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Grace Manley, 8, now knows how to better care for her teeth, thanks to information she received from Navy Lt. (Dr.) Todd Bringhurst, during the annual dental fair at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) on Feb. 7.

“I learned some fruit juices and drinks are really sugary,” said the 8-year-old. “Water can help wash out the sugar so the bugs don’t go to your teeth. I brush my teeth two or three times a day,” she added before taking off to another activity at the dental fair.

Sponsored by WRNMMC and Naval Post-graduate Dental School Pediatric Dental Clinics, the dental fair was held to arm parents and children, such as Manley and her mother Dolores, with proper oral hygiene information and to celebrate National Children’s Dental Health Month.

Beneficiaries, staff and their children attended the event, and were treated to educational games, face painting, balloon animals and screenings to assess children’s risk for cavities. Tooth fairies at the event came bearing gifts, and encouraged children as well as their parents to brush, floss, and pay regular visits to the dentist for check-ups.

National Children’s Dental Health Month began as a one-day event in Cleveland, Ohio on Feb. 3, 1941. The American Dental Association (ADA) held the first national observance of Children’s Dental Health Day on Feb. 8, 1949, according to ADA officials. In 1950, the ADA worked with Congress to proclaim Feb. 6 as National Children’s Dental Health Day, and the single-day event was extended to a week in 1955. In 1981, the celebration became a month-long observance.

Bringhurst explained the dental fair at Walter Reed Bethesda is a fun way to provide oral hygiene education to parents and children. “If [children] learn [good oral hygiene] at a young age, it’s going to be better for them in the long run,” he said. “Good oral hygiene practices are necessary for a healthy mouth, and [children and parents] should be doing everything they can to be healthy individuals.”

During the fair, Bringhurst offered advice to parents and children, encouraging them to limit between-meal snacks that are sugary, and if kids crave a snack, give them nutritious foods such as vegetables. He also said beverage consumption should be monitored, and children should be encouraged to choose water and low-fat milk instead of sugary drinks or soda to help prevent the risk of tooth decay.

Parents and adults should help children develop good brushing and flossing habits, said Navy Lt. Amy Adair, a pediatric dentist at Walter Reed Bethesda. Even before a child’s first tooth comes in, parents should wipe their child’s gums with clean, damp gauze or a washcloth, the dentist explained. Children’s dental habits should be the sole responsibility of parents until the child reaches 2, and then a shared responsibility between the child as well as the parent until about 12, depending on the child, she added.

For more information and tips on practicing good pediatric oral hygiene, visit the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry website at http://www.aapd.org/foundation/helpful_hints/.