Cary dentist Dr. Dan Howell has seen children as early as their first week of life. While that is a rare occurrence, it shows the importance of dental health in children, even at a very young age.
Parents who visit his practice sometimes have questions about how to care for their children’s teeth, what to expect at office visits and how to deal with anxiety that sometimes arises in the dentist chair.
Howell, who is a member of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the North Carolina Society of Pediatric Dentistry, and the Southeastern Society of Pediatric Dentistry, shared his advice for parents on these questions and more.
When should children start going to the dentist?
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children receive an oral health risk assessment by six months of age, and that they establish a dental home by 12 months of age.
That’s because some infants will develop cavities within months of the time that teeth erupt into the mouth. Often these early cavities are caused by feeding and oral hygiene habits. These early cavities may be avoided if the parents are counseled in these two areas as the first teeth are erupting.
If your infant has any oral or dental condition that bothers you or appears to be out of the ordinary, then he or she should be seen regardless of age. This includes any problems with trauma to the teeth or mouth.
How can parents prepare their children for dental visits?
When you talk with your child about his or her first dental visit, we recommend that you emphasize both honesty and a positive attitude. Please do not talk to your child about any dental anxieties that you may have.
“The dentist will be very kind and gentle when he counts your teeth,” and “Mommy will be with you all the time,” are good places to start.
Answer all the questions that your child asks to the best of your ability without making a big deal out of the experience. Some children will feel more at ease if they know, in advance, every detail about the upcoming experience. Others do better if they know nothing at all. Remember, every child is an individual.
How do you help kids who are afraid or have anxiety during visits?
We use our training and expertise to help you and your child manage any anxieties that either of you have. If after observing your child’s treatment in the traditional setting you favor hospitalization with general anesthesia, we will be happy to help you find a facility that will meet your needs. We do not put children in the hospital for dental treatment.
The decision to have your child’s dental treatment done in the hospital under general anesthesia is a very difficult one for most parents to make. In order to make an informed decision, many parents have found it helpful to accompany their child to at least one treatment appointment in the traditional setting at the pediatric dentist’s office. This gives you as a parent the opportunity to be with your child and to evaluate your child’s response to the treatment procedures.
Do pacifiers and thumb sucking affect teeth, and should parents discourage it?
Thumb and pacifier habits can cause changes in tooth alignment and to the way that the upper and lower jaws fit together. Fortunately, these changes will usually reverse spontaneously if the habit is stopped before the front permanent teeth start to erupt (usually age 6 to 7).
Pacifier habits are often easier for your child to stop than thumb or finger habits. If your child is having a problem with a thumb or pacifier habit beyond the age of 6 to 7, it should be evaluated on an individual basis. We will help you find which of the many possible solutions would be best for your child.
How can you prevent cavities?
Dental cavities are a disease process, not an isolated event. This disease process is constantly ongoing in all people, both children and adults. A six-month-old child with a single erupted tooth could potentially develop a cavity if enough disease causing factors are working against the disease protecting factors.
Cavity causing factors are:
- poor oral hygiene or failure to remove bacterial plaque from tooth surfaces regularly and effectively
- high frequency of ingestion of fermentable carbohydrates
- sucrose and all foods that contain sucrose
- decreased salivary flow
- orthodontic appliances
- enamel hypoplasia
Cavity preventing factors are:
- early preventive dental visit (by age one)
- parent education in cavity prevention
- increased salivary flow
- effective daily removal of bacterial plaque from all teeth
- fluoride in toothpaste, fluoride rinse, fluoridated drinking water
- systemic fluoride supplement (if drinking water is not fluoridated)
- chlorhexidine mouth rinse
- dental sealants
- xylitol gum and xylitol artificial sweetener
What do you wish more parents knew or understood about their kids’ dental health?
If I can convince them to get actively involved in their child’s home dental care in a very relaxed and consistent way, their child will rarely have dental problems.
Kelly Hinchcliffe, a longtime education reporter, is a mom and lives in Orange County.