JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO - February is National Children's Dental Health Month and this year's theme is "Brush and clean in between to build a healthy smile."

Col. Georgia G. Rogers, consultant to the U.S. Army Surgeon General for Dental Public Health, recommended children brush for at least two minutes, twice a day to reduce the bacteria that can cause tooth decay. Parents should begin brushing their child's teeth as soon as they are visible in the mouth. An adult should always assist children under the age of eight years of age with tooth brushing.

"Using fluoride toothpaste the right way is the most important part of brushing. Children 2-3 years old only need a small smear or rice-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste across the brush. Use a pea-sized amount for children 3-6 years old. Brush the toothpaste on all surfaces of the teeth, then rinse the brush off and brush the tongue and roof of the mouth," said Rogers.

Lt. Col. Tom Stark, consultant to the U.S. Army Surgeon General for Pediatric Dentistry, said, "most small children cannot control their swallowing reflex until age six or so, to have them spit several times to remove the excess toothpaste. If small children have difficulty spitting, have them look down at the sink drain and say 'Patooey!' very forcefully."

Children shouldn't eat or drink for at least 20 minutes after brushing to let the fluoride stay on their teeth longer and fight decay.

"Brushing right before bedtime is particularly important to prevent decay," added Rogers.

Children's dental health is important because children need healthy mouths to learn to speak properly, interact socially with family and friends, and chew healthy, high fiber foods such as vegetables and fresh fruits.

According to Rogers, children who have poor oral health often miss more school and receive lower grades than children who don't. This is because mouth problems like untreated tooth decay can interfere with eating and cause pain that keeps them from paying attention in school or getting the sleep that they need, said Rogers.

"The two most important things parents can do are clean their children's mouths twice a day, and avoid sugar. Repeated exposure to any kind of sugar, or simple starches in foods and drinks, feeds the bacteria in the mouth that cause tooth decay or cavities. Eating or drinking meals, snacks or sugary beverages such as juice more than five times a day significantly increases a child's risk for cavities," said Rogers.

"Consuming snacks or drinks right before bedtime is the most dangerous, because our saliva flow slows down when we sleep, so the acids produced by bacteria aren't washed away or neutralized," Rogers Added.

"An often overlooked source of sugar among small children is liquid medication for congestion, allergies, pain, or fever. Drinking water or brushing after taking liquid medicine reduces your child's risk for cavities," said Stark.

You don't need to floss a child's teeth unless they are touching each other. Most children have baby teeth with spaces in between them until about 3-4 years old, so brushing performed correctly by an adult is enough to remove food debris and plaque. Once a child's teeth start to touch together tightly, an adult will need to help them floss. Flossing is the best way to clean away bacteria and food debris between teeth that touch.

Permanent molars start to appear by age six, and placing dental sealants over the grooves in the chewing surface has been shown to help prevent cavities.