Commentary - Parents can help children prevent cavities

99th Dental Squadron

99th Dental Squadron

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- More than four million children are born each year in the United States. Current statistics show that more than half of these children will have cavities by the time they reach second grade.

In recognition of this fact and to promote February as the National Children's Dental Health Month, we want to remind everyone that children can get a good start on a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums if, at a young age, they develop good habits and attend regular dental visits. Parents can help their children build up good oral hygiene and prevent cavities by following these three simple rules:

1) Watch your child's diet.
A proper diet is needed to help prevent tooth decay. Diets that are loaded with sugary foods and drinks are not good for the teeth or body. When sugar is consumed over and over again, the harmful effects on teeth can be dramatic. Sugar on teeth provides food for the bacteria that commonly exist in our mouths. These bacteria will produce acid and the acid, in turn, will eat away the enamel, the outer layer of our teeth, and will cause cavities.

The most common places children get cavities are on the tops of the teeth and in-between the teeth. This is because children's teeth are very anatomical, they have lots of hills and valleys, and it is easy for foods, especially sticky, chewy foods, to get stuck in their teeth. To help reduce the risk of your child getting a cavity, reduce the amount of sugary foods and drinks in his or her diet.

2) Brush and floss your child's teeth twice a day.
Most parents allow their children to brush and floss their teeth by themselves when the children start to show independence. Unfortunately, children are not able to brush and floss their teeth properly until they are around nine years old. One solution for this predicament is for parents to let their independent children brush and floss, but go back and do it again afterwards. This method will help remove any food that the children missed on their teeth.

A small amount of toothpaste is all that is needed when brushing. Parents must be sure to have their children use the proper amount of time - two to three minutes - to brush all the surfaces of their teeth. In addition, parents should try to not let their children drink anything for about 30 minutes after brushing. This time allows the fluoride from the toothpaste to soak into the teeth, which helps keep the teeth strong and prevent cavities. The best times to brush teeth are in the morning after eating and in the evening before going to bed.

3) Schedule regular dental visits for your child.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Dental Association recommend that a child's first dental visit should be no later than 12 months of age. The frequency of your child's dental visits - every three, six or 12 months - will depend on their risk for developing cavities and if the child has any special medical or physical conditions (i.e. autism, Down syndrome, asthma). Children who visit a dentist on a regular basis for dental check-ups are more likely to receive appropriate preventive and routine oral health care and are less likely to develop cavities.

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