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Children's dental health focus for month

Capt. William Arnold, 28th Medical Operations Squadron dentist (right), and Staff Sgt. Taylor Johnson, 28th MDOS dental technician (left), dressed as Sparkle the Tooth Brush, demonstrate how to properly floss for children enrolled in the Child Development Center on Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Feb. 13, 2013. The base dental staff visited several facilities on base to teach children the importance of proper dental care as part of National Children’s Dental Health Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anania Tekurio/Released)

Capt. William Arnold, 28th Medical Operations Squadron dentist (right), and Staff Sgt. Taylor Johnson, 28th MDOS dental technician (left), dressed as Sparkle the Tooth Brush, demonstrate how to properly floss for children enrolled in the Child Development Center on Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Feb. 13, 2013. The base dental staff visited several facilities on base to teach children the importance of proper dental care as part of National Children’s Dental Health Month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anania Tekurio/Released)

Four-year-old Marley Gilliam (center) and his fellow Child Development Center classmates examine a model of unhealthy teeth during the National Children’s Dental Health Month dental hygiene lesson put on by base dental professionals in the CDC at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Feb. 13, 2013. Staff used teeth displays to show the children what healthy and unhealthy teeth look like, and proper dental health care habits. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anania Tekurio/Released)

Four-year-old Marley Gilliam (center) and his fellow Child Development Center classmates examine a model of unhealthy teeth during the National Children’s Dental Health Month dental hygiene lesson put on by base dental professionals in the CDC at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Feb. 13, 2013. Staff used teeth displays to show the children what healthy and unhealthy teeth look like, and proper dental health care habits. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anania Tekurio/Released)

Staff Sgt. Taylor Johnson, 28th Medical Operations Squadron dental technician, dressed as Sparkle the Toothbrush, distributes teeth cleaning kits to the children at the Child Development Center on Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Feb. 13, 2013. The dental hygiene kits contained a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and information about how to keep teeth healthy and clean. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anania Tekurio/Released)

Staff Sgt. Taylor Johnson, 28th Medical Operations Squadron dental technician, dressed as Sparkle the Toothbrush, distributes teeth cleaning kits to the children at the Child Development Center on Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Feb. 13, 2013. The dental hygiene kits contained a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss and information about how to keep teeth healthy and clean. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anania Tekurio/Released)

ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- A healthy smile is important to a child's self-esteem.

According to the American Dental Association, tooth decay is one of the most common chronic diseases - second only to the common cold - among children and teens ages 5 to 17. More than 51 million hours of school are lost every year due to dental-related illnesses.

February is National Children's Dental Health Month, a great time to focus on helping children form healthy habits. The ADA recommends the following tips to help children reduce their risk of developing cavities:

- Sugary foods or drinks should be consumed at meals. Saliva production increases during meals and helps neutralize acid production and rinse food particles from the mouth.
- Limit snacking between meals, or eat a nutritious snack instead.
- Chew sugarless gum instead of regular gum. Doing so after eating can increase saliva flow and help wash out food and decay-producing acid.
- Choose water or low-fat milk over soda.
- Brush your teeth at least twice a day for two minutes, and floss after meals.
- Wear a mouth guard while playing sports. Mouth guards cushion blows that could otherwise cause broken teeth, lip or face injuries, or jaw fractures.
- Visit the dentist regularly. Dental sealants form a protective barrier around teeth that helps prevent bacteria from causing tooth decay.

With proper care, a balanced diet and regular dental check-ups, your child's teeth can remain healthy and strong.

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