VANDENBERG AFB, Calif. --
While the Tooth Fairy rewards children for losing their teeth, dentists here are teaching them the rewards of good oral hygiene.
As part of National Children's Dental Health Month, the 30th Medical Operations Squadron's dental flight is educating and entertaining children at the child development center, youth center and library here.
"Studies show that kids with a lot of early cavities continue to have cavities in their permanent teeth," said Capt. Varun Narula, a dentist with the 30th MDOS dental flight. "It is very important to start early with educating kids on oral hygiene."
In order to keep the children interested in the message, Captain Narula and his team use four different methods to reach children from 2-5 years old. First, they bring in puppets to illustrate how to properly brush and floss teeth. The Airmen and puppets interact with the children so each child feels a part of the show.
Second, the children are shown an American Dental Association-produced cartoon called "Dudley Goes to the Dentist." The cartoon follows a dinosaur named Dudley as gets his teeth cleaned by a dentist.
"Kids in general have a fear of dentists," Captain Narula said. "We don't want to be considered a punishment. We want the kids to realize that dentists are there to take care of their teeth, not some people who only cause pain."
A third method the dental flight uses to teach the children is having them demonstrate what they've learned. The children use toothbrushes and floss to show the instructors and fellow students how to properly take care of their teeth.
"The kids enjoyed the participation, getting to show us exactly what they learned," said Senior Airman Laura Valenzuela De La Hoya, a dental assistant who assisted with the presentations. "It was exciting for them to see the oversized teeth and toothbrush we had and show us how the dinosaur brushed his teeth."
Finally, to literally bring the message home, the dental flight gives each child a "goodie bag" as a reward for learning. Each bag has a toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, stickers and other items.
"Kids are like sponges - they absorb everything you teach them and take it to heart," Captain Narula said. "But their attention span is very limited. We have to be entertaining to reach them."
While the dental flight is giving the children the tools for dental health, it is up to the parents to keep them on the right track, he said.
"Parents play a very important role in their child's dental health," Captain Narula said. "Children will do what their parents do. So brush your teeth together. If they see their mother and father doing it, they'll want to do it, too."
It is important to get children started early in taking care of their teeth and gums, and this program helps achieve that goal.
"This is something they don't think about daily," said Airman Valenzuela. "I think (this program) makes them aware that they have little teeth growing in."
For more information on dental health, contact the dental flight at 606-1846, or visit the American Dental Association Web site at www.ada.org