July 24, 2024 3:38 pm
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Local News

Dentist shortage prompts advice for NV parents about kids’ teeth


Alex Gonzalez, Public News Service

According to the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, all 17 counties across the state don’t have enough health-care professionals, including dentists.

February is Children’s Dental Health Month, and dentist Dr. Paul McConnell, dental director at UnitedHealthcare, said families don’t have to sacrifice their children’s dental health if they can’t find a provider. He contended it’s all about teaching kids good oral hygiene habits as early as possible, which they’ll carry with them throughout their lives.

“You’re going to want to start as soon as your baby is born, so cleaning your baby’s gums with water and a soft cloth, starting from birth to one year old,” he said. “Then, as those teeth do start to emerge, you’re going to use a soft-bristle toothbrush and a small dab of fluoride toothpaste – and then, you’ll still continue to brush twice a day.”

McConnell said that as children get older, from age four and up, parents will still need to assist to ensure effective cleaning – and baby teeth should still be cared for despite not being permanent. If they start to decay, he said, they can negatively affect the teeth developing underneath. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, untreated cavities can cause discomfort, but also lead to issues with eating, speaking and learning.

McConnell encouraged families to look to their nearest community health centers for local dental hygiene programs that could offer reduced fees for children. In Northern Nevada, the “Healthy Smile Healthy Child” program can provide no-cost to low-cost dental care to kids younger than age 18.

McConnell warned that poor dental health can lead to other health issues down the line.

“The condition of the teeth and gums, to affecting other situations – such as development of pneumonia, increased risks of heart disease,” he said, “and it can actually affect pregnant women and cause or be related to lower birthweight or other birth complications.”

He said starting young is vital, since it’s harder to develop healthy dental habits when children are older. And once good brushing habitats have been established, he said, don’t forget about the importance of flossing.

This article originally appeared on Public News Service and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.