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59th Medical Wing News

Children's Dental Health Month: Healthy habits promote cavity-free teeth, healthy gums

Capt. (Dr.) Christina Wengler, 59th Dental Training Group pediatric dentist, examines a 6-year-old's teeth Jan. 20 at Dunn Dental Clinic, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Regular dental check-ups, good oral hygiene habits and healthy eating and drinking habits help children prevent tooth decay and gum diseases. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kevin Iinuma)

Capt. (Dr.) Christina Wengler, 59th Dental Training Group pediatric dentist, examines a 6-year-old's teeth Jan. 20 at Dunn Dental Clinic, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Regular dental check-ups, good oral hygiene habits and healthy eating and drinking habits help children prevent tooth decay and gum diseases. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kevin Iinuma)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas -- Did you know that tooth decay is the leading chronic infectious disease among children in the U.S.? February is National Children's Dental Health Month; take some time this month to focus on cavity-free teeth and healthy gums for your children.

According to the American Dental Association and American Academy of Pediatrics, all children should have their first dental check-up by their first birthday. The purpose of this first check-up is to establish a dental home, educate parents about infant oral care, and establish good dental habits.

Much like health and wellness-baby visits with the child's pediatrician, most of the appointment involves talking with the doctor. If your child currently does not have a dentist, ask friends and neighbors for recommendations. Also check your dental insurance for a list of pediatric and family dentists located near you.

If your child has health care needs, is extremely anxious or has a large number of cavities, consider going to a pediatric dentist. Pediatric dentists have two to three years of additional training in taking care of children's teeth. That training includes prevention, advanced behavior management, growth and development, care of medically complex patients, hospital dentistry, and pharmacological management.

At home, help your child develop healthy oral habits early by brushing as soon as the first tooth appears. Establish family routines to encourage brushing twice a day, morning and night, with a small amount of fluoridated toothpaste.

Use a smear of toothpaste for children under 3 and a pea-sized amount for kids three and up. Young children will need help from an adult to properly brush. By the age of 6 or 7, most kids have the manual dexterity to brush on their own but might still need help with motivation.

Proper eating and drinking habits are also key to a healthy mouth. Most people know that eating too much candy can lead to dental decay. But sipping on diluted apple juice, sweetened ice tea, and sports drinks can also lead to cavities. Putting a baby or toddler to sleep with a bottle or sippy cup containing milk, formula, juice, or anything besides water can quickly lead to decayed teeth.

Frequent snacking on simple carbohydrates like crackers and cereal, which are broken into sugar by the body, can also be detrimental. Avoid these common dental pitfalls by offering better food and drink choices. Keep your refrigerator and pantry stocked with nutritious, kid-friendly food options like string cheese, precut fruit and vegetables, peanut butter, water, and white milk.

The Dunn Dental Clinic staff wants to help parents and children get on the right track toward healthy oral hygiene habits. Walk-in screenings are conducted on the second Tuesday of most months from 8 to 10 a.m. at the clinic for a limited number of pediatric patients age 12 and under. For more information, call pediatric dentistry at 671-9836.