February is "Children's Dental Health" month and this past Monday on the WSBS "Let's Talk" program we interviewed Dr. Casey Jones (general dentist) who practices in Lee. Casey has a passion for education as was evident in the interview. Dr. Jones provided the listeners with a fountain of information and a number of tips to get the little ones in the habit of practicing good oral health.

We chose five of Casey's tips to share with you here which we thought were particularly fascinating and some of these are not widely known to the general public.

(1) Cavities are Indeed Contagious

If parents or caregivers have decay in their mouth, they can pass that bacteria onto the child and that child can end up being at higher risk for getting cavities. So one of the best things that a parent can do is to have their decay taken care of so that they have less bacteria to pass on to their child.

(2) It's Not Just Candy and Sweets That Cause Cavities 

From a tooth perspective, it is important to limit the amount of sugar that you have, and you might be surprised at how many hidden sugars you are actually consuming every day. A good rule of thumb is to remember that 4 grams of sugar equals one teaspoon. So if you look on a soda can and notice that there are 39 grams of sugar on the nutrition label, that is saying that there is almost 10 teaspoons of sugar in that can of soda!

(3) Milk and Juice Aren't Exactly Great Options for Your Teeth

Milk still has sugar in it, so it can still cause cavities, especially if you are giving your child milk or even formula at bedtime after brushing the teeth. There is no reason that a child ever has to have juice. Giving your child the whole fruit and the water would be better because there is fiber and other things in that whole fruit that is not in the juice that helps us make use of all the good stuff in that fruit. By the way, a cookie has less sugar than a juice box.

(4) Cheese is a Good Choice for Your Teeth

Cheese is one of the best snacks for your teeth because it helps neutralize the acid, helps clear other stuff out of your teeth, increases your salivary production, and actually has anti-cavity properties because of the casein in it. Other dairy products like milk and yogurt are great too but can be a little more tricky because they do have sugar in them.  Even naturally occurring sugars can be hard on your teeth. Babies that are sent to bed with a bottle of milk can end up with baby bottle tooth decay or early childhood caries because the lactose or sugar in the milk is sitting on the teeth and causing them to dissolve and decay.

(5) When to Start Brushing and Flossing a Child's Teeth

(Brushing)

At least by the time that they erupt, which is usually around 6 months old, but really you can start taking a washcloth or gauze to clean off the gums from the first day that they are born as a way to start getting them used to having something in their mouths. You need to help brush until they around eight years old or until they can tie their own shoes.

(Flossing)

You want to start flossing as soon as the teeth touch, which is usually around two years old. Cavities can start in between the teeth, and you don’t see them without radiographs until they are so big that they are a big problem.

Bonus: The "Oreo Challenge"

(as posted by Dr. Jones on the WSBS Facebook page)

So here's the "Oreo Challenge" . . . You eat an Oreo and then you look in the mirror and see all of that black stuff stuck on your teeth . . . then you eat a couple slices or apple, a few carrots, or a piece of cheese and you notice that all of that black stuff goes away. What does that mean? Basically anything that stays on the tooth can cause cavities (the bacteria in the plaque on the teeth eats that food and produces acid which causes "cavities" or holes in the teeth). Lots of stuff that is marketed to kids as snacks . . . goldfish, pretzels, Cheerios, crackers, gummies, dried fruit . . . gets stuck in the grooves of the teeth, and since it is high in carbohydrates, can cause cavities over time. Just think about it the next time you or your child has a snack. If you still feel stuff stuck in your teeth and can't brush, grab a piece of cheese, carrot, or even a piece of gum (xylitol gum is best!). It is not just candy that causes cavities!

Listen to WSBS throughout the entire month of February for more oral health/dental tips from Dr. Casey Jones