Healthy Living in the North

A lifetime of healthy smiles

Did you know that tooth decay is the third most common disease in Canada? And that four in 1000 children require dental treatment in hospital operating rooms? Not only that, but dental caries (cavities) interferes with a child’s ability to eat, sleep and thrive.

The good news is that dental caries is a preventable disease! Simple changes to you and your child’s diet and dental health behaviour can have a great impact on the development of a healthy mouth and a bright smile. Oral Health Month is a great time to start these changes!

Display with food photos

There are some foods that seem to protect against tooth decay, including hard cheeses like cheddar and mozzarella, nuts, meats, fish, poultry, and eggs.

What can you do?

  • Take care of your own dental needs. Decay-causing bacteria can be spread from person to person so brush and floss daily and have the dentist remove active decay. Limit passing bacteria to infants by not sharing toothbrushes or cutlery and by not licking soothers to clean them.
  • Once teeth appear, brush your child’s teeth twice daily with a rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Don’t rush your brush! Starting at one point, slowly work your way around the entire mouth until the fronts, backs, and chewing surfaces of both the upper and lower teeth are done – this will take you three to five minutes.
  • At least once a month, lift your child’s lip to check for newly erupted teeth and white or brown spots on the teeth.
  • Teach your child to drink from a regular, lidless cup. Offer plain water instead of other liquids for thirst between meals. Limit acidic drinks like pop and fruit beverages.
  • A balanced diet is crucial to the development and maintenance of healthy teeth and gums. Choose a variety of healthy foods that do not stick to teeth. There are some foods that seem to protect against tooth decay, including hard cheeses like cheddar and mozzarella, nuts, meats, fish, poultry, and eggs.
  • Start regular dental visits at age one or after teeth start appearing. Refer children with signs of dental decay to dental staff at your local health unit. Public health dental staff offer free counseling and fluoride varnish treatments.

For more information, visit the BC Dental Association or HealthLink BC.

Look for this article – along with several other stories about child health – in the upcoming (Summer 2016) issue of Healthier You magazine!


Shirley Gray

About Shirley Gray

Shirley is the Team Lead for Dental Programs at Northern Health. She moved to Terrace for a two year position as a Dental Hygienist and has stayed for 27 years! She feels it's a privilege to live and work in the North. She loved teaching children and has been mistaken for the tooth fairy! She is not magic like the tooth fairy, but she is proud to lead a real team of preventive dental specialists in the North who work hard to ensure children keep their teeth healthy for a lifetime.


Oral Health Month: Healthy smiles for your family

Smiling child

Keep your family’s smiles bright! Registered dental hygienist Kelly has tips to ensure a lifetime of healthy smiles.

Good oral health is something we all try to work on every day as a healthy mouth contributes to overall good health. But, at certain times of the year, the choices we make are even more important to our dental health. April is Oral Health Month in Canada and it’s a great time to think about your family’s smiles!

For many families, last week included a special visit from the Easter Bunny. It’s common for a child’s Easter basket to be filled with chocolate and candy. As a registered dental hygienist, my role is to help prevent tooth decay in children, so I’m always conscious of the effects these traditions have on children’s mouths.

Baby teeth are very important and need to be well cared for; primary teeth can remain in a child’s mouth until the age of 12. They help with chewing, speech, and allow the proper spaces for the adult teeth to come in.

It is important to know that sugars turn to acids in the mouth. If your child is eating candy throughout the day, numerous acid attacks are happening in the mouth. Constant sugar/acid exposure can wear down enamel and lead to dental decay. If untreated, this can cause pain, infection, and problems with eating and sleeping for the child. Decay is preventable and can be avoided.

You can help your children avoid getting cavities by limiting the amount of sugar they consume. If treats are offered, it’s best they are given at meal time when there is more saliva to help maintain an optimum pH level in the mouth. It’s also a good idea to avoid sticky, chewy candy as it is harder to remove from tooth surfaces and it tends to stay in the mouth longer, leaving your child vulnerable to decay.

Some other tips to help prevent childhood cavities include:

  • Offer a variety of healthy choices, including fresh fruits and vegetables, cheese, and nuts.
  • Limit sugar intake in snacks and drinks. Water is the best choice for thirst as fruit juices and pop have a very high sugar content.
  • Brush your child’s teeth with a pea size amount of fluoride toothpaste two times per day (morning and before bed). Introduce flossing to your oral hygiene routine.
  • At times like Easter, offer alternatives to candy like stickers, tattoos, pencils, toys, or sugar free gum.
  • See your dentist regularly.
Kelly Esopenko

About Kelly Esopenko

Kelly is a registered dental hygienist working with Population & Public Health. Kelly has been a dental hygienist for over 20 years and has worked in a variety of clinical settings. She joined Northern Health in 2012 and works with a wide range of clients promoting good oral health practices. Kelly is married with two children. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, walking her dogs, and cheering on her children in their various sporting activities.