Celebrate National Children's Dental Month in February

  • Published
  • By Eva M. Jewell
  • 45th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Registered Dental Hygienist
Children are faced with a bewildering array of food choices -- from fresh produce to sugar-laden processed convenience meals and snacks foods. What children are eating today poses not only a serious concern regarding their overall health, but more specifically it affects their oral health. 

Americans are consuming foods and drinks high in sugar and starches more often and in larger portions than ever before. It's clear with the high rates of obesity that junk food and drinks have gradually replaced nutritious foods and beverages for many people.

For example, the average teenage boy in the U.S. now consumes 81 gallons of soft drinks each year. A steady diet of sugar foods and drinks can ruin teeth, especially among those who snack throughout the day. Habitually grazing on snacks with minimal nutritional value or sipping on sugary drinks may contribute to the tendency toward tooth decay. Even some snacks that you may assume are full of health benefits, such as fruit drinks, often have large amounts of sugar in them, and should be limited in frequency and amount.

Exposing teeth to a constant barrage of sugar, even in these foods or drinks that have some health benefits, can have dramatic harmful effects. Each sip or nibble of sugar provides food for the bacteria in the mouth, which in turn produces acid, and thus creates cavities as the tooth enamel is eaten away.

Almost all foods have some type of sugar, which cannot and should not be eliminated from our diets. Many of these foods contain important nutrients and add enjoyment to eating. But, there is a risk for tooth decay from a diet high in sugar and starch. Starches can be found in everything from bread to pretzels to salad dressing, so read labels and plan carefully for a balanced and nutritious diet for you and your children.

The following are ways to reduce your child's risk of tooth decay:

-Sugary foods and drinks should be consumed with meals. Saliva production increases during meals and helps neutralize acid production and rinses food particles from the mouth.
-Limit between-meals snacks. If children crave a snack, offer them nutritious foods.
-If your children chew gum, choose sugarless with xylitol or recaldent. Chewing sugarless gum after eating can increase saliva flow and help wash out food and decay-producing acid.
-Monitor beverage consumption. Instead of soft drinks or power drinks, children should drink water or low-fat milk.
-Help your children develop good brushing and flossing habits. Parents should assist their children until age 10.
-Schedule regular dental visits.

To learn more about National Children's Dental Health Month, visit the American Dental Association website at www.ada.org, or speak to a dental professional, or schedule an appointment at the 45th AMDS at (321) 494-6366.