February is National Children’s Dental Health Month

Brushing the teeth is a skill that children need to learn early in life. The mouth is an integral part of the rest of the body, so a healthy mouth generally means a healthy body. Parents can assist with this task until little ones acquire the dexterity necessary to brush effectively, usually by the age of 7 or 8. The general guidelines are: brush two minutes, two times a day. Nighttime brushing is very important. Brushing can become boring for anyone, not only children, so try a tooth timer.

The primary (baby) teeth are important for function and well-being (no discomfort). Children should never have to experience the pain of an infected tooth. Primary (baby) teeth serve as space savers for the secondary (adult) teeth that we keep for the rest of our lives.

Children should see the dentist for a friendly visit as soon as they are able to sit in the chair and have their teeth counted—somewhere between ages of 1 and 2. Developing problems with tooth decay, number of teeth, arrangement (orthodontic care) and tooth eruption can be recognized and addressed early, before they become major treatment issues.

Diet is also a key for a healthy mouth. Limiting or eliminating fermentable sugars is essential for controlling tooth decay, so start reading labels. Sugars derived from sugar cane, sugar beets or corn (high fructose corn syrup) all feed bacteria. Honey, stevia, agave (more complex, slow metabolizing sugars) are okay in foods, but in their raw form may stick to the teeth, feeding bacteria and causing acid formation that leads to enamel breakdown and tooth decay. Parents should limit snacks such as raisins and dried fruit that stick to the teeth or chewable multivitamins that stick in the grooves of back teeth and have children brush afterward.

Xylitol products are excellent sources of non-fermentable sugar alcohols that starve bacteria and raise the pH in the mouth. Xylitol is available in gum, mints, rinses, sprays, toothpaste and even floss. Studies show that five to 10 grams per day can reduce tooth decay and gum disease.

Kids will be more comfortable with good regular oral hygiene when they see that visiting the dentist can be fun.

Source: Dr. Carol Layton, of Hershey Dental Associates, LLC, in Hummelstown, is offering free tooth timers during the month of Feb. For more information, call 717-220-1792, email HersheyDental@aol.com or visit HersheyDental.com.

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