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Because I had some minor surgery yesterday, I've planned a few days off to focus on activities that are comforting and relaxing. It's nice to be reminded sometimes that life is about more than work and recognition. My plans for the coming week include:

  1. Sleep til 6 every morning and take a nap every afternoon.
  2. Take a long walk with someone who is very special to me.
  3. Eat ice cream with chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
  4. Reread Jane Eyre, the story of a poor nanny who marries her wealthy boss.
  5. Rewatch Pride & Prejudice, the story of a poor farmgirl who marries a wealthy aristocrat. (I see a pattern in my entertainment choices.)
  6. Enjoy unhurried conversation with my daughter and friends who stop by.
  7. Call my old mentor, Vivian, to catch up.
  8. Organize my closet and get some warm, cozy sweaters out of storage.
  9. Start sewing the quilt I'm making from old pajama pants.
  10. Watch the History Channel specials remembering 9/11 and be reminded that life is fragile. I will be grateful for every moment, value the people who are special to me, and recommit to helping others when I can. I will pray for God's peace, grace, and mercy for our world.

How do you spend any time you have for relaxing? What are your thoughts as we remember 9/11 this weekend?

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My teenage daughter told me the dentist numbed her mouth, then left her sitting in the chair alone for nearly an hour. When the dental assistant finally returned to the room, she told my daughter the office was double booked for the day, and they would have to reschedule her filling.

"I took the day off school to do this," my daughter mumbled through her numbed mouth. "I can't reschedule for another day."

The dentist and his assistant came back to the room and filled my daughter's tooth -- without speaking to her. Actually, she said they sat on opposite sides of the chair and argued with each other the entire time they worked.

"I don't want to go back to that dentist again," she told me when she got home.

"Don't worry. We won't," I answered.

For many people, few events cause as much worry as a visit to the dentist's office. Fortunately, introducing your child to a good dentist early can help avoid much of the anxiety associated with the dentist's chair.

"First tooth, first visit," advises Shannon, a dental hygienist. She explains that parents should take their children to the dentist as soon as the first baby tooth is on display.

At a first dental visit, the dentist will likely sit knee-to-knee with the parent with the baby lying across both adults' laps. The goal of the first visit is to help the child be comfortable with the bright lights and unfamiliar environment of the dentist's office. This time also allows the dentist to look for any developmental habits, like pacifier or thumb-sucking, that may affect tooth formation in the future and to advise parents on future dental care.

As children grow and teeth develop, Shannon recommends scheduling regular dental visits every six months. She also advises taking children to a family dentist, instead of one who specializes in pediatric dentistry, as soon as the child has all permanent teeth.

Your dentist may suggest several treatments to protect teeth as the child grows. Sealants are applied to 6 year molars and 12 year molars. These protective covers seal out bacteria and prevent decay from growing in the grooves of teeth. Fluoride treatments are brushed onto chewing surfaces of teeth once a year to protect teeth from decay.

pixabay teethIf a cavity is diagnosed, it is best to get the decay taken care of while it is small and does not affect the pulp or healthy part of the tooth. Once decay goes into the dentin, the second layer of the tooth, the cavity will grow and possibly spread to surrounding teeth as well. If that happens, a child may need general anesthesia to allow the dentist to repair and fill several cavities at once. Extensive dental repairs are painful and can make children afraid to return to the dentist in the future.

However, many families don't have dental insurance. I had selected the angry dentist who argued across his dental chair because he was one who advertised "No insurance necessary" services.

"Call your dentist and ask the cost of services like cleaning and exams," suggests Shannon. "Then set money aside every month for the dental expenses of the family. It is more expensive in the long run to skip dental check-ups and have to pay for fillings later." As another alternative, Shannon recommends visiting dental hygienist schools and training programs for low-cost preventative care. Colleges that train dental assistants offer cleanings, X-rays, and sealants at reasonable prices.

The Healthy Smiles Project and the Healthy Teeth website offer games, activities, and coloring pages that help teach children to care for their own smiles. Verywell.com posts articles on dental care and other health issues for young children.

Shannon suggests that parents ask around when searching for the right dentist. "The experiences and word of mouth referrals of other people make great recommendations."

boy-676122_960_720[1]After  my daughter's experience with the angry dentist, I refuse to go to any dentist who doesn't make me feel cared for and comfortable. I reserved money from each year's tax refund to pay for our cleanings and checkups. I found a dentist who told jokes across his dental chair and made his patients smile.

How have you helped your children feel more comfortable about going to the dentist?

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I kept my daughter's baby shoes, receiving blankets with spit-up stains, and books with her name written in the cover. I preserved her handprints and coloring book pages. In a box at the bottom of my closet, are all her baby teeth, carefully sealed in individual envelopes and labeled for the Tooth Fairy: "MY TOOF."

"People don't think they have to take care of their kids' baby teeth, because they get new ones anyway," begins Shannon, a dental hygienist, "but baby teeth are important because they hold space for the adult teeth. The roots of baby teeth guide the permanent teeth into place. Good baby teeth are necessary to maintain face shape and smiling, and for chewing and eating."

Shannon offers parents numerous ideas on how to care for our children's teeth and preserve the health and beauty of their smiles. She says dental care has to begin with the smallest children, long before they have a mouthful of pearly whites.

Beware of Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

When liquids, including breast milk, pool in a child's mouth at night, the sugars in the milk or food combine with bacteria, and the decay process begins on teeth. It is important to wipe out the child's mouth before bedtime, and never put a baby to bed with a bottle, unless it contains only water.

Don't Share Spoons

Adults can experience Gingivitis, gum disease, or Periodontitis, which destroys the bones under teeth. The bacteria from an adult's teeth can be transferred to a child on shared spoons or utensils. Once that decay starts, the bacteria spread from tooth, to tooth, to tooth.

pixabay brushingBrush Your Child's Teeth

Good dental habits start early, so parents should start brushing even the smallest child's gums and erupting teeth. An infant finger toothbrush is a small plastic or cloth brush that looks like a finger-puppet and removes excess liquid from the baby's mouth. As children get older, parents should teach them how to brush their own teeth, but don't use fluoride toothpaste, and watch that children don't swallow toothpaste. Ingesting too much fluoride can cause fluorisis, which discolors teeth.

The Healthy Smiles Project and the Healthy Teeth website offer games, activities, and coloring pages that help teach children to care for their own smiles. In Saving Smiles, Part Two, Shannon will share how to introduce your child to the dentist's office and how to prevent costly and painful problems in the future.

Children grow fast. Baby teeth don't last. They end up under pillows or in envelopes labeled "MY TOOF." Children need to learn proper dental care and maintenance. The memories of their smiles will last forever.

How have you helped your children learn to take care of their teeth?

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The dumpster lid creaked when I hefted it over my head. I started to throw in my plastic bag of garbage, but then I stopped. Under the dumpster lid, the cardboard box from a 24-can soda pack perched on a mound of bagged garbage. I snagged the cardboard from the dumpster and ripped the UPC bar code from the corner before tossing the box back into the dumpster and adding my garbage bag to the pile.

All that summer I saved soda-case UPC's. I bought boxes and boxes of soda cans and carefully clipped off the bar code squares. By the twisted logic of marketing campaigns, I was eager to spend money on soda just to collect the UPC codes and trade them for a free duffle bag bearing the soda company logo. It made sense at the time.

It also made sense to save calories by drinking the diet soda version, sweetened with the chemical aspartame.  After drinking one can of diet soda, I usually had a headache. After drinking two cans, I experienced a buzzing dizziness and blurry vision. I kept drinking, rationalizing that I was enjoying calorie-free soda and earning a free duffle bag.

"Be aware of how food makes you feel," advises Meg, Health Coach for the Dr. Sears' LEAN Nutrition and Wellness Institute. "Explain to your children, 'I ate too much ice cream, and now I have a stomachache.' When we set an example of wanting to feel good, kids will learn that what they eat affects the way they feel."

Meg identifies three food additives we should avoid when making food choices.

IMG_0391High Fructose Corn Syrup is used to sweeten hundreds of foods we find in the grocery store. Corn syrup does not trigger the hormone leptin, which controls appetite; so when we eat foods containing corn syrup, we still feel hungry and will overeat. I found corn syrup lurking in several of the foods in my pantry, including "healthy" cereal, crackers, salad dressing, and even soup.

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Hydrogenated Oils have a long shelf life, so are used in many processed and fast foods. Hydrogenated oils make our cell membranes rigid so our calls cannot grow and function properly. They can cause heart disease, diabetes, and cancers. Hydrogenated oils are often disguised on food labels as "trans fats" or "shortening."

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Food Additives and Colors, like aspartame, MSG, food colorings and preservatives, are called "excitotoxins" because they alter brain chemistry. Ingesting chemical additives can lead to behavior and learning disorders and long-term neurological diseases. Chemical additives are common in prepared, boxed foods and my habitual diet soda.

The best way to avoid food additives is to avoid eating prepared, boxed foods. Choose foods with only a few, natural ingredients. Buy fresh fruits and vegetables, meats and dairy. Learn to cook from scratch and prepare your own homemade snacks and baked goods.

"The better you feel, the easier it is to make the financial sacrifice and buy real, natural foods," Meg advises. "You will see the benefits."

The Dr. Sears website features tips for smart grocery shopping and guidelines for avoiding food additives and chemicals.

My diet soda habit ended when I got tired of the headaches and weird side effects. The free duffle bag didn't last much longer, but ended up in the pile of another apartment dumpster.

How do you avoid foods with added ingredients and chemicals? How do you teach your children to eat healthful, nutritious meals?

 

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The doors sighed open, sounding as tired as I felt. We passed the checkout lane where the cashier leaned against her conveyor belt and yawned. We passed the cooler where the eggs and yogurt displayed the bright colors of their packaging.

I pursued a single purpose, the only goal that could lure me out of bed to dress and drive to the grocery store this early on a Sunday morning: donuts.donuts-268250_960_720[1]

I craved golden, glazed donuts with the flaky white icing that disintegrates when bitten. I let my daughter choose the most attractive package from the bakery shelf while I selected bottled orange juice and instant coffee. Then my daughter and I moved to the cash register where the cashier drowsily pushed buttons and squashed our donuts into a bag.

"It's not realistic to eliminate all sugar," says Meg, Health Coach for the Dr. Sears LEAN lifestyle and nutrition program. "Telling children that sugar is off-limits does them a disservice, because it's impossible to avoid sugar entirely. It's our job as parents to teach balance, to help children learn to use tools and make good choices."

sign-256533_960_720[1]Meg recommends Dr. Sears' "Traffic Light Eating" as one tool to teach our children. Dr. Sears describes food as falling into three colorful categories that help children make good choices.

"Green Light Foods" are "Go Foods" that provide energy and promote growth. Greed Foods can be eaten as much as we like and include: fruits and vegetables, eggs and yogurt, milk and cheese, nuts and seeds, lean meat and fish.

"Yellow Light Foods" are "Slow Down Foods" that can be enjoyed in limited qualities. Yellow Foods include: fatty meats, pasta and white bread, homemade baked goods.

"Red Light Foods" are the "Stop and Think Foods" that demand caution and a careful approach. Red Foods are the prepackaged, store-bought foods, desserts, sugared drinks, and foods with artificial sweeteners and hydrogenated oils.

Red Light Foods are all right once in a while, Meg explained, but we don't want to begin the habit of eating them regularly.

My Sunday morning donuts fall into the Red Light category, all right for an occasional treat, but I had acquired the regular donut habit, and my low energy levels showed it.

Meg references the Sears Wellness Institute for meal ideas and recipes that incorporate more Green Light Foods. The site teaches healthy eating habits and encourages healthy choices. Meg also recommends this site for meal ideas and recipes that use real foods in budget-friendly menus.

Sometimes I miss the delicate melting of glazed donut icing. Sometimes I still prowl the bakery shelves for cinnamon rolls and sugar cookies. More often now, I stop at the coolers of eggs and yogurt. I choose fruit, cottage cheese, and whole grain bread for making crunchy toast.

But the cashier still yawns over the conveyor belt and squashes my bread in the bag.

How have your eating habits changed? What strategies do you use to help your family make healthy choices?

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