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NEWS | Feb. 20, 2008

Prevent cavities, maintain lifelong healthy smile

By Staff Sgt. Aimee Jackson 437th Medical Group

Providing proper care and oral hygiene for children can mean a lifetime of good oral health.

Research shows children who develop cavities in their baby teeth are more likely to develop cavities as an adult, which means frequent dental visits and lots of money. So how can a parent determine if their child is at risk for cavities? It all begins with the first trip to the dentist.

The first dental visit should include an exam to determine if the child is at low, moderate or high risk for cavities and will help decide which oral hygiene program best suits the child. The dentist will be able to explain to the parent how often the child should be brushing as well as provide flossing instructions for the child.

"Brushing should begin when the first tooth erupts," said Gaye Adams, 437th Medical Group registered dental hygienist. "Parents should be in charge of a child's brushing until the child is able to tie his or her shoes or write their own name clearly -- usually five or six years of age."

Diet is also a key factor in preventing cavities. Any food that can be broken down into sugars, including all carbohydrates, can also serve as the main supply of nutrients for the bacteria that cause tooth decay. Every time someone eats, an acid reaction occurs inside the mouth, resulting in 20 minutes of demineralization of the tooth structure, eventually leading to cavities.

However, there are several things that can be done to prevent the tooth destruction that results in cavities.

· Limit frequency of meals and snacks. Most school-aged children should have three meals and only two or three snacks per day. 

· Avoid continual snacking. Children should sit down and finish a snack instead of munching on small bites throughout the day. 

· Encourage brushing and rinsing. Children should brush their teeth or at least rinse their mouth with water after each meal or snack. 

· Watch what they drink. Water is the healthiest beverage for teeth, but milk and 100 percent fruit juices are also good choices. Soda, sports drinks, sweetened iced tea, lemonade and chocolate milk all contain a lot of sugar and should only be served in moderation. However, be careful with fruit juices, especially apple juice, because they are high in sugar. Also, many juices are not 100 percent fruit juice and are mostly just sugary water. 

· Make a treat part of a meal. To reduce acid reactions, try to incorporate a treat with lunch or dinner, instead of serving it a couple hours later as a stand-alone snack. 

· Choose nutritious snacks. Get children used to eating healthy foods, such as fruit, raw vegetables, yogurt, cheese and pretzels as snacks. 

· Avoid sticky foods. Watch your child's intake of sticky foods like fruit roll-ups and caramel. These foods linger on the tooth surface, causing the acid reaction to last longer and pose a higher risk for decay.

Help children maintain a lifelong healthy smile by providing them with a well-balanced diet, limiting snacks and ensuring they brush twice a day. Also remember to schedule them for regular dental check ups. Not only will this catch tooth decay before it gets too big, but it can help to make the child's visit to the dentist an enjoyable experience for everyone.