February is National Children Dental Health Month

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Caroline Bunce
  • 81st Dental Squadron
Dental decay is the most common chronic infectious disease children face. In fact, tooth decay is five times more common than asthma, but parents can help reduce the risk.

The main cause of tooth decay in children involves bacteria that are commonly transferred from adults who share eating utensils or clean a dropped pacifier with saliva. The bacteria attach to the child's teeth and then feed on sugars found in the normal diet. The byproduct of the bacteria is an acid that feeds on the sugars and demineralizes the teeth, eventually causing decay.

Carbohydrates such as bread or cookies and sweetened beverages like juice or soft drinks are additional sources that provide fuel for the bacteria. Proper brushing and flossing can remove food particles, reducing the bacteria's food source. Children under age 7 are not capable of effectively brushing their teeth on their own, so they will need help. If children use a sippy cup or bottle, they should never be allowed to sleep or fall asleep with them, unless it is only filled with water.

Along with removing the food source with brushing and flossing, using fluoridated products has been proven to help prevent cavities. Fluoride is found naturally in the environment and makes teeth stronger, protecting them from the demineralization process the acid causes. Because of its benefits, fluoride is also commonly added to drinking water, toothpaste and mouthwashes.

Exposing children to the correct amount of fluoride can make their teeth more resistant to decay by incorporating itself into the tooth's structure. Studies also have shown fluoride can re-mineralize areas that have been demineralized, slowing or even stopping the decay process. Parents should talk to their children's dentist about their fluoride needs and whether they are receiving the correct amount.

During the child's yearly dental visit, the dentist will evaluate the child's oral health and assess his or her risk of developing cavities. The dentist also will provide instruction regarding proper brushing techniques and other ways to prevent tooth decay.

Because parents want their children to have happy and healthy smiles throughout their lives, each parent should take control of their children's oral health. They should monitor their children's diet, help brush their teeth and ensure they visit the dentist regularly.