42nd MDG fights children's tooth decay

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- The 42nd Medical Group's dental clinic is targeting education for both parents and children as it prepares for February's National Children's Dental Health Month.

"As far as actual treatment performed on dependent children, we only see them on a very limited, emergency basis," said Capt. (Dr.) Matt Avrit. "However, we attempt to provide education to both the children and their parents as to their proper oral hygiene and nutritional care through programs such as National Children's Dental Health Month and the school visits."

One such school visit is Feb. 23 when members of the dental clinic will visit Maxwell Elementary School students to talk about oral health care and pass out activity booklets.

Terry Richards, a nurse at Maxwell Elementary School, said she is excited about the opportunity to educate the kids this month using games, activities, and experiments.

"I also have a little Treasure Chest drawer filled with goodies for them to choose an item from when they lose a tooth," she said.

Dental decay is the most common chronic disease of children ages 5-17, Captain Avrit said About 41 percent of children ages 2-11 have tooth decay in their primary teeth, 21 percent of which goes untreated. These statistics are why the Maxwell dental clinic and dental personnel nationwide work to increase public awareness about proper early childhood oral health care for National Children's Dental Health Month.

Captain Avrit said a dental team will talk to the children at Maxwell Elementary School about how to care for their teeth including proper brushing and flossing, nutritional value of foods, what cavities are and the progression from baby teeth to permanent teeth.

Each Feburary since 1949, the American Dental Association has been the sponsor to raise awareness about the importance of oral health. This year's celebration is titled "Turn Up Your Smile Power!"

During this 60th anniversary program many techniques will be highlighted that parents can use to help their children maintain a healthy smile.

By teaching parents and children about proper oral health care at a young age, Captain Avrit said they hope to reduce the prevalence of early childhood cavities and educate the community about the importance of a healthy mouth.

Babies' mouths and gums can be gently swiped with a piece of gauze or wet washcloth, the captain said. This habit serves two purposes. First, it will reduce the amount of bacteria found in a child's mouth. Secondly, it helps parents and children establish a routine that will act as a foundation for a lifetime of good oral hygiene.

Captain Avrit said a common misconception about baby teeth is that they will fall out regardless of any care given them. Another misconception is some children are destined to have rotten teeth.

"As the first tooth erupts, a small, soft toothbrush should be used to clean the area," Captain Avrit said. "Until your child is old enough to handle a toothbrush on his own, parents are encouraged to help their child brush. Move the toothbrush back and forth in gentle, short strokes, and make sure to reach all the surfaces of the tooth and try to remember that the gums can be very tender around erupting teeth."

Fluoridated toothpaste is not recommended by either the ADA or the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry until a child is 2 years or older, he added.

Captain Avrit also said parents should take their children to the dentist regularly, beginning with the eruption of the first tooth. Then, the dentist can recommend a specific program of brushing, flossing, and other treatments for parents to supervise and teach to their children. These home treatments, when added to regular dental visits and a balanced diet, will help give a child a lifetime of healthy habits.

For more information on community activities sponsored by the Maxwell Dental Clinic, call 953-7822.