Dr. Jeff: It’s very important to see a dentist when your child is young. We recommend to at least establish a dental home by age one. There are many things besides a cleaning that can benefit your baby.
That first visit includes:
- A complete head and neck exam where we look at all the soft tissue, hard tissue (teeth and bone), gums, and throat;
- checking the frenum attachments for lip ties and tongue ties (lip ties and tongue ties are best addressed at an early age before speech development, and addressing these issues may even help your baby grow and eat better);
- a cleaning to remove plaque near the gum lines and other hard-to-brush places where cavities can develop in early teethers;
- a fluoride treatment that is dose-appropriate for your baby and will be brushed on any teeth that are present, making the enamel more resistant to cavities.
Some kids may never develop cavities in the first few years of life, but for the kids that do, it is very hard to stop the progression of cavities once started. It’s especially important to monitor baby teeth since the enamel is not near as thick as permanent teeth. It is much easier to prevent cavities from starting in the first place.
Another reason to establish a dental home around age one is to help with any possible trauma or accidents. If you have established a dental home, you will know who to call and where to go for help if your baby experiences trauma to his or her mouth.
Does it make any difference if I don’t take my child to a pediatric-specific dentist?
Dr. Jeff: This depends on the age of the child, which tooth has the cavity, and the extent of the cavity. Pediatric dental offices are very good at treating only the teeth that need it.
If a very young child gets a cavity on a molar or back tooth, this will need to be treated in some way since the back teeth are not lost until around age ten to twelve.
If the cavity is small and the child cannot cooperate for normal dental work, we can place some medicine on the tooth to help stop or slow down the cavity.
Untreated larger cavities on young children can lead to pain, infection, and abscessed teeth. But there are times that we can monitor certain teeth if they are going to be lost soon. We would still educate the patient and parents on ways to decrease the bad bacteria in the mouth that is causing a more acidic environment.
If there are many untreated baby teeth cavities, the permanent teeth will be more susceptible to that same bad bacteria causing cavities, too.
I’ve never gone to the dentist regularly, so why should my kids?
Dr. Jeff: Regular dental visits help prevent the possibility of cavities, tooth pain, and even infection. Statistics show that 20% of preschoolers have tooth decay, 50% of children have tooth decay by the third grade, and 86% of children have tooth decay by age 17. Tooth decay is five times more common than asthma and seven times more common than hay fever.
Oral health is connected to body health. Believe it or not, flossing daily can increase your life expectancy by as much as six years. A healthy mouth allows people to live a more carefree life without the worry of tooth pain and infection.
Dr. Jeff: With our American diet (full of processed sugars and carbohydrates), it’s hard not to get cavities. This is why we like to see children at a very early age. Studies show high sugar diets are established by twelve months.
A large portion of dental visits at a young age involves reviewing and educating on oral hygiene and diet. Some people have no idea how much toothpaste to use and when to start using a fluoridated toothpaste.
Deeper cleanings at the dentist allow us to get those hard-to-reach places in children’s mouths. Many people talk about how hard it is to brush their child’s teeth. We know where kids tend to get cavities and can help in those specific areas.
Fluoride treatments for kids are also great at a young age since we know that perfect amount to use twice a year to make your child’s teeth more resistant to cavities.
Dr. Jeff: Unfortunately, baby teeth are not built the same as adult teeth. A few months can be a big deal. There are many times a dentist may monitor a tooth, especially if the child is young and at a pre-cooperative age. A dentist can determine if checking again in six months is okay or if a sooner check-up is needed. If too much time goes by and appointments are missed, cavities can quickly escalate from a simple filling to a baby crown or even tooth pain. At that point, there would need to be more extensive treatment for that tooth.
Dr. Jeff: Pediatric dentists are trying to raise a generation that does not fear the dentist as previous generations did. The days of doing work against a child’s will is thankfully getting less and less.
You can also help by setting a good example at home. Make up games or songs when brushing teeth to keep it fun. Brush and floss your teeth at the same time as your child.
In our office, when a child is not able to cooperate for necessary treatment, we have sedation options that include the use of a pediatric medical anesthesiologist. It’s much like going to an oral surgeon for a procedure and receiving general anesthesia. This is a very safe way to complete the treatment because the anesthesiologist is monitoring the child for the entire procedure. We explore other options before making this decision, but it is available if needed.
Eliminating the bad experiences that so many have had in previous generations will help raise a generation that does not fear the dentist. No doubt about it, our job is to make something that is not fun into a good experience for your child, and we try our best to do this!
From TV’s on the ceiling to fun office designs to genuinely kind staff, we do all we can to make it a good experience. Studies have shown that people with bad experiences as a child are less likely to visit the dentist or have good oral hygiene as an adult. We truly are trying to help maintain good oral health for a lifetime.
Dr. Jeff: The best thing in my opinion is to talk to other parents and see who they recommend. Sometimes the best doctor or clinician is not the one with the most Google reviews.