FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- February is National Children Dental Health Month and Brown Dental Clinic wants to make sure children on Fort Rucker are doing what they can to keep their smiles healthy.

Dentists from the clinic, including Capts. Catherine Dahl and Michelle Kuznia, as well as the tooth fairy, played by Roseanne Licina, of Brown Dental Clinic, visited the Fort Rucker Primary and Elementary Schools, as well as the Child Development Center Feb. 6-8 to provide free dental screenings and promote healthy dental habits.

"We basically just go in and do the exams … and we send notes home with the kids if we see anything going on," said Dahl. "This is just visual, and we're just looking with a mirror and a light, so this doesn't take the place of a real dental exam, so if we see something we make sure to let the parents know."

During the screenings, Dahl said the dentists are looking for mainly cavities, especially on children who have permanent teeth, but for those that might exist on baby teeth, as well.

"Sometimes parents think, 'well the tooth is going to fall out, so we don't need to worry about it,' but it's uncomfortable for the child when they're trying to eat if their teeth are sore," she said.

Any complications can have lasting impacts on the developing tooth bud underneath, so it can cause damage to the permanent tooth, as well, said Dahl. Also, if the teeth are lost too soon there can be a problem since the baby teeth hold the space for the permanent teeth to come in, so if the teeth are lost too soon, then there may be crowding issues, which can become more difficult to fix later in life.

Overall, though, Dahl said most of the children had healthy teeth, but in order to keep them that way, children, as well as parents, need to continue to practice healthy dental habits.

"When you get older and start getting permanent teeth, those are your teeth for the rest of your life, so when you're old, do you want your real teeth or dentures?" she said. "That's why it's important to stress that we need to take care of our teeth because people are living longer and longer, and we've got to try to keep our teeth our entire lives.

"People with their real teeth are able to chew more effectively and have a lot more taste sensation, and are able to enjoy their food a little more than someone who might have dentures," she continued. "We're just trying to make them aware that it's important."

Dahl said brushing and flossing regularly are very important when it comes to good dental hygiene, and it's something children need to learn early on with the help of their parents.

"Most children need help brushing their teeth until they are 8 years old," said the dentist. "You think they're doing a good job but really they're just brushing the two front ones. Even after (8 years old), parents should monitor them and make sure they're cleaning them well."

Although brushing and flossing are key to good dental hygiene, it's not the only factor that keeps teeth healthy.

"Diet is really huge," she said. "We always talk about sugar and how it affects the teeth, but what kid is going to avoid sugar? It's more about how often children are having sugars.

"Your saliva helps to protect your teeth, so if you have a piece of candy … every time you eat (more candy) your mouth is producing acid, so then you've got a lot of acid on your teeth and that's what dissolves (the teeth)to create cavities."

Dahl said reducing the frequency of the consumption of candy can help combat that, as well as reducing sugary drinks, such as sodas and energy drink. Children don't have to avoid them completely, but suggests if they are going to have a sugary drink, to do so with their meal and drink plenty of water in between. "That will really help to protect the teeth," she said.

Helping children maintain these healthy habits is important, which is why Dahl said throughout the month dentists will go back to the schools and the CDC to provide more education about the importance of good dental hygiene.

"We'll have them watch a video and have a question-and-answer period, so there is a big education aspect to this," she said. "We just really want to help keep their teeth healthy."