Proper Hygiene Tips to Keep Your Family Disease-Free

Proper Hygiene Tips to Keep Your Family Disease-Free

Prevent diseases like hand-foot-and-mouth and periodontitis with this expert advice.

Q: Our local paper published an alert that hand, mouth, and foot disease is on the rise and I don’t even know what it is. My kids are off to school and preschool in a few weeks, is there anything I should do to make sure they don’t get it? —Laura K., Nashville, TN

A: Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a mild virus that mostly infects children from infancy to about five years of age. Sometimes kids as old as 10 contract it and adults have been known to get it too! And we’re aware of the recent report from the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville that they’ve seen a steep rise in the number of cases of this enterovirus, most commonly caused by a coxsackievirus. Although it is rarely a serious infection, you want to spare your children, if at all possible.

In child daycare centers and schools, it spreads through person-to-person contact. The first sign is often a spotty rash on the hands and feet, and sores may appear in the mouth. Tough cases can result in blistering on the upper arms and legs and ulcers in the mouth. The blisters contain the virus, and until they dry, they’re highly contagious. As with any virus, it can leave kids feeling wiped out.

The virus and symptoms will resolve on their own, but if you have young ones, now would be a good time to teach—or reinforce—personal hygiene, especially frequent hand washing. And make sure the folks in charge of the preschool and teachers are aware of the heightened need for good hygiene so everybody stays healthy and happy.

If your child does catch it, keep him or her away from other kids for a few days—or for up to a week, if symptoms last that long. As for treatment, ask your doc about using child-safe pain and fever relievers and mouth sprays.

Q: I looked at the ingredients in my toothpaste and it contains triclosan. I know it’s a hormone disruptor and I want to go with an herbal toothpaste, but do they work? And do I—and my family—need fluoride in the toothpaste to protect our teeth? —Jessica B., Tucson, AZ

A: Yes to your first question and no to your second. The most important thing you and your family need to do is brush regularly; once in the morning, once before bedtime (when you floss too) and if you can do it, after every meal. Do that and see a dental pro every six months; that’ll maintain healthy teeth and gums.

As for herbal toothpastes, a recent randomized control study of people who had slight to moderate chronic periodontitis found that herbal toothpaste worked just as well as the control toothpastes that contained both triclosan and fluoride and improved their periodontal conditions.

And as for fluoride, you can have too much or too little. The right balance of fluoride in water—and if you choose to have it in your toothpaste—is important for good tooth health. But you do get it in your water supply. The CDC recommends water fluoridation, and the addition of fluoride to the water supply is something public water utilities have been doing since 1945. Recommended levels are between 0.7–1.2 mg/L. The CDC also recommends that parents monitor the use of fluoride toothpaste in children up to age 8, if you have a fluoride concentration in your water supply above 2 mg/L. You can check out the CDC database for water fluoridation levels in your water. For children 8 and younger—when permanent teeth are forming—too much fluoride can result in fluorosis, which can cause yellowing and pitting of the tooth enamel. That’s why it’s important to teach proper brushing, which means spitting out, not swallowing toothpaste, after every brushing.

So you can go for the herbals, and to slow inflammation and aging, brush, floss and see a dental pro regularly.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

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