A child's first dental visit is as much about educating the parent as it is examining the child. Pediatric dentists are specially trained to work with very young children through early adulthood. They also are experts at teaching parents to be guardians of their children's dental Health.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Academy of Pediatrics encourage an initial dental visit by age one and every six months thereafter.
Dr. Swati Singh, DDS, of Children's Dentistry of Indianapolis, says getting children to the dentist early helps them get used to the doctor, staff and office. "We can help prepare them to know what to expect as the child ages, such as questions about teething," she says. "It's also helpful for parents to know where to go in an emergency."
Dr. Michelle Edwards, DDS, of the Children's Dental Center in Fishers adds, "The most important factor is educating parents about prevention of tooth decay."
Healthy food, healthy smiles
Because parents have control over their child's diet, they can help prevent tooth decay says Dr. Kevin Beadle, DDS, of Carmel Pediatric Dentistry. A balanced diet, with fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy and limited sugars and starch, decreases the chance of tooth decay. According to Dr. Singh, studies show that munching on crunchy veggies like carrot sticks, as well as cheese which has tooth-friendly bacteria, are better options than processed and packaged foods.
Dr. Beadle cautions parents to read food labels. "Parents should not be duped by advertisements of '100% natural,' 'no sugar added,' or even 'organic.' Look at the sugar content on the nutritional label." Childhood favorites like fruit snacks, gummy vitamins and candy are likely to stick in the molars and promote cavities. If the child eats such snacks, brush their teeth afterwards.
Creating a routine
Health care providers recommend cleaning a baby's gums with water and a soft cloth. As soon as teeth appear, start brushing daily. The most important thing is to establish a routine, such as: "first take a bath, next put on jammies, then brush teeth."
"It can be challenging to brush a toddler's teeth," admits Dr. Edwards. "I recommend a technique called 'back to brush,' which has the child lie with their head in the parent's lap." This can be a special bonding time and allows the parent to see inside the mouth to clean the child's teeth.
It's also essential to model healthy habits – brush, floss and visit the dentist as a family.
Children are accident-prone and their teeth are not immune to danger. Bathtub slips often result in broken and knocked-out teeth. If such an accident occurs, call the dentist immediately. Most pediatric dentists have an after-hours emergency phone number.
"We have the necessary equipment to comprehensively assess each patient," says Dr. Beadle. "Parents may not be sure what happened to the tooth, whether it was a baby or permanent tooth, or how many teeth were involved."
If the tooth is loose, watch for a change of color or redness and swelling in the gum around the damaged tooth. These could indicate an abscess and should be examined by a dentist.
Parents of older children may face important choices about their dental care. A formal evaluation for braces can be performed around age seven or when their first permanent molars come in. "It's becoming more common to have two phases of braces – the first fixes foundations of their mouth, such as a cross-bite, while the second straightens out their permanent teeth," says Dr. Edwards.
If wisdom teeth need to be removed, age 17-25 is ideal. By this age, the teeth have stopped shifting, yet it's still relatively easy to heal from surgery.
These are major family decisions, and Dr. Beadle says parents need to feel comfortable with their children's dental professional and trust that they are making the right choices together with the family.
Moreover, dentists truly care. "I have children too, and I always tell parents that I treat every patient exactly how I treat my own kids," says Dr. Edwards.
Tags: Featured Article, Health, In This Issue, Pediatric Health
In addition to a pre-appointment tour of the dentist's office, Dr. Swati Singh, DDS encourages parents to talk with their children about what to expect at the dentist in order to calm any fears. Below are a few fun books that can help get the conversation started.
• ABC Dentist: Healthy Teeth from A to Z, by Harriet Ziefert (author) and Liz Murphy (illustrator)
• Brush Your Teeth, Please: A Pop-up Book, by Leslie Mcguire (author) and Jean Pidgeon (illustrator)
• Carrie and Larry the Tooth-Tickling Fairies, by Dr. Michelle H. Edwards (author) and Wes Harlan (illustrator)
• Pony Brushes His Teeth, by Michael Dahl (author) and Oriol Vidal (illustrator)
• The Tooth Book, by Dr. Seuss (author) and Joe Mathieu (illustrator)