Oral Health

Having good oral health includes the presence of healthy gums, teeth, and tongue as well as having the ability to speak, chew, enjoy food without pain, and smile! Oral health is also important for overall health and well-being. Oral diseases can exacerbate conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. The Oral Health Program aims to work with community partners to promote overall oral health in the community in order to reduce rates of tooth decay as well as other oral and dental diseases.

Oral Health Facts

Oral Health Facts

  • The tooth decay process occurs when every time we eat or drink something with sugar, the bacteria in our mouths eat the sugars and produce acids that weaken (or demineralize) our teeth and over time can eventually cause a cavity.
  • Cavities are also known as "dental caries". As a result of the tooth decay process that weakens tooth enamel, cavities form. Cavities -or caries-are tiny holes that develop on our teeth.
  • Fluoride and our own saliva can strengthen (or remineralize) teeth and work to reduce tooth decay. There is less saliva flow when we are sleeping so it is important to brush your teeth before bed.
  • Some medications may also decrease saliva flow and thus increases the risk of developing caries.
  • Tooth decay is the most common childhood disease but is largely preventable. It is more common than asthma.
  • The germs/bacteria that cause tooth decay lives in plaque-a sticky film that builds up on teeth. But these bacteria can be transferred to another person. The spread of these germs happens when caregivers share things that have been in their mouths with children. This includes cups, spoons, straws, pacifiers, and toothbrushes.
  • Baby teeth are important! They help your child speak and chew properly and reserve the space for permanent teeth. If baby teeth decay and fall out (or are extracted) too soon before the permanent teeth are ready to emerge, permanent teeth are more likely to come in crooked and also decay faster.
  • It is recommended, and completely safe, for pregnant women to have a dental cleaning while pregnant.
  • About 70% of cancers in the oropharynx (mouth and throat) are linked to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV is very common so most people have it. Although most people with HPV never get sick, some with HPV can get cancer. The HPV vaccine, available for adolescents and young adults, can prevent some cancers caused by HPV, including oropharyngeal cancer.

Impacts of Poor Oral Health on Children and Adults

  • Severe tooth decay, such as tooth loss, reduces job prospects for adults.
  • Tobacco users are prone to oral cancer, periodontal disease and increased tooth loss. Periodontal disease (also known as gum disease) involves infection and/or inflammation of the gums and bones that surround and support the teeth.
  • Learn more about the effects of smoking on your teeth, gums and oral health
  • Alcohol users are likely to have more cavities (caries) and can develop oral cancer and periodontal disease.
  • Chronic infection (like periodontal disease) worsens glucose control. According to at least one study, poor glycemic control is associated with a threefold increased risk of having periodontitis in diabetics.
  • Pain from tooth decay affects eating, speaking, sleeping, and learning in children. If a child does not get proper nutrition, this leads to physical and cognitive problems, which affects school performance.
  • Severe tooth decay/caries can lead to painful abscesses for both children and adults. Abscesses need urgent treatment. If gone untreated, abscesses can be fatal.

Preventing Tooth Decay

Tips for Adults

  • Brush your teeth twice a day for 2 minutes each time (2x2 rule). Use a soft bristle toothbrush or electric toothbrush. The more compact the toothbrush head, the better! Make sure to brush all surfaces of the teeth and along the gum line.
  • Don't forget to gently brush your tongue.
  • Floss your teeth at least once a day.
  • Use fluoride toothpaste each time you brush.
  • Visit the dentist regularly (twice a year or every six months is typical for most people but some individuals may need to see the dentist more frequently).
  • If you have Medi-Cal, that means you also have dental insurance, known as Denti-Cal. When making a dental appointment, make sure your dentist accepts your form of insurance or asks for an estimate if you need to pay out-of-pocket.
  • Avoid tobacco products (including e-cigarettes or vaping), cannabis, alcohol, and other drugs
  • Limit the number of sugary foods and beverages you consume. This also includes limiting the frequency of snacking in between meals since every time you eat or drink something with sugar, the bacteria in your mouth produce acids that weaken your teeth and can eventually cause a cavity.
  • Thoroughly rinse your mouth with water after eating whenever you cannot brush.
  • Minimize medications with oral effects, if possible (e.g., those that decrease saliva flow). If the medication was prescribed to you by your doctor, make
  • sure to get advice from your doctor first.

Tips for Children

Help Children Prevent Tooth Decay

  • Remember that bacteria can be transferred from caregiver to child. Bacteria in the mouth eat the sugar (metabolize the sugar) and produce acids. The acids then weaken the tooth and over time causes cavities. The earlier children are exposed to these bacteria, the more likely they will develop caries. Caregivers can avoid exposing babies to bacteria by not sharing things that have been in their mouths with children. This includes cups, spoons, straws, pacifiers, and toothbrushes.
  • As with adults, children should limit the amount and frequency of starchy and sugary foods and beverages they consume. This includes chips, crackers, cookies, sugary cereals, candies, soda, juice, and sports drinks. When these are given to your child, make sure to include them with a meal.
  • Do not let babies sleep with a bottle in their mouths unless it contains water. Putting babies to sleep with bottles of milk (including breastmilk), juices, soft drinks, or sweetened tea can cause early childhood caries (baby bottle tooth decay).
  • Wean babies off of bottles and teach them to drink from a cup around the age of 12 months.
  • Wipe baby's gums with a damp cloth after every feeding and gently brush any teeth that are showing with a small smear (rice grain-size) of fluoride toothpaste. Wipe away any excess toothpaste residue.
  • Since young children cannot spit effectively, it is important to use just a smear of fluoride toothpaste (or the size of a rice grain) for children under 2 years old; Use only a pea size amount for children 3 and older.


  • Children 8 years and under need to be supervised when brushing and flossing. Help children brush thoroughly twice a day and floss once a day. Children cannot adequately floss on their own until they have the manual dexterity to tie their shoelaces or write in cursive.
  • Check your children's teeth regularly to make sure they are healthy - chalky, dull white spots on the teeth or brown spots on the teeth are both signs of tooth decay and indicate that a dental visit may be needed sooner rather than later.
  • If your child has Medi-Cal, Healthy Families, or Healthy Kids insurance, they also have coverage for dental services.
  • Parents and caregivers are highly encouraged to help every child establish a dental home by 12 months of age. For a list of dentists accepting Denti-Cal (Medi-Cal), please visit the Children's Health and Disability Prevention page.
  • Prior to a dentist appointment, you can get your child mentally and emotionally ready for the dentist by talking to them, watching videos, reading books, or completing coloring activity books that contain information about what happens during a dental visit.
  • When your child visits the dentist, make sure to ask about fluoride varnish and dental sealants
    • Fluoride varnish can be applied up to 5 times a year in dental and medical offices/clinics. The varnish is painted on each tooth surface. Once the varnish is applied, avoid hot, sticky, or hard / crunchy foods- this includes hot soups and beverages (e.g., hot cocoa). Leave the varnish on for the entire day and brush it off the next morning
    • Typically around age 6 or 7, dental sealants can be applied on the chewing surfaces of children's permanent molars. Molars have grooves and pits that are uneven, narrow and hard for a toothbrush to reach which means it is easier for a cavity to form. The dental sealant is a thin plastic coating that acts as a barrier to prevent cavities on those parts of the teeth. Dental sealants can last many years before needing to be replaced.

For more tips and information on children's oral health, including printable pamphlets, please visit the Children's Health and Disability Prevention page and review the Additional Resources section.

To find a dental provider who accepts Medi-Cal/Denti-Cal, or to learn more about covered services, please visit Smile California.

Learn about Fluoride and Community Water Fluoridation.

Fluoride Tap Water

Oral Health Coalition

The Oral Health Program has established a local oral health coalition comprising diverse community partners who aim to use local oral health data in order to inform activities and services to promote oral health. The Coalition is a learning community where coalition members can collaborate, establish quality improvement practices and identify best practice recommendations regarding oral care for residents throughout the County, with special attention to populations at high risk for poor oral health outcomes. The Butte County Oral Health Coalition's Vision is Healthy Smiles for Healthy Futures.

Reports & Data

In order for the Oral Health Program to address oral health inequities and serve the populations and areas that need it most, an oral health-specific Community Health Assessment (CHA) and a Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) were developed in 2018. The purpose of the CHA is to learn about the oral health status of Butte County's population, determine factors that contribute to oral health issues, and identify assets, resources, and areas for improvement.

View the Oral Health Community Health Assessment (CHA) (PDF).

Adult Brushing, Flossing & Fluoride Use in Past Week

Adult Brushing, Flossing and Fluoride Use in Past WeekSource: Butte County Oral Health Community Survey, 2018

Child Dietary Behaviors in the Past Week

Child Dietary Behaviors in the Past WeekSource: Butte County Oral Health Community Survey, 2018

Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP)

In collaboration with the members of the Butte County Oral Health Coalition, a Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) was developed to address the community's oral health needs identified in the CHA. The CHIP report includes goals, objectives, and strategies for the Oral Health Program and Oral Health Coalition to work towards and complete by June 30, 2022.

View the Oral Health Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP) (PDF).