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Dental Health - Oral Hygiene Tips

        Tooth decay occurs when harmful bacteria in plaque mix with sugar (found in food and drinks) and form an acid.  This acid attacks tooth enamel for about 15-20 minutes after sugar is eaten.  Acid breaks down enamel and causes tooth decay.

To prevent decay:

  • brush at least 2 times a day; if possible, after meals and before bed
  • use fluoride toothpaste
  • floss once a day
  • limit intake of sugary foods
  • visit your dentist regularly
  • have sealants applied


        Good snacks are fruits & vegetables, crackers & cheese, breadsticks, dry cereal (low in sugar), cold pizza, hard boiled eggs, cheese/cheese strings, rice or corn cakes, popcorn, pretzels, yogurt, muffins and fruit juice.

        Sticky, sugary foods do not make good snacks.  They cause acid to form which can lead to tooth decay.

        Foods that should be considered "treats" and  eaten occasionally are fruit roll ups or any fruit snack, granola bars, cereal bars, Joe Louis, Flakey Pastry, Wagon Wheels, chocolate bars, pop, cookies, Dunk-a-Roos, Twinkies, candies and fruit drinks.


        Teeth should be brushed thoroughly at least twice a day or, if possible, after every meal and at bedtime. Don't rush the brush! Take at least 2 minutes.  Parents should brush children's teeth once a day until the age of 7.  A small pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste should be used and children should be encouraged not to swallow toothpaste during brushing.

Use a brush that:

  • has soft bristles
  • is small enough to fit well in your child's mouth
  • is replaced every 3-4 months, or after colds or flu

How to brush:

  • begin at the back of the mouth and follow the teeth around to the other side.  Clean the inside and outside of teeth this way.
  • angle the toothbrush bristles where the gums and teeth meet.
  • gently jab and jiggle.
  • for the chewing surfaces, use a back and forth motion.
  • finish by gently brushing the tongue and rinsing thoroughly with water.


        Flossing removes plaque from places where your toothbrush can't reach.  Parents should floss children's teeth once a day until approximately age 9.

How to floss:

  • stand behind your child and cradle your child's head in your arms, or have your child sit on the floor in front of you and lay their head back in your lap
  • wrap the floss around each tooth in a "c" shape and clean the tooth by gently moving the floss up and down.
  • have your child rinse his/her mouth with water when finished

 Dental Health - Is Your Drinking Water Safe?

        Bacteria Levels in Water

        Bacteria may be found in well water.  This can occur if a well is not properly constructed and sealed, or if the ground water itself has been contaminated.

Are bacteria harmful?

        Many types of bacteria cause disease.  Bacteria from human or animal waste are the most harmful.  Drinking well water which has been contaminated with bacteria can result in stomach cramps, diarrhea, and other health problems.

What can you do?

        Have your well water tested regularly.  Testing for harmful bacteria is done free-of-charge at the Provincial Health Laboratory.  You can pick up sample bottles from the lab, the Peterborough County-City Health Unit, or municipal offices.

        At the lab, the sample will be tested for coliform and E. coli bacteria.  If these are found, do not use the water for drinking, preparing juice or infant formula, washing fruits and vegetables, or brushing your teeth.  To make water safe, boil it for one full minute, or treat it by another method to kill the bacteria.  Carbon filters do not remove these bacteria. 

        Until the problem has been corrected, use an alternate safe water source for bathing infants.

        For more information about treating water to kill bacteria, and for advice on how to prevent contamination of your well, contact a Public Health Inspector, or pick up a free copy of How Well Is Your Well? at the Peterborough County-City Health Unit. 

Fluoride Levels in Water

        Fluoride is a mineral found in rocks and soil.  Your well water may contain naturally-occuring fluoride.  Drinking water which contains fluoride has a protective effect on tooth enamel.

Is fluoride harmful?

        Drinking water with levels of fluoride which are too high can lead to dental fluorosis, a condition which causes discoloration of the teeth.

        Generally, fluorosis is not a health risk; however, it may be unattractive.  In severe cases, the teeth may become pitted, and require treatment by a dentist.

What can you do?

        Have your well water tested by an accredited laboratory.  Sample bottles are provided by the lab, and there is a fee for testing.

        If results indicate that fluoride levels are too high, have a second test performed.  If the fluoride level is confirmed to be over 1.5 milligrams per litre, or 1.5 parts per million, use an alternative drinking water source such as bottled water, or a treatment system such as reverse osmosis or distilling.  Most other filtering systems do not remove fluoride.

        Discuss fluoride supplements with your dentist or doctor or call the Health Unit.  You can also check the website for the Canadian Dental Association (CDA) for more information.

        If you have any questions or concerns, contact Dental Services at the Peterborough County-City Health Unit (705) 743-1000.

Nitrate Levels in Water

        Nitrates are chemicals that occur naturally in soil and rock formations.  Nitrates get into ground water from decaying plant or animal material, manure, fertilizers, or septic systems.  Generally, the level of nitrates in the ground water is low, however runoff of ground water can affect the water in your well.

        Nitrates can be found in wells regardless of the type of construction, and the nitrate levels can vary according to the location of your well.  Eliminating the source of nitrates for an individual well can be difficult.

Are nitrates harmful?

        High levels of nitrates in water used for drinking and cooking cause a condition in infants called well water cyanosis.  This is sometimes called blue baby syndrome because the blood's ability to carry oxygen is affected, and the baby's skin turns a dark shade of blue or purple.  Infants under six months of age lack enzymes which protect against blue baby syndrome, and are at risk if given formula prepared using water with high levels of nitrates.

        Breastfed babies doe not get blue baby syndrome unless they drink unsafe well water.  Expectant mothers can drink well water that is high in nitrate content without harming their unborn babies.

        Ordinary carbon filters, water softeners, and boiling or chlorinating water do not remove nitrates.  In fact, boiling water increases the level of nitrates - the water evaporates leaving harmful elements behind.

What can you do?

        If you are pregnant, or have a baby, have your well water tested for nitrates by an accredited laboratory.  Sample bottles are provided by the lab, and there is a fee for testing.

        If your water test has nitrates over 10 milligrams per litre, or 10 parts per million, use an alternative drinking water source such as bottled water, or a treatment system such as reverse osmosis or distilling.

        Never give well water to a baby under six months of age, or mix infant formula with well water that has not been tested and found safe for nitrates.  Breastfeed your baby if at all possible.

Dental Health -Early Childhood Tooth Decay


        Early Childhood Tooth Decay (ECTD) affects toddlers and young children; preventing it starts when your child is born.


        ECTD is a rapid form of tooth decay which affects new baby teeth.  It requires immediate attention because it:

  • is costly and difficult to treat;
  • spreads to every tooth in the mouth if left untreated;
  • can affect adult teeth forming under the gums; and 
  • may cause orthodontic problems.


        Upper front teeth are ususally the first to show signs of decay.
      NOTE:  Lift your child's upper lip once a month to check the upper front teeth
      for signs of decay.


ECTD is caused by:

  • prolonged and freuent feedings;
  • hidden sugars in formula, breast and cow's milk, fruit juices, and sweetened drinks; and
  • giving baby a bottle or sippy cup, containing any of these liquids, in bed.

How . . . . can you prevent ECTD?

        Clean your baby's mouth and teeth regularly with a washcloth, small piece of gauze, or infant toothbrush.

        We recommend that you do not give your baby a bottle or sippy cup to take to bed;  if you do, it should contain only water.

What if . . . . you think your child has ECTD?

        Take your child to a dentist.

What if . . . . . you can't afford a dentist?

Call us;  you may be eligible for financial assistance

Dental Health - First Aid

        Early and appropriate treatment of dental emergencies in children will often prevent a condition from developing into one of a more serious nature.

        Type of Injury

        First Aid


        Rinse the mouth vigorously with warm water.  Use dental floss to remove any food that might be trapped in the cavity (especially between the teeth).  If swelling is present, place cold compresses to the outside of the cheek.  >Do not use heat.  Do not place aspirin on gum tissue of aching tooth.  Take the child to the dentist immediately.


        Do not clean the tooth.   Place it in milk, saliva or water, or have the child put the tooth under their tongue.  Take the child and tooth to the dentist immediately.

        Broken or 
bumped tooth

        Try to clean dirt from the injured area with warm water.  Place cold compresses on the face next to the injured tooth to minimize swelling.  Take the child to the dentist immediately.  Check for broken tooth chips, or fragments in lip, cheeks, etc.

        Bitten tongue 
or lip

        Apply direct pressure to bleeding area with a sterile cloth.  If swelling is present, apply cold compresses.  If bleeding does not stop readily or the bite is severe, take the child to the hospital emergency department. 

between teeth

        Try to remove the object with dental floss.  Guide the floss in carefully to avoid cutting the gums.  If unsuccessful, take the child to a dentist.  >Do not try to remove with sharp or pointed objects.


        If suspected, immobilize the jaw by any means (handkerchief, neck tie, towel) and take the child to the hospital emergency room.

Dental Health -Oral Cancer

1.  What are the risk factors?

  • heavy smoking
  • chewing tobacco or using snuff
  • heavy alcohol consumption
  • long term outdoor (sun) exposure
  • aging

2.  Where is it most commonly found?

  • pharynx (throat)
  • lip and cheek
  • tongue
  • salivary gland
  • roof and floor of mouth

        Look for sores, lumps red or red and white patches in your mouth that do not heal within 2 weeks.

3.  Visit your dentist or family doctor for:

  • mouth ulcers that do not heal
  • sores or wart-like patches on lip
  • persistent sore throat
  • sores under dentures
  • lump in the tongue, lip, or neck
  • difficulty in chewing, swallowing or speaking
  • numbness in any area of the mouth

4.  What can you do to prevent oral cancer?

  • check mouth, lips, tongue and cheeks regularly
  • have regular dental check-ups
  • don't smoke
  • don't use chewing tobacco or snuff
  • don't habitually consume heavy amounts of alcohol
  • wear sun protection on lips when spending time outdoors
  • eat a healthy diet including fresh fruit and leafy green vegetables (those with vitamins A, C, and E)


  • Affects approximately 3,000 Canadians yearly
  • One of the easiest cancers to detect
  • Affects men four times more than women
  • Occurs most often in adults over 40
  • Early signs can be seen and felt
  • Pain is rarely present
  • Biopsy is the only way to diagnose oral cancer
  • Early detection and immediate treatment can result in cure

Dental Health - Oral Piercing

        Piercing the tongue, lip or cheeks is becoming an increasingly popular expression of body art for today’>s youth.  This is one fashion statement that may have extreme health risks.

Risks of Oral Piercing

Infection - infection from unsterilized instruments is always a risk. Oral piercing is usually performed in unregulated piercing parlors by lay practitioners.  Consequently, piercing may include an increased risk of the transmission of Hepatitis B, HIV/AIDS, tetanus, syphilis and tuberculosis. 

Allergic reaction - allergies to nickel or other alloys may occur.  Mouth jewelry should be made of inert non-toxic metals such as stainless steel, 14 karat gold or titanium.

Broken or cracked teeth - mouth jewelry causes the risk of broken teeth due to the presence of a moving metal object in the mouth.  Talking, tongue-thrusting, or grinding can chip or fracture both front and back teeth.

Aspiration - mouth jewelry may come loose due to severe swelling or wear-and-tear and become a choking hazard. 

Speech impediment - literature suggests that speech may be hindered by the presence of mouth jewellry.

Additional side effects may include:

  • pain
  • deep cyst formation
  • hypertrophic scarring
  • septicaemia
  • toxic shock syndrome
  • superficial vein and nerve damage
  • loss of taste
  • permanent numbness
  • damaged cheek tissue

Considering a Piercing?

        Anyone interested in oral piercing should be aware of the risks and side effects involved, in order to make an informed decision.  If an individual decides to proceed with an oral piercing, the piercing parlor should be investigated to ensure that it has been inspected by the Health Unit, and is following approved sterilization procedures.

        Many piercers are not professionals; consequently post-operative instructions are sometimes inadequate. Following lip and tongue piercing, people should be instructed to wash their hands before touching or cleaning the pierced area. The ends of the barbell should be checked twice a day to ensure that they are tight against the lip or tongue surface to avoid damage to the teeth or swallowing of the barbell. Individuals should avoid alcohol, spicy foods and smoking, and rinsing after meals with an antibacterial mouthwash that does not contain alcohol is recommended.  Swimming in public pools is discouraged. 

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