US Army dentist shares best practices for children’s dental health | Article

Children's Dental Health Month

Children at the McChord Child Development Center brush a dinosaur's teeth as part of National Children's Dental Health Month, Feb. 25, 2016, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. Staff members travel to the CDC to inform children about optimal oral health and hygiene.
(Photo credit: U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Naomi Shipley)

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FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — Kids don't come with instructions, so a U.S. Army dentist at Fort Leavenworth is sharing what parents should know about helping their children develop lifelong good oral hygiene habits.

start early

“Brushing begins as soon as a child's teeth appear in the mouth. For most children, this is at 6 months of age,” said Major Yu-Sheng (David) Chen, commander of Smith Dental Clinic.

He recommends using fluoride toothpaste twice a day—in the morning and at night before bed.

“Many people do this when they wake up as part of their normal morning routine, but I recommend waiting until after breakfast to eliminate any accumulated bacteria overnight and any food deposits from breakfast,” says Chen.

For babies, parents can use clean fingers or wear a specially designed silicone finger brush and brush each tooth for about six seconds, Chen said. As babies get older and more teeth come in, parents can begin brushing their children's teeth with a regular child-sized soft-bristled toothbrush twice a day for a total of about two minutes.

“The correct amount of toothpaste for children under two is the size of a grain of rice. For children three and above, the correct amount is the size of a pea,” Chen said.

Chen said you should not eat sugary snacks or drinks, including milk, after brushing your teeth before bed. Water is no problem.

“Anything you consume after brushing your teeth will remain on your teeth overnight, which can lead to cavities,” says Chen.

For most children, he said, flossing may require a longer wait.

“Most children's primary or primary teeth are well spaced,” Chen said. “It's still a good idea to practice flossing starting at age two. Then by age three, flossing will be required every night before bed.

Starting oral hygiene early can reduce tooth-damaging bacteria and help children get used to dental care, Chen said.

Visit the dentist

“If parents have any concerns, they can schedule a visit to the dentist as soon as the first tooth erupts, but if they maintain good oral hygiene, they can wait until the child is 18 months old,” Chen said. Dentists can ensure teeth are growing properly and detect any problems early, he adds.

Parents are responsible for brushing teeth between visits until age six or seven.

“If a child can't tie his or her own shoes or write his or her name clearly, then the child doesn't have the fine motor skills needed to brush teeth well,” Chen explains.

Even children who are physically able to brush their teeth may not have the maturity and attention to detail needed to do a good job, he said.

“Until about age seven to 10, parents need to watch their children brush their teeth and make sure they remove all plaque,” Chen said.

He warned that as children enter their teenage years, parents should still check their teeth regularly to make sure their children are removing plaque when brushing and not cutting corners.

With good dental care, tooth decay can be prevented,” Chen said.

He recommends that in addition to brushing twice a day, flossing and gargling once a day, families should visit the dentist for regular checkups.

Eligible military dependents can find a dentist through the TRICARE dental plan. This program is a voluntary enrollment-based dental program for family members of active duty military personnel.

Learn more about TRICARE dental plans and covered benefits.

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