February is National Children's Dental Health Month, so we wanted to get answers from a local dentist to common questions parents have about their child's teeth. Local dentists Dr. Heath Whitefield, Dr. Dirk Eckroat and Dr. Thai-An Doan address some common questions from parents.
When should kids first visit the dentist and why?
Dr. Doan: The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends a dental home be established no later that 12 months of age. A dental home is the ongoing relationship between the dentist and the patient and parents. This first visit will include oral soft tissue, head/neck and dental exam. The dentist will give brushing and flossing education and answer any questions about diet, pacifier/thumb sucking habits, growth and development.
Dr. Eckroat: It is important to establish a dental home by the time the child is one year of age. This visit is not only to discuss the prevention of cavities but also gives the parents a contact in case of an injury to the mouth. Dr. Whitfield and I see, in many instances, that little ones fall and have trauma to their teeth or get injured in a sport. By setting a dental home, these parents and kids already have a relationship established with their provider, easing the stress of the situation.
For children, when should teeth brushing start?
Dr. Eckroat: Parents should start brushing their child’s teeth after the first tooth erupts in the mouth. The AAPD also recommends prior to the first tooth eruption rubbing the child’s gums with a wet washcloth to help rid the gums of bio-film. This helps decrease the bacterial load and allows kids to start fresh as their baby teeth erupt.
Dr. Doan: Children can get cavities as soon as the teeth erupt, especially if they are allowed to fall asleep with milk in their mouth from either bottle feeding or nursing. Breastmilk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein and fat, everything your baby needs to grow. It contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. However, some mothers are not aware that breastmilk also can cause tooth decay if left on the teeth. You should brush your child's teeth after nursing. Or at least wipe off with a clean wash cloth if the child has fallen asleep. Many nursing children develop early childhood decay from nursing at bedtime and being allowed to sleep with the breastmilk on their teeth.
What should parents consider when choosing a dentist?
Dr. Whitfield: Parents should consider, in my opinion, a board-certified pediatric dentist. These dentists spend two or more years after dental school, typically in a hospital environment, learning about oral care of infants, children, adolescents and children with special needs.
Dr. Doan: Some questions to ask when calling to schedule an appointment: Does the dentist explain treatment options? How long is the wait in the waiting room? Does the doctor feel comfortable with questions? How are bills handled? Is the doctor and staff child-friendly? If it’s important to you, also ask if you’re allowed to go back into the exam room with your child.
Should parents expect to stay in the waiting room while their kids go back into the exam room? Why or why not?
Dr. Whitfield: Some providers feel parents should stay in the waiting room while the child receives dental care while others encourage parents to come with their child. Dr. Eckroat and I always invite the parents to be a part of the dental experience when they are in our clinic. A lot of times, it helps the child’s experience and makes the parents feel comfortable as well. We always give parents the option to be present with their child to discuss any issues they may have and how to best prevent any dental issues.
When should parents consider whether or not sucking a pacifier or thumb could be harmful to teeth?
Dr. Doan: Sucking is a natural reflex and infants and young children may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects on which to suck. It may make them feel secure and happy, or provide a sense of security at difficult periods. Since thumb sucking is relaxing, it may induce sleep. Thumb sucking that persists beyond the eruption of the permanent teeth can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and tooth alignment. How intensely a child sucks on fingers or thumbs will determine whether or not dental problems may result. Children should cease thumb sucking by the time their permanent front teeth are ready to erupt. Usually, children stop between the ages of 2 and 4. Peer pressure causes many school-aged children to stop. Pacifiers are no substitute for thumb sucking. They can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs. However, use of the pacifier can be controlled and modified more easily than the thumb or finger habit.
Many thanks to these dentists for answering our questions:
Board Certified Pediatric Dentists of Edmond Pediatric & Teen Dentistry Heath Whitfield, D.D.S. MSD and Dirk Eckroat, D.D.S. and Pediatric Dental Specialist Dr. Thai-An Doan.