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Keep Children's Smiles Healthy in 2000

By Airman 1st Class C. Todd Lopez

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. (Feb. 11, 2000) -- A beautiful smile starts with healthy teeth, and healthy teeth start with good brushing habits learned as a child.

Parents should take the time to teach children how to properly brush, floss and care for their teeth. Establishing an everyday routine as a child can help children become adults with healthy teeth and gums.

Capt. John Ericson teaches son Jeremy Ericson to brush his teeth. U.S. Air Force photo by Bill Plate.

Focusing on teaching children and parents how to care for children's teeth is the goal of February's National Children's Dental Health Month.

"The way children care for their bodies today will have an impact on their health far into the new center," said Captain Elizabeth Beck, a dentist with the 436th Dental Squadron. "The good news for parents is that preventive dental care has dramatically improved the oral health of American children."

According to Beck, it is now possible for many children to reach adulthood without ever experiencing tooth decay.

Dental tips for parents and caregivers:

-Take your child to see the dentist regularly, beginning by the child's first birthday

-Put only water in a child's nap time or bedtime bottle

-Start brushing as soon as the child's first tooth appears

-Begin flossing when two teeth begin to touch

-Brush and floss your child's teeth daily until the child can be taught to do this alone

-Make certain your child gets the fluoride needed for decay-resistant teeth

-Ask your dentist or the 436th Medical Group family practice or pediatric physicians how this should be done.

It is also a good idea to ask your dentist about dental sealants. Dental sealants are thin protective barriers applied to teeth that shield the chewing surface of back teeth against tooth decay.

As part of National Children's Dental Health Month, the 436th Dental Squadron will provide information to both parents and children to assist them in effective oral hygiene. One such program brings dental squadron members into the classroom to educate children about good dental practices.

"We present kids with toothbrushes, stickers, mouth mirrors, and talk to them about brushing their teeth, healthy foods and how, to take care of their teeth," said Staff Sgt. April Kantner, 436th Dental Squadron. "Most kids will also get to see a video."

Another exciting portion of the dental squadron's schedule of activities includes the annual presentation of a dental play that educates children on good dental care.

The play, featuring such characters as Princess Cuspid and King Molar, shows the perils of eating unhealthy foods, and their effect on teeth.

"The play has different things in it about unhealthy foods and unhealthy things they should try to stay away from, like smoking and candy bars. They learn the end result of choosing candy over healthy snacks could be cavities," said Kantner. "The children are real receptive to the play. When they see the evil cavity guy come out they get kind of scared, and they cheer for Princess Cuspid when she gets saved by the dentist."

The play is geared to children in kindergarten through 3rd grade.

"Good oral health practices should begin in infancy. In your child's early years, you must provide this care," said Beck. "Later, you will need to instruct, monitor and motivate your child to help maintain good oral health habits."

"Attitudes and habits established at an early age are critical in maintaining good oral health throughout life," said Beck.