!

The fact is smoking is directly responsible for the majority of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease cases. Smoking also plays a huge role in lung cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke and lower respiratory tract infections.

There are additional health and financial issues for seniors who smoke:

  • Bone fractures occur in more seniors who smoke than those who do not.
  • Women who smoke may have an overall reduced bone density after menopause. This can lead to developing osteoporosis or l bone breaks and fractures.
  • Smoking in old age has been linked to macular degeneration, diabetes, colorectal cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and many other health disorders.
  • Quitting smoking will save money. Seniors will also save on home and life insurance, as well as health plans.

There is help available and the benefits of quitting smoking are dramatic and immediate for seniors, too!
Contact your pharmacist for 12 weeks of free smoking cessation products. You can obtain patches, gum, lozenges and inhalers.

For more information visit quitnow.ca

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“My whole life changed the day I started to smoke”

no smoking symbol

For many smokers addiction starts at a young age

“Hey, when did you start?” Bryan looks up. “When I was 13-I’m 20 now and I’m hooked.”

As we acknowledge National Non Smoking Week this week, our attention turns to youth. Nearly all tobacco use* begins during youth and progresses during young adulthood, according to the 2014 US Surgeon General Report.

What does Bryan want to say to kids who are smoking or thinking about trying it?

“Hey, that’s easy. Don’t do it. Just don’t. I’ve spent a ton of money on cigarettes. They stink. I can’t get apartments because I smoke, can’t get jobs, heck, I can’t get a girlfriend! I thought when I started I could stop whenever I wanted. I didn’t get the fact that nicotine is addictive. It controls me, I can’t control it. I was cut from the hockey team my senior year because smoking affected my ability to play the game. When I stopped playing hockey, I also was cut out from a lot of my friends. My whole life changed the day I started to smoke. I wish I knew how addictive smoking was.”

Help teens choose to say no to tobacco use. Help them be tobacco free for life. Choose now!

If you know a teen who uses tobacco, help them: tell them about QuitNow services and the BC Smoking Cessation Program. They can access free counselling by phone, text or email and free nicotine patches, gum, lozenges or inhalers.


*In this blog post and in most public health messaging, ‘tobacco’ is short for commercial tobacco products like cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Using these is highly addictive and a leading cause of disease and premature death. However, Northern Health recognizes that natural tobacco has been an integral part of many Indigenous cultures in BC for thousands of years. Traditional uses of tobacco in ritual, ceremony, and prayer is entirely different from smoking or chewing commercial tobacco. Northern Health supports the cultural and ceremonial uses of tobacco and recognizes that the benefits of traditional uses can outweigh the potential harms.

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Taking steps to improve air quality – it all adds up!

As part of our clean air contest, we asked for photos showing why clean air is important to you. Here's a beautiful blue mountain sky that one participant submitted!

As part of our clean air contest, we asked for photos showing why clean air is important to you. Here’s a beautiful blue mountain sky that one participant submitted!

Our clean air contest is nearly done (there’s still time to enter!) and, above all else, one thing is clear: northerners are passionate about air quality!

There’s still time to enter the contest. To help inspire you, here are just a few of the entries we’ve received when we asked what steps you take to reduce the amount of smoke or pollution you or your family create!

For many people, a desire to reduce smoke and pollution has changed the way they use their vehicle:

  • Many of you shared that you walk or bike instead of driving when possible. In Prince George, one participant shared that this can have a double healthy impact: “I walk to work so I get exercise and I help reduce emissions.”
  • In Burns Lake, another shared: “We reduce pollution by trying our best to carpool, as we live in a rural area, and limit our trips to and from town.”
  • In the northwest, there were a few different travel tips, including: “Walk to work … maintain our vehicles with up to date oil and air filter changes … we don’t idle our vehicles for extended periods of time.”
  • Vehicle maintenance was important in Chetwynd, too, with one person sharing that “We clean our vehicles weekly to wash off the salt and road dirt.”

Some people have taken steps to improve air quality in their home, including:

  • Practicing safe wood burning (“We only burn seasoned dry wood in our woodstove.”) or looking into alternatives to heating with wood (“Not using our fireplace other than in emergency situations such as power outages.”)
  • Some of you prefer the coziness of sweaters! (“Although we have electric heat as opposed to gas or fire, we still layer up with socks, slippers, and other warm clothes before turning the heat up.”)
  • Many of you appreciated the role of indoor and outdoor plants (“We have indoor plants and try to cultivate bee-friendly plants outdoors.”) and shared that keeping your home clean and free of allergens and dust helped you improve air quality there.

It was also wonderful to read about so many people who have quit smoking and who mentioned air quality as one of the reasons that ultimately influenced their decision to quit! If you need support to quit smoking, visit QuitNow.ca. Learn more about the benefits of quitting elsewhere on the blog.

We received so many great tips. I’m excited to keep sharing them so please keep them coming! Submit your stories and tips for your chance to win a great prize!

Improving air quality involves many different people and sectors but remember, it all adds up!

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog.

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Air quality in the north

Landscape with mountains in background

The air we breathe has a significant impact on our health – beyond just our lungs! (Photo by Northern Health staff member Molly McRae)

Working in Public Health Protection has been rewarding. Whether it’s speaking to a mother about the cause of her baby’s stomach bug or teaching a food safety class to local food service workers, I’ve appreciated being part of the upstream efforts to prevent illness.

Now that I’m a parent to two small children and having just lost my mother to cancer, these efforts seem even more personal. Many of the choices we make each day can impact our exposures to infections and environmental contaminants. The personal care products we use, the food and water we consume, the lakes we swim in, the air we breathe – all of these can impact our health.

Recently, in my new role as Health and Resource Development Technical Advisor, I have been focusing a lot of my time on air quality.

Air quality in northern B.C.

I’ve learned a lot about air quality in the last 6 months, particularly about the amazing northerners committed to improving our air quality!

Here’s a quick sample of what I’ve learned since June – information that I think is important to share!

  • Did you know that in northern B.C., we have three very active community roundtables where stakeholders meet and tackle difficult air quality issues in their respective communities?
  • There are also air quality steering committees for the purposes of information exchange and health promotion activities.
  • There are passionate and talented scientists right here in B.C. researching what impacts our air and how this affects our health.
  • The health effects of poor air quality extend much more broadly than we’ve traditionally understood. In fact, the theme for the last BC Lung Association Air Quality and Health Workshop was “Beyond the Heart and Lungs“. Air pollution contributes negatively to many lifelong health conditions and even small improvements in air quality can have significant positive health impacts.
  • Smoke is of particular concern in the north. Why? Because it contains tiny particles called particulate matter (PM), and a large range of harmful compounds — the normal by-products of combustion. It may also contain small amounts of other proven and suspected cancer causing agents.
  • There are many sources of smoke in our airsheds and the most notable source is due to the increasing intensity and severity of wildfires in the summer.
  • I was surprised to learn, though, that air quality can be severely impacted in the winter months as well. I grew up in a home where we used both forced air and wood heat. It felt completely natural to sit in front of the woodstove to warm my toes and I have a fond association between the smell of creosote and my grandparents’ log home! Fast forward to today and I’m learning all about the harmful effects of wood smoke on the local airshed.

What can I do?

A couple ways we can reduce our impacts in the north is to only burn when absolutely necessary and to use efficient and clean burning practices. Learning about air quality is key, too! I’ve had the opportunity over the last few months to work on some key messages related to responsible wood burning to increase air quality awareness across northern B.C. You can find some of that information and more resources on Twitter, Facebook, and on Northern Health’s air quality site.

The local air quality groups in our region also have some great resources on their websites:

Finally, don’t miss the USEPA site for great information on burning and air quality.

Let’s take these steps so our families and neighbours can breathe easy!

Share your clean air tips and stories

How do you or your family reduce smoke or particulate matter during the cooler winter months? We want to read and share your stories about efficient or clean burning practices, alternatives to burning, and other strategies we can all use to minimize the smoke or particulate matter in our air.

Share your stories and tips with us this season for your chance to win a great prize! You’ll also have the chance to tell us why clean air matters to you!

Enter the contest today!

Paula Tait

About Paula Tait

Paula works in Prince George as a Health and Resource Development Technical Advisor, working collaboratively to assess and minimize health impacts related to industrial development. Born and raised in Terrace, she completed her schooling in Edmonton, and started her environmental health career in southeast Saskatchewan in 2005. She has been back in northern B.C. since 2010. Paula enjoys being creative, listening to music, and spending time with family and friends.

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