It's National Children's Dental Health Month. Has your child been to the dentist lately?
If your child is one year old or older, the answer is hopefully yes. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, American Dental Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend a dental visit for children by age one.
This may seem young to some parents whose baby has barely cut her first tooth, but Brian Sanders, DDS, MS, professor of pediatric dentistry at Indiana University School of Dentistry, says it's important to see a pediatric dentist early to not only address questions related to the eruption of teeth but to discuss nutrition, oral habits, brushing, and the use of fluoride in children.
"It is a preventative approach to the care of the children in the same way our children see the pediatrician on a regular basis," he says. In fact, the first visit can be a lot like a well baby check at the pediatrician's office.
Why choose a pediatric dentist? Certainly many general dentists can and do take on young patients, but pediatric dentists are specially trained to care for the oral health of children birth to early adulthood.
"The additional training and education involved in becoming a pediatric dentist allows them to recognize and treat problems before they arise," says Sanders.
Parents can usually get a list of good pediatric dentists from their child's pediatrician, who may also have feedback from the families they refer to the pediatric dentists' offices. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry website (www.aapd.org) also has a list of these specialized dentists for parents to browse.
Beyond visiting the pediatric dentist, there are other simple measures parents can take to help ensure a bright smile for their little one.
Toothbrushing is one of the easiest methods of cavity prevention. To do it right, Sanders says it's important to start wiping the mouth even prior to the eruption of teeth and as they do erupt to use a small soft toothbrush at least two to three times a day after feeding.
As children grow, parents should continue to choose soft-bristled toothbrushes and throw out the toothbrush after three months or sooner if the bristles are fraying. Also parents should brush preschooler's teeth and supervise brushing and flossing of school-age children.
It's also important to discuss the use of fluoridated toothpaste with the dentist as Sanders says each case should be evaluated individually based on caries or tooth decay risk, which takes into account diet, genetics and sources of water.
Unless being used at mealtime, sippy cups with anything but water are considered a no-no by pediatric dentists. At least when they are used beyond their purpose of being a transitional drinking device. The cups are wreaking havoc in the mouths of babes who have unmonitored access to sugary liquids, including juice and milk. The children are essentially creating a playground on which bacteria go wild and cause rampant tooth decay. The same word of caution goes for children who are put to bed with a bottle.
Giving a child a bright start to a healthy mouth is as easy as it is important. If your child hasn't been to the dentist in a while, let this serve as your friendly reminder call.
Carrie Bishop is a freelance writer and mother of two young sons whose daily antics inspire her work and her life. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.