Dental tips for parents

by Dr. (Maj.) Jonathan Harmon 86th Dental Squadron
Photo by Michael Pettigrew /

Growing up, I had a misguided idea of how to take care of my teeth. I suppose I just had a different definition of what was expected.  For example, I thought it was acceptable to drink five sodas every day.  At our house, it was normal to substitute fruit snacks for fruit. I even thought it was okay to only brush your teeth when your sister mocked you for having bad breath.

Believe it or not, this is not how to properly care for your mouth or body. These types of situations are still too common among our youth. Childhood caries, frequently referred to as cavities, affect about 50 percent of all children in the United States. Luckily, parents can learn from my mistakes and help their children avoid these preventable oral diseases.  As a cavity-inducing bacterium would say, let me break it down. Cavities primarily form due to two reasons: poor diet and/or poor oral hygiene. Perfect these two areas and the vast majority of cavities can be prevented. Let me share some personal tips for parents to help protect your children’s teeth:

Avoid sugary drinks. The recommended amount of sugar-laden beverages is zero. This not only includes sodas and energy drinks, but even fruit juices.

Drink more water. This is the only “tooth safe” drink. It can help neutralize acids and wash away harmful foods, and you also need it to live. Call it a win-win.

Eat more fruits and vegetables. If your child wants some-thing sweet, try a piece of fruit. Many vegetables can assist with cleaning teeth. Celery is practically a vegetable toothbrush.

Limit snack time. Our family believed in breakfast, snack time, second snack time, lunch, snack time, dinner, post-dinner snack time and finally dessert. Continuously eating increases the food supply for the bacteria in your mouth, which in turn creates a very acidic environment. It is the acid produced by the bacteria that breaks down tooth structure. By limiting the frequency of exposures, there will be less opportunity for the tooth structure to be broken down.

Shop wisely. Don’t buy what you don’t want your children to consume.  This may sound obvious, but it took me a long time to figure this out myself. In our home, we never purchase soda, rarely buy juice and only occasionally purchase sugary snacks and sweets.

Know the proper brushing protocol. Brush for at least two minutes, twice daily. Use a soft-bristle toothbrush. Use fluoride toothpaste. Angle the tooth brush at a 45-degree angle towards the gums and brush in a circular fashion. Remember to brush the tongue!

Floss! Flossing is something everyone knows they should do but consistently avoid. Think of the spaces in between your teeth as the armpits of the teeth. You wouldn’t bathe and not wash your armpits (I hope!). Don’t be the person who doesn’t clean their tooth armpits.

Supervise. Parents need to be responsible for their children’s teeth. This means ensuring their teeth are properly cleaned. Children do not have the dexterity to brush and floss their own teeth properly until around age 8. I recommend a brushing-flossing touch-up by the parent following the child’s initial efforts until the child is capable of performing oral hygiene measures alone. Don’t allow you child to brush their teeth alone until you would allow them to brush your own teeth and not have to do a follow up cleaning.

Visit your dentist annually. Your dentist can educate you on the status of your children’s teeth and detect cavities and other oral conditions that may be present and require attention or intervention. Remember that it is better, and often less painful, to treat oral conditions earlier rather than later.

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month. Start today to teach your children about good oral hygiene.

Contact the Ramstein Dental Clinic at 479-2210 for any questions on dental health or to inquire about an exam appointment.