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To arm parents and kids with proper oral hygiene habits, Walter Reed Bethesda and Naval Post-graduate Dental School (NPDS) Pediatric Dental Clinics will host a dental fair on Feb. 7 as part of National Children’s Dental Health Month.

Open to patients, staff and their children, the event will take place from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Pediatric Clinic, located on the fourth floor of the America Building. The day will give children an opportunity to have fun while learning the importance of good dental health, explained Lt. Cmdr. Sepehr Rajaei, department head of NPDS Pediatric Dental Clinic.

In addition to educational games, face painting and balloon animals, the event will offer screenings to assess children’s risk for cavities, Rajaei said. Pediatric dentists, as well as TRICARE and other insurance company representatives, will also be on hand for parents to ask questions, he said.

“The goal is to educate parents and to reach [out to] them [to] give them information,” Rajaei said.

During the event, pediatric dentists will also seek to correct some misconceptions about children’s dental health, such as the best age for a child to begin seeing a pediatric dentist. According to Lt. Amy Adair, a pediatric dentist at Walter Reed Bethesda, this should start after a child cuts their first tooth. This could be as early as six months, but no later than their first birthday, she explained.

“That’s a very important point to make,” Adair said.

The key is to start forming good oral hygiene habits early, getting children used to having a toothbrush in their mouth early so it doesn’t seem like a chore or hassle later – and it’s never too early to start, according to Rajaei.

“If you make it part of their routine, then it’s going to be so much easier,” Rajaei said.

The same goes for flossing, he added. It’s important to start sooner, rather than later, familiarizing children with the feel of floss in their mouth. Parents should begin helping their children floss when the child’s teeth start forming together, Rajaei said.

Since young children lack dexterity in their hands, it’s especially important for parents to supervise their child’s dental habits. Until about age 2, Adair said it’s the parent’s sole responsibility, and then from age 2 until about 12, depending on the child, it should be both the parent and child working together.

Children who don’t practice good dental health are susceptible to many risks – several that can impact them later in life, Adair added. Poor oral hygiene can put them at risk for cavities, which can lead to an increased need for braces, bad breath and lower self esteem. Poor dental habits can also cause impacted roots, which means the permanent teeth never reach the surface of the gum and that can lead to overcrowding.

Speech may also be delayed because of poor dental hygiene, not to mention the pain it can cause, and perhaps in the long run, lost time from school and work, Adair continued. Therefore, parents should remember that primary [“baby”] teeth are just as important as permanent teeth.

Parents can help prevent potential issues by practicing good dental health habits, brushing at least twice a day and flossing at least once a day, as well as paying attention to their child’s diet, she said. The pediatric dentist suggests staying away from processed foods, and starchy carbohydrates, which can easily stick to the child’s teeth. Instead, parents should encourage their children to snack on healthy choices, like cheese and fresh vegetables.

Not only should parents focus on nutrition when it comes to dental health, they should also monitor how frequently their children are snacking. Parents often dilute their child’s juice with water, but if the child is drinking it throughout the day, their teeth are still constantly being exposed to the sugar, and that could cause damage, the dentists explained.

During Children’s Dental Health Month, pediatric dentists will also hold an event at the Child Development Center on base, near the Navy Lodge, as well as at Austin’s Playroom in Building 62, on Feb. 22. For more information and tips on practicing good oral hygiene, visit