An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

News Search
NEWS | Aug. 2, 2011

Early oral health Care is important to a child’s development

By Staff Sgt. Stephanie Rowe 628th Aerospace Medicine Squadron dental assistant

Dental decay, or cavities, is the most common chronic disease of childhood, affecting 50 percent of children by middle childhood and nearly 70 percent by late adolescence. Insufficient oral hygiene leads to plaque buildup, causing gingivitis. Gingivitis is the mildest form of periodontal disease which fortunately can be prevented by instilling proper oral habits early. High-quality oral hygiene routines should be established as early as infancy.

At the Deily Dental Clinic on Joint Base Charleston - Air Base, we are educating our patients on prevention. Although we do not see military children here on base, we emphasize to our patients to begin teaching their children proper oral hygiene at an early age with the goal of making brushing fun. Establish a routine in the morning and before bedtime that you and your children can do together. By taking care of your teeth alongside your children, they will learn firsthand just how important their teeth really are.

Oral health care is a job that begins even before your child gets his or her first tooth. Give children an excellent beginning by gently wiping your infant's gums with a damp washcloth or gauze pad after feedings to remove plaque and food residue. When the first tooth appears, clean the surfaces with a soft cloth or a baby toothbrush and a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste.

Avoid putting your baby to bed with a bottle that has anything except water in it. Baby bottle tooth decay occurs when children fall asleep with a bottle of milk, formula, juice or other sweet liquid in the mouth. Bacteria in the mouth create acids that attack the teeth, causing decay. This can also develop from the child falling asleep while breastfeeding.

The first visit to the dentist should be around the child's first birthday (or six months after the first tooth erupts). At this visit the dentist will check for cavities in the primary teeth and watch for developmental problems. Don't worry if your child's teeth don't erupt in the correct order as every child develops differently. Also, some teeth may erupt early or may be delayed.

Going to the dentist can be frightening for children, so here are some tips that you can use to make the trip enjoyable for both you and your child:
  • Schedule visits to the dentist at a time when your child is likely to be well rested and cooperative.
  • Never mention the words "hurt" or "pain" around your child when discussing the visit. Saying "it won't hurt" instills the possibility of pain into your child's thought process.
  • Do not discuss your own negative experiences in your child's hearing range.
  • Allow and encourage your child to discuss any fears he or she might have about the visit.
By age two or three you can begin to teach your child proper brushing and flossing techniques. It is important to remember that you will need to continuously monitor their dental skills until the age of seven or eight, when the child has the dexterity to do it alone. If your child can tie his or her own shoes then he or she is ready to brush and floss alone. You should still be monitoring the technique and consistency though to ensure they are doing it correctly.

A child's permanent molars usually come in between age six and twelve. At this time consider having sealants applied which are thin protective plastic coatings placed on the chewing surfaces of back teeth. Sealants help prevent decay by sealing the pit and fissure surfaces of back teeth. Some research has shown that when sealants are applied, cavities can be reduced by more than 60 percent.

The best way to protect your child's teeth is through prevention. Prevention is the key to a healthier lifestyle. Studies show that a healthy mouth correlates to a healthy body. If your child plays contact sports always have them wear a mouth guard. Also, change your child's toothbrush three to four times a year, and after every illness to avoid spreading germs. Encourage your children to eat fruits and vegetables for snacks instead of cookies. Limit food intake between meals and always have them brush after snack time. Also, check to see if the water supply that serves your home is fluoridated. If it is not, ask your dentist about how you can supplement fluoride.

Visit and sign your children up today. You can enroll and find participating providers all in one place.

For more information about proper oral health care, as well as brushing and flossing instructions, you can visit the American Dental Hygienists' Association at