February is National Children’s Dental Health Month

by U.S. Air Force SSgt Fidel Ababa
Osan Air Base

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- Do you know what your kids are consuming when you are not around? When your children are with you, you can monitor what they eat, as they usually only have access to what you give them. However, when you are not with them, children often have access to other unhealthy food items. When given the means to choose their own options, children may purchase sugar-loaded snacks and drinks.

According to the American Dental Association, tooth decay or dental cavities is the number one chronic childhood disease. Recent studies show that 25 percent of school-aged children have significant tooth decay which can affect the quality of life and self-esteem of your child. You often hear that sugar is the source of tooth decay. However, it is interesting to know that tooth decay is actually a bacterial disease. Dental plaque is a soft and sticky film that constantly builds up on your teeth, and contains millions of bacteria. The bacteria in plaque breaks down the sugars and carbohydrates we consume, produce acids that dissolve the tooth structure and cause cavities.

How can we prevent cavities? Since we know that cavities are caused by bacteria in plaque, it is also important to know that the longer we allow plaque to sit on our teeth, the more damage it causes. Therefore, removing plaque daily is key to preventing cavities. This can be accomplished by brushing and flossing your teeth. In addition to your daily oral hygiene, diet control is also very important. Limiting the intake of sugar-containing food and drinks can greatly improve your oral health. Sipping drinks that are carbonated or contain sugar is very detrimental to teeth. It is better to finish a drink in one sitting rather than sipping on it the entire day, and rinsing with water between sips is beneficial as well.

It’s very important for parents to monitor and guide children when they begin to brush their own teeth. Children need help brushing their teeth until they develop full manual dexterity, which is typically around ages 8-10. Always use age-appropriate soft-bristled toothbrushes. Soft bristles are safer for the gums and thinner bristles can clean more effectively in the crevices and grooves on the teeth. Brushing for two minutes twice a day is essential to remove the majority of the plaque.

Brushing only cleans up to about 60-70 percent of teeth surfaces. In order to clean the all the hidden surfaces, you need to floss between your teeth. Children also need to start flossing once daily as soon as the sides of their teeth start to touch each other. Flossing may seem difficult at first, but once you get used to the technique it is very easy and takes only a small amount of your time. Oral hygiene habits are established at an early age, and these habits are critical in maintaining good oral health throughout life.

Annual dental check-ups are important for early detection of tooth decay. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child go to the dentist by age one or within six months after the first tooth erupts.

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, an annual celebration to spread awareness to our children and to help maintain their beautiful smiles. The 51st Dental Squadron, Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, has school visits throughout the month and a Saturday Sealant Clinic scheduled as well. For more information or to schedule an appointment please contact the Dental Clinic at 0505-784-2108.

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