JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va. — February is Children’s Dental Health Month and parents need to know what to look out for to make sure their children have great dental health.

Teaching children about taking care of their teeth can be challenging, but it is important to ensure a good foundation for building lifelong habits of oral hygiene and health for them as they grow up.

There is a common misconception about infants and toddlers teeth being less important than adult teeth since they aren’t permanent, but this idea can lead to harmful conditions in a child’s mouth including Early Childhood Caries.

Early Childhood Caries is when one or more baby teeth in a child zero to six-year-old has decayed, missing (due to decay), or has had a filling in their mouth. Bacteria that live in our mouths cause tooth decay. The main source of food for bacteria is sugar. When the bacteria eat sugar, they produce an acid that can break down the surface of the teeth.

Here are some tips to prevent ECC in your child and give them a head start in oral hygiene:

  • Take your children to early and regular dental exams. A baby’s first dental appointment should be scheduled within six months of their first tooth, but no later than their first birthday.
  • Minimize saliva-sharing activities between parents/caregivers to limit bacteria transmission.
  • Don’t put your children to bed with a bottle of milk, formula or juice. The sugars in these drinks can sit on your child’s teeth all night and cause decay.
  • Limit snacking on simple carbohydrates such as cereal, crackers, cookies, white bread and Gatorade. These have sugars that feed the cavity causing bacteria in the mouth.
  • Brush or rinse your child’s teeth after administering sugary medications.
  • Brush your child’s teeth twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste

“This is important because it prevents bacteria from continuing to grow, which may eventually lead to other dental diseases,” said Army Sergeant 1st Class Michelle Newman, Tignor Dental Clinic NCO in charge at Fort Eustis.

Keeping your children’s teeth clean is important, but dental health also includes checking for injuries.

If a parent knows their child was injured in the mouth, they should check for bleeding, tooth displacement, tooth fracture or persistent pain. If any of these symptoms are visible, a visit to the dentist is appropriate. The dentist will be able to establish a baseline for the tooth in case of future changes. It is common for a baby’s tooth to turn gray after being hit, but should not be of worry.

For children with permanent teeth, chipping while being injured is common. If a parent can locate the chipped part, they should take it with them to a dentist appointment because it can be bonded back on.

Permanent teeth can also fall out due to injury. In this case, a parent should take proper measures to possibly save the tooth:

  • Act quickly and make sure the tooth spends as little time possible outside of the mouth.
  • Do not scrub off any dirt from the tooth because the tooth has cells on the root that are vital for the tooth to be reattached. The scrubbing can remove these cells. Gently rinse the tooth if needed and place it back in the tooth socket.
  • Have your child gently bite down on a cloth to stabilize the tooth in its proper position and get to the dentist as soon as possible.
  • If a parent is uncomfortable with any of these procedures, put the tooth in milk and get to the dentist as soon as possible.

With these tips, parents can better understand how to handle certain scenarios and potentially save their child’s tooth.