Keep those tiny teeth shining for a brighter future

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As April is oral health month on the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay’s calendar, Cree children in all nine communities have been asked to “drop the pop,” for their health and for their teeth.

Why is this so important?

According to Evelyne Lefebvre, team leader for the CBHSSJB’s fleet of dental hygienists, when the Board last looked at data in the early 2000s on tooth decay among schoolchildren, 98% of Cree children had tooth decay by the age of seven.

While data has not been released, Lefebvre said a new survey was conducted throughout the province in 2012 and 2013 among students in Grades 2 and 6.

She expects improvement in the numbers though rates of tooth decay likely remain high due to consumption of sugary snacks, sweets and beverages.

“There is a lack of tooth brushing and these things together are the problem,” Lefebvre added. “To create a cavity you need germs in the mouth, we all have germs in our mouths; this is part of the body. But, every time you eat something sugary, like cake, cookies or even milk where (lactose) or fruits sugar naturally occurs, these germs are fed, transforming these germs into an acid. Once this acid is on the tooth, as it is very strong, it starts to dissolve the tooth, little by little, and this is tooth decay.”

Lefebvre said that skipping brushing for a day likely wouldn’t be the kind of thing that could form a cavity overnight but brushing frequently is necessary to prevent acid formation.

Lefebvre said that research has shown that brushing teeth twice a day with toothpaste that contains fluoride can reduce tooth decay by up to 40%.

As some people’s saliva tends to be more acidic than others, Lefebvre said that frequent brushing is necessary to ensure healthy teeth throughout your life.

Lefebvre said that forming good brushing habits while children are young is absolutely necessary. This involves brushing teeth for them while they are too young to do it themselves and then supervision to ensure they get the job done twice a day.

“Up to the age of 10, parents should not only supervise tooth brushing but also take the toothbrush when they are done to brush the teeth again, especially in the back to make sure that teeth are clean of germs,” said Lefebvre.

Lefebvre suggested a number of techniques that parents can use to make sure that those teeth get cleaned.

Lefebvre said a three-year-old child can learn how to brush their own teeth but they may not have enough dexterity to get the job done right.

“They can brush their front teeth very well and may even try to eat the toothpaste at this age and so don’t use too much and always make tooth brushing part of the going-to-bed routine. You can try to make it part of a fun game. Use a timer or use a brush that plays music and have the child brush until the music stops. Sometimes you can even find toothbrushes with lights. Any way you can make it a fun activity is great,” said Lefebvre.

Lefebvre also suggested that tooth brushing be done as a family activity. As even babies cutting their first teeth are vulnerable to tooth decay, Lefebvre said it is important to start brushing as soon as new teeth arrive because in a baby tooth decay can spread very rapidly, particularly as babies are often left with bottles to drink as they fall asleep.

The biggest problem is that most people are not conscious of the amount of sugar they consume.

“When you look at a product label that tells you how much sugar is in what you are eating, most people won’t equate the grams listed for how many cubes or teaspoons of sugar that actually is. There is sugar in almost everything that we eat,” said Lefebvre.

This is why she said that campaigns like Drop the Pop are absolutely necessary; to get people to understand that there are about 12 teaspoons of sugar inside a small can of Orange Crush. Even juices contain a lot of sugar.

“Most juice is only supposed to be served as a maximum half a cup per day, which is a very small quantity compared to what we actually drink. Also, there is no fibre in juice (because it has been separated from the fruit) and normally it has been made from concentrate so there is more sugar than in just the fruit. It is better to just have a little bit. So, if you want something sweet just eat the fruit because there is more fibre and more vitamins,” said Lefebvre.

When thirsty, it is far better to drink water, as this will cleanse the body. Milk is also a better alternative that will help produce strong teeth and bones, particularly for growing children.

If you are going to choose juice, it is important to read the labels to avoid what she calls “fake juice,” which is anything labeled anything labeled a “drink, cocktail, punch or beverage.” These products will often have as much sugar as pop.

“The amount of sugar in these drinks will just stick to your teeth and so it can be a big feast for the germs that will then transform into an acid that can create cavities,” said Lefebvre. “For this reason, she said that it is particularly important that babies are not given juice in their baby bottles, particularly in the crib.”

While a baby may only have a few teeth, all it takes is a little bit of sugar to start forming a cavity.

For more information preventing tooth decay, contact your local dental hygienist or dentist.

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