Good hygiene habits prevent cavities in children

by Capt. Kaitlin Lee
86th Dental Squadron pediatric dentist

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, and this year the focus is on defeating cavities as a family.

Children depend on their parents for a good start to oral hygiene and diet.

Good hygiene habits start as soon as the first baby tooth erupts. For most children, a rice-size smear of toothpaste with fluoride on a small, soft bristled toothbrush should be used to brush baby’s teeth twice daily. This way, the child’s teeth get the cavity protection from the fluoride without swallowing very much.

Once a child can spit, a pea size amount of toothpaste can be used. Children 8 years old and possibly even older will still need an adult’s help brushing. Most children will want to brush on their own, but simply don’t have the manual dexterity to properly brush all their teeth or the patience to brush for two minutes. Parents should be prepared to help their children brush for many years.

Many parents become worried that because they have cavities, their children are destined to have cavities, too. The great news is that cavities, and the bacteria that cause them, are not genetic. However, parents and caregivers often transfer their bad bacteria to their children without even thinking about it.

To avoid sharing saliva and bacteria with children, there are a few simple things to keep in mind: wipe off a baby’s pacifier with something other than the mouth, taste a separate sample of food rather than the portion given to the child and, often the hardest one to follow, kiss the baby on the cheeks rather than on the lips. These small behavior changes on the parents’ part will help give the child a head start at preventing cavities.

Most children love to snack, but grazing throughout the day can lead to cavities. Anytime a child takes one bite of food or a sip of anything but water (even very watered down juice has sugar in it), the oral environment becomes conducive to cavity-causing bacteria. It takes at least 20 minutes for saliva to clear out food and sugar, even from one small cracker. So, the more frequently a child snacks, the more likely he or she is to get cavities.

Helping children get into a routine of three meals and only a couple snacks is an excellent way to set them up for long-term success.

Lastly, The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a child be seen by a dentist by age 1 or with the eruption of the first tooth.

The Ramstein Dental Clinic will be visiting the Ramstein Child Development Center and Ramstein elementary, intermediate and middle schools in February to help children learn how to take care of their teeth. The dental clinic will also be at the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center Saturday. Children should stop by and practice brushing a puppet’s teeth and learn about healthy snacks.

For more information about National Children’s Dental Health Month, call 479-2210 or 06371-46-2210.