Pediatric dental hygiene tips from local experts
No parent likes to hear, “Suzie has a cavity,” at their child’s back-to-school dental checkup. Yet, according to the American Dental Association, dental disease causes children to miss more than 51 million hours of school each year.
Prevention and early detection help avoid pain, trouble eating, difficulty speaking and school absences.
1. Develop a routine.
Sessom encourages everyone to brush after every meal — mornings and nights — and floss at least once a day or use a Waterpik.
When it comes to children, parents should brush their children’s teeth until the child reaches age 7 or 8, according to Morrow. “Parents need to take a ‘hands-on’ approach with brushing and flossing,” he says. “After then, the child can take over as their manual dexterity skills are usually developed, but parents still need to take a visual approach on making sure their children brush and floss.”
If a child only brushes once a day, it is best to do so at bedtime since saliva flow is slower while sleeping, allowing the bacteria in the plaque a longer opportunity to wreak havoc. He suggests parents do their best, and if the child wishes to brush their teeth themselves, he recommends that be in the morning.
2. Talk about the dentist.
Chat with your child in a positive way about their upcoming visit to the dentist.
“One of the biggest predictors of how well a child does is the attitude of the parent,” Sessom says. “Children really pick up on your tense or relaxed state. Approach the appointment as something positive.”
Sometimes kids need to watch parents get their teeth cleaned. That way, they can see the process and get used to having dental care, as well.
Dental professionals are trained to help a child avoid stress during an appointment by explaining the procedures in a way the child can understand. “We can read a child’s body language; we make it so that the child can be cooperative, relaxed and comfortable,” Sessom says.
Remind the child that the dentist is there to help you, Morrow says.
3. Make an appointment.
Sessom suggests starting dental visits as children reach around 3 years old, unless the parent sees a problem. If there are problems at that age — and generally there are not — the child can be referred to a pediatric specialist.
Morrow suggests scheduling a morning appointment for children so the child is not worn out from the day’s other activities.
4. Ask questions.
Dental professionals can help parents address concerns about their child’s oral health. Are they spending the appropriate amount of time brushing and being thorough with their daily routines? If there is decay, parents should ask about preventing future decay and whether any dietary changes are needed. Morrow and Sessom agree that dentists will evaluate if braces are needed, but parents should ask their dentists about orthodontics and if they foresee their child needing braces. If so, they can refer them to a specialist.
5. Brace Yourself.
Orthodontic treatment creates a healthy bite so that it is easier to eat and speak. But which children need braces and when should they be used?
“Evaluation of the possible need for orthodontic treatment can begin as early as when permanent teeth begin to come in,” Sessom says. “If the patient is not a candidate for teen Invisalign, we will refer the patient to an orthodontist to consider placing traditional braces.”