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Developing good dental habits early on critical to strong health

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- February has long since been known as National Children's Dental Health Month - a time when dental professionals focus on raising awareness about the importance of good oral health.

Developing good habits at an early age can lead to a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. A great starting point is to have kids brush for two minutes, twice daily.

In children, teeth should be cleaned as soon as they erupt. Baby teeth can be cleaned with a soft cloth or baby toothbrush. Around age 2, children should start brushing their teeth using fluoride toothpaste. Use only a pea-sized drop of toothpaste. Children need help brushing their teeth until about 7 or 8 years old.

To help them form the habit of brushing their own teeth, start by brushing their teeth for them first and then have them finish the job on their own. Ensure they never skip brushing before going to bed.

In addition to starting their children on a good health regime, adults should also routinely inspect their children's teeth.

Healthy teeth should be uniform in color. If spots or stains are present, schedule an appointment with a dentist. Tooth decay can lead to cavities. Bacteria in the mouth use sugars in food and drinks to make acid. Over time, these acids can cause cavities. Nearly 50 percent of children between the age of 2 and 11 have had cavities on their baby teeth and over two-thirds of teenagers have had cavities on their permanent teeth.

Cavities are almost entirely preventable. Thoroughly cleaning teeth as well as limiting sugar in your diet can significantly reduce the chance of developing cavities. When teeth are too close for toothbrush bristles to fit in between teeth, introduce floss into the routine.

In addition, regular dental visits should begin around age 1. A dentist can place sealants on teeth when the time is right to help prevent cavities. Fluoride is another method of preventing cavities. It is a naturally occurring mineral that not only prevents cavities, but can also reverse a cavity that has started to form.

Approximately 75 percent of American homes receive fluoridated tap water. Check with your dentist, physician, or local water utility provider to see if it's available.

In recognition of National Children's Dental Health Month, take time to ensure your children are forming good oral health habits. It is never too early to start. The habits you introduce your children to now can help them live out the rest of their lives with healthy mouths.

For more information or to learn more about why it's important to maintain oral health, visit www.ADA.org or www.nidcr.nih.gov.