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Texas Parenting News

Dental health: Frequent questions–and some you didnít think to ask


It takes only one toothache to be reminded about the importance of teeth to good health and enjoyment of life. Beyond freedom from pain, however, healthy teeth enable us to chew food and satisfy the body’s need for nourishment. Clean teeth also improve appearance and freshen breath.

As parents, we can help our children have healthy teeth for life by setting the example of regular cleaning and dental visits.

How common is tooth decay in children? According to the American Dental Association, tooth decay is the “single most common chronic childhood disease.” It’s also the most preventable.

What causes tooth decay? A sticky film called plaque is always forming on your teeth. Plaque contains bacteria that react with the sugar in foods to release acid. Repeated acid attacks wear down tooth enamel and end up creating holes or cavities. Plaque can also harden into tartar, which is difficult to remove. Tartar that collects at the gum line can lead to gum disease.

How can you prevent tooth decay and gum disease? Remove plaque daily with thorough cleaning. Eat nutritious foods, limit sugar consumption, and see a dentist regularly.

How often should you clean your teeth? Brush at least twice a day, in the morning and before bedtime. In addition, floss or use an interdental in the evening.

Does it matter how you brush, as long as you brush every tooth? Brush with a circular motion, not sideways, for at least two minutes. Pay special attention to four problem areas: along the gum line, between teeth, on the chewing surfaces, and around any dental work such as fillings and crowns.

Which is better: a manual or electric toothbrush? Either will work well. Choose the one you like better because you’re more likely to use it.

What’s the best toothpaste? Ask your dentist. Plain toothpaste with fluoride is often recommended. Popular whitening types may contain abrasives that can wear down tooth enamel. Moreover, while antibacterial additives may help reduce mouth bacteria at critical times, studies have raised questions about the safety of at least one antibacterial, triclosan (;

What is fluoride? Why do dentists use it in cleaning teeth and recommend toothpastes containing fluoride? Fluoride is a mineral found naturally in water, both fresh water in rivers and salt water in oceans. Research has shown that fluoride prevents cavities by making teeth more resistant to acids that cause teeth to decay.

Isn’t baking soda as good as toothpaste—and cheaper too? Baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, is cheaper, but reports of its effectiveness are mixed. It’s often touted as a “natural” cleaner and added to toothpaste for its marketing value. Some sources indicate it can remove surface stains from teeth and neutralize acids. Some sources warn against using it more than once or twice a week because it’s abrasive. Others warn against using it at all if you wear braces because it can dissolve orthodontic glue. Ask your dentist.

Do you really need to floss? Yes. Brushing alone cannot remove food particles trapped between teeth nor the plaque that can build up in these tight places. As an alternative, use an interdental, which includes a short, pointed-bristle brush that slides between teeth. Using an interdental can take less time than flossing, and it can be easier to use around braces and bridges.

To floss, you just move it up and down between the teeth, right? After inserting the floss between two teeth, wrap it around the tooth on one side, forming a U with the floss, and move it up and down. Then wrap it around the tooth on the other side, again forming a U, and move it up and down.

See the “Flossing” video on the website of the University of Texas School of Dentistry at

Which is better: waxed or unwaxed floss? Each performs equally well. Use the kind that you like better because you’re more likely to use it.

Is it OK to re-use the same strip of floss? No. The floss can get frayed in one cleaning and leave bacteria in the mouth after the next cleaning. Discard floss after each use.

What’s gum disease and why bother about it? Gum disease is an infection, usually painless at first, of the tissues that support teeth. In its advanced stage (periodontitis), teeth can loosen and fall out. Treatment can cost thousands of dollars. In addition, research has shown an association between gum disease and other serious conditions, notably diabetes and heart disease. But in the early stage (gingivitis), it can be treated by professional cleaning, followed by daily brushing and flossing.

If you’re prone to gum disease despite brushing and flossing, mix a little salt in warm water and swish it around in your mouth. Or dip an interdental in salt water before each insertion between teeth.

If gum disease is painless, how can you tell if you have it? Healthy gums are pale pink and firm. Infected gums may be red or swollen, bleed easily, or have pulled away from the teeth. Other signs may include persistent bad breath, loose permanent teeth, and changes in bite. Family history and certain medications can increase risk. It’s possible, however, to have little or no warning signs. That’s another reason to get regular dental checkups.

Do you need to use a mouth wash? Ask your dentist. If you have bath breath, rinse your mouth with a half teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in a half glass of water. If you need help in reducing cavities and gum disease, your dentist may recommend a mouth wash that contains an antiseptic (often alcohol) or an antibacterial.

If you’re pregnant, shouldn’t you postpone regular dental visits? Delaying a visit to the dentist may be wise if yours is a high-risk pregnancy. But regular professional cleaning can prevent problems, including gum inflammation and bleeding that may come about because of hormonal changes. Check with your doctor and dentist, and be sure to inform your dentist and hygienist in advance that you are pregnant.

When should you start caring for teeth in children? As soon as possible. When baby teeth first appear, usually around 6 months, they are at risk for decay. Gently clean a baby’s teeth every day, first with a cloth and then with a soft brush, and schedule the child’s first dental visit around the first birthday. Avoid putting your baby to bed with a bottle to prevent cavities known as baby bottle tooth decay.

How do you teach children to brush their teeth? Just as you teach children to bathe—by demonstrating and letting the child practice. Get help from your dentist. Show your child the two-minute video, “Kids cavity movie,” on the website of the University of Texas School of Dentistry,

What does eating nutritious foods have to do with dental health? Nutritious eating means limiting sugar, especially soft drinks, candy, and pastries, that expose the teeth to excess sugar that leads to decay. Babies should have only breast milk, formula, or plain water in their bottles and finish their bottles before nap or bedtime. As babies transition to solid foods, read labels and buy foods that contain no added sugar.

Eating a balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables for snacks and meals builds strong teeth and helps the body resist infection in mouth tissues.

Where can you find more information about dental health? Here are some online resources:, the American Dental Association’s website for consumers, the patient education pages of the University of Texas School of Dentistry’s website, the dental health pages of the National Institutes of Health website.


Sugar: Don’t let labels fool you


Limiting sugar can be difficult during the holidays with the abundance of desserts and gifts of candy. But cutting back during non-holiday times can be difficult too, given sugar’s many disguises.

Read labels on food packages, advises the Mayo Clinic, and be aware that sugar may go by the following names:
any ingredient ending in “ose,” such as sucrose (regular table sugar), glucose, fructose, maltose, and dextrose
cane juice and cane syrup
fruit juice concentrate and nectar
malt syrup
Tips for reducing sugar in your eating habits:
Drink plain water instead of soft drinks and blended coffee drinks.
Eat fresh fruit instead of drinking fruit juice.
Serve fresh fruit for dessert instead of cakes, pies, cookies, and other sweets.
If you buy canned fruit, buy the kind packed in water, not syrup.
Snack on fresh fruit, vegetables, low-fat cheese and yogurt, and whole wheat crackers instead of sweets.
Buy low-sugar or sugar-free varieties of syrups, jams, jellies, and preserves. Use condiments sparingly. Even ketchup and salad dressings may contain added sugar.
Avoid sugary, frosted breakfast cereals.


What to do with leftover turkey?


If your family is like many, you will have leftover turkey during the holidays. Here are some healthy, and inexpensive ways to use those leftovers—and the bones, too. Some of these recipes—the salad, lettuce wraps, and pizza—are so simple that you can invite the kids to help.


Turkey stock
leftover turkey carcass
10 cups water
½ cup sliced carrot
1 stalk celery, cut in 1-inch pieces
½ onion, cut in chunks
2 cloves garlic
1 dried red chili pepper, diced (optional)


Place the carcass in a soup pot (break the carcass into pieces to fit) and cover with water. Add remaining ingredients, and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum that forms on top. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer gently for three hours. Discard carcass and vegetables. Strain the liquid with a sieve, and pour into shallow containers. Refrigerate overnight. The next day, remove the fat that has collected on top. Freeze any stock that you won’t use within a few days. Frozen stock should be used within four to six months.


Split pea soup
1 cup dried green peas
4 cups water or stock
1 cooked turkey wing (or ham hocks)
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped carrot
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon lemon juice


Place peas in soup pot and add water and turkey wing. Bring to boil, and skim off any scum. Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook for 30 minutes more. Before serving, pick meat off turkey wing and add to soup. Discard the skin and bones. Season with salt and pepper.


Turkey lettuce wraps
cooked turkey, cut in strips or chunks
teriyaki sauce
grated carrot
whole lettuce leaves


Toss turkey with teriyaki sauce in a bowl. Place bowl, grated carrot, and lettuce leaves on a tray and invite family members to make their own.

Add other ingredients as desired—cranberries, nuts, coconut, green onion, and celery, for example—all chopped.


Turkey salad with cranberries
cooked turkey
dried cranberries
fat-free mozzarella cheese, grated
fat-free or low-fat dressing


Fill a large bowl with lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces. Top with cooked turkey pieces and chopped cranberries. Sprinkle with grated cheese and serve with dressing.

Turkey and spinach pizza
cooking spray
1 whole wheat pita bread or small pizza crust
½ cup fat-free mozzarella cheese, shredded
1 cup fresh spinach, cut up
cooked turkey, cut into strips
Roma tomatoes, cut into slices
Italian seasoning or fresh basil


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly spray a pizza pan or cookie sheet with cooking spray. Place the pita bread or pizza crust on the pan, and cover with a thin layer of cheese. Top with spinach, turkey, and tomato slices. Sprinkle seasoning on top, as desired. Place in oven and bake until crust is crispy and cheese is melted, about five minutes.


San Antonio-style turkey pasta
1 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons canola oil
6 ounces vermicelli, broken in pieces
1 16-ounce can tomatoes
1 cup turkey stock
1 cup cooked turkey
½ cup picante sauce
½ green pepper, cut in strips
½ cup fat-free grated cheese
cilantro, chopped


Sauté onion and garlic in oil. Add vermicelli and brown for about two minutes. Stir in tomatoes, stock, turkey, and picante sauce, and simmer for three minutes. Add green pepper and cook another five minutes. Sprinkle with grated cheese and cilantro before serving.