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Tooth Fairy Not the Only Winner When It Comes to Children’s Oral Health


Pediatric Dental Clinics at Walter Reed Bethesda Plan Event for National Children’s Dental Health Month​

By Cmdr. (Dr.) Sabina Yun 

Pediatric Dentist, Navy Medicine Professional Development Center​

In conjunction with National Children’s Dental Health Month during February, the Pediatric Dental Clinic of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and Navy Postgraduate Dental School will perform oral screenings and caries (cavities) assessments Feb. 1 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the America Building (Bldg. 19), 4th floor Pediatrics Clinic.

The assessments are open to all children from 1 to 12 years of age with base access to WRNMMC. TRICARE eligibility is not required. Other activities during the event include face painting, storytelling, games and instruction on teaching children good oral hygiene habits.

National Children’s Dental Health Month is observed annually during February to increase awareness that it’s never too early to promote good oral health habits. Some questions are as old as dentistry and they include: Are baby teeth really that important? Won’t they just fall out anyway? Do I really need to take care of them?

The answers to these questions are just as old: Yes, baby teeth are important. Yes, they will fall out anyway. Yes, it is important to take proper care of them from the very beginning.

The fact is baby teeth are as important to children as permanent teeth are to adults.

Adults and children alike need teeth for proper chewing and nutrition intake, speech development and establishing self-assurance and confidence for every time we smile. In addition to those basic functions, baby teeth serve as space savers for permanent teeth and help guide them into their proper alignment. 

A baby tooth normally remains in a child's mouth until a growing permanent tooth is ready to erupt through the gums. If a child loses a tooth prematurely due to an accident or extraction of a diseased tooth, it will lead to the loss of space and has the potential to cause the new permanent tooth to erupt out of alignment or fail to erupt completely. Improperly aligned teeth may require expensive and time-consuming orthodontic treatment in the future. For those reasons, it is very important that baby teeth are kept healthy and in place until they are lost naturally. 

Keeping baby teeth healthy should start just days after birth and continue for a lifetime of healthy oral care.

The first care you provide is actually for the baby’s gums. Start cleaning your baby’s gums using water and a soft towel or cloth. As the teeth begin to erupt, start brushing with an age-appropriate toothbrush twice a day (after breakfast and before bedtime) using a fluoridated toothpaste that has been approved by the American Dental Association. 

For children less than 3 years old, use a small smear or rice-size amount of toothpaste for brushing. For children 3 to 5 years old, use no more than a pea-size amount of toothpaste. Brush twice a day, and rinsing after brushing should be kept to a minimum or eliminated completely. Remember to assist your child because their manual dexterity and cognitive understanding are not mature enough to effectively clean their teeth. A good gauge to go by to determine when your child is able to brush his or her teeth independently is the ability to tie his or her shoelaces; help with brushing a child’s teeth should continue until the child can confidently tie his or her shoelaces on their own.

Another way to promote healthy teeth is to drink fluoridated water.

Consuming fluoridated water and using small amounts of fluoride topically on a routine basis can help prevent tooth decay by strengthening tooth structure and reducing bacterial activity that causes cavities. Research shows that community water fluoridation has lowered decay rates by more than 50 percent, which translates to fewer cavities, so encourage your child to sip fluoridated water throughout the day to make their teeth stronger. 

While beneficial, it is important to note that too much fluoride can lead to fluorosis, which can cause staining or pitting of the teeth.

Another key to proper baby teeth care is to watch what your children eat and drink. Dietary choices play an important role in oral health. One common cavity-causing mistake is to allow children to fall asleep with a bottle or nurse a sippy cup filled with milk or juice. It is important to limit prolonged and frequent exposure to simple carbohydrates, foods that break down into sugars in the mouth. These include sugary foods such as cookies, cakes, soft drinks, juice and candy, with the sticky types being the worst.  Some other non-obvious foods that can potentially contain a lot of sugar are granolas, crackers and cereals. Offering young children healthy snacks such as cheese, nuts, beans, vegetables and fruits is important to develop healthy teeth. If a bottle or sippy cup is necessary to help soothe a child or help them sleep, water or a sugar-free drink are better options than milk or surgery juices.

For more information about the Feb. 1 dental fair, call 301-295-1364. For more information about children’s oral health, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention websitewww.cdc.gov/oralhealth/children_adults/child.htm.​