To give a child a healthy start in life, it’s important to take care of his or her teeth and gums. Dental health is a big part of total health.

The Healthy Smiles Dental Project at Transylvania Public Health is playing an important part in helping establish healthy dental habits at an early age, the release said.

“Baby teeth are a very important part of a child’s development,” said Lori Clark, Healthy Smiles Program director. “Baby teeth are as important to children as our teeth are to us. Children need healthy teeth to eat, speak clearly, save space for permanent teeth and have a pretty smile.”

Good oral care, a healthy diet and regular dental visits all help to prevent dental disease. Young children learn these healthy habits from their parents and caregivers.

Healthy Smiles works with child care centers to provide education, free dental screenings and tooth brushing supplies, with funding support from Delta Dental Foundation. All 11 child care centers in Transylvania County are brushing children’s teeth each day.

“I am so excited and proud that the center directors and teachers have made oral health a priority,” said Clark. “Tooth brushing may seem like a small task, but when you have a classroom full of young children, it’s a big deal.”

Parents and other caregivers of young children can also take an active role in helping to protect their dental health. Parents should brush their children’s teeth twice a day to remove plaque that can cause tooth decay.

They should start brushing a child’s teeth as soon as the first tooth appears, usually around 6 months of age.

The American Dental Association recommends brushing with a soft-bristle baby toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste. For children ages 2 to 6, use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste.

Once children are able to brush their own teeth, parents should continue to provide reminders and supervision to make sure teeth are really getting cleaned.

Eating healthy foods is also important for good oral health. Choosing healthy foods not only help a child’s body grow healthy and strong, but also helps develop, grow and protect their teeth.

Parents can also help avoid tooth decay by choosing foods and drinks that have little or no sugar.

Our mouths naturally have bacteria that form dental plaque that builds up on teeth.

When this plaque is exposed to sugar, it forms acid, which can break down the enamel and result in tooth decay. Frequent snacks or sips of sugary drinks like juices, sodas or sports drinks expose teeth to repeated acid attacks.

If your child already has a sugar habit, try offering fresh fruit or unsweetened cereal mixed with mashed fruit and slowly dilute sweetened beverages with water.

Plain water is the best option for in-between meal drinks. Limit sugary foods and drinks, including juice, to meal times.

Putting a baby to bed with a bottle filled with milk, juice or other sweet liquids can also lead to tooth decay. If you must put your baby to bed with a bottle, fill the bottle with water.

If your child drinks milk or other sweet liquids right before bed, be sure to brush or, at least, rinse with water afterwards.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that a child have his first dental visit by his or her first birthday.

This helps the child get used to dental visits and can identify any tooth decay and other oral health problems early.

The Healthy Smiles Dental Program serves all county preschools and day cares, as well as all 1st and 3rd grade students in Transylvania County Schools. The Healthy Smiles dental hygienist provides age-appropriate dental health education, screenings for dental decay, and supplies such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and dental floss. She also assists with dental sealant projects and referrals to dental care.

If you are looking for dental care for yourself or your child, click here for a listing of dental resources local to Transylvania County.