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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Happy Teeth, Happy Smiles
by Special to the Native News Network from First Things First
CHINLE, ARIZONA – How many toddlers do you know who get excited to brush their teeth? Eleven month old Maylee is one of them. It might have to do with the method her parents use. She is all smiles when she lays back onto her mother's lap. Next, her dad brings out the toothbrush and an even bigger smile spreads across her face.

Not all encounters with the dentist have to be bad. In fact, the staff at Chinle Dental Clinic say one of the best times to show up is when your teeth aren't hurting. Most kids will come in with a toothache and have a tooth pulled on their first visit. That initial unpleasant experience can have a lasting effect; and, children will associate pain with going to the dentist.

The Arizona Department of Health Services estimates that one in three children ages 4 and younger have experienced tooth decay. By the time they reach kindergarten, half of all children have experienced tooth decay.

The solution, "First visit by first birthday." Dr. Mike Maccaro, children's dentist at Chinle Dental, suggests your child see the dentist when the first tooth comes in, usually between 6 and 12 months. Even before the first tooth appears, Maccaro suggests cleaning your child's gums with a soft infant toothbrush or cloth and water, after bottle or breastfeeding. As teeth appear, start brushing twice daily, usually after meals, with fluoride toothpaste and a soft, age-appropriate toothbrush.

Dr. Maccaro says the best way to prevent tooth decay is to limit sugar. He says children should not fall asleep with the bottle in their mouths. The sugar from the milk will coat their teeth and stay on for the remainder of the night. "The last thing that should touch their teeth at night should be a toothbrush and toothpaste." Another way to limit sugar is to replace juice in a sippy cup with water or a sugar free drink if your child wants flavor.

Chinle Dental staff are working to combat the myth that decayed baby teeth aren't important by teaching parents that early examination and preventative care will protect their child's teeth now and in the future. Tooth decay from the early years can have lasting effects. In fact, dental disease is one of the leading causes of school absence. Cyrus Donald, Family Training Coordinator for Nihiyazhi Ba'iit'ih Home Visiting, said, "I saw a child, in our program, who was having trouble paying attention and we found out he had a cavity." Preventing cavities by becoming a well informed parent can help ensure a child will have a successful future in grade school and beyond.

The Nihiyazhi Ba'iit'ih Home Visiting Program, funded by First Things First Navajo Nation Regional Partnership Council, brought in Dr. Maccaro to speak at their Family Training in Chinle. Every month, Home Visitors from various Navajo Nation communities in Arizona, provide family support services that focus on child health and development, positive parenting and early education. Home visits and family trainings are designed to give parents the tools they need to help their children get ready for kindergarten. The job of helping children succeed in school starts the day they're born.

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First Things First
First Things First is one of the critical partners in creating a family-centered, comprehensive, collaborative and high-quality early childhood system that supports the development, health and early education of all Arizona's children birth through age five.

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