Achieving good oral health.Many parents have a tough time judging how much dental care their children will need. The American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentists (AAPD) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Bright Futures initiative recommend that the first dental visit take place by the first birthday, with a regular checkup every six months thereafter. Such visits can assist with the early detection of potential problems and also can help your child become accustomed to visiting the dentist. You may consider taking your child to a dentist who specializes in treating kids. Pediatric dentists are trained to handle the wide range of issues associated with kids’ dental health. They also know when to refer you to a specialist, such as an orthodontist to correct an overbite. A pediatric dentist’s primary goals are prevention (heading off potential problems before they occur) and maintenance (using routine checkups and proper daily care to keep teeth and gums healthy).
Five times as widespread as asthma and seven times as common as hay fever, tooth decay remains one of the most common preventable diseases of childhood. It’s important to know that kids do not lose all their baby teeth before age 11 or 12; therefore, it is essential to protect their teeth from cavities. If left untreated, dental decay can lead to infection and cause pain. More so, tooth decay prevents kids from proper eating, speaking, sleeping and learning. Children as young as 12 to 18 months can get cavities. Taking care of your child’s baby teeth helps guide the permanent teeth into place, helps with jaw and face formation and adds to your child’s overall good health.
Kids may be at risk for cavities if they eat a lot of sugary foods (raisins, cookies and candy) and drink sweet liquids (fruit juice/punch, soda and iced tea). Diets full of carbonated beverages and juice contribute to acid erosion of tooth enamel. Even healthy diets can be full of acidic foods high in ascorbic acid, such as citrus fruits, berries and juice. Children who were born prematurely, who have ongoing special health care needs, who have white or brown spots on their teeth or who seldom see the dentist may also be at risk for cavities. You should not allow your kids to skip meals, as doing so is not good for oral health. Skipping meals could allow the mouth to become basic (have an increased pH), which leads to bacterial growth.
It is recommended that parents supervise tooth brushing at least twice daily until age six to ensure correct skill level. Teach your child to hold the brush at a slight angle to the tooth and use short, back-and-forth strokes, and to brush the inside and outside surfaces as well as the chewing surface and the tongue. Children older than age three should use fluoride toothpaste and a soft-bristle brush. Change your child’s toothbrush every three months.
Children who do not live in communities with fluoridated water benefit from the application of fluoride varnish to their teeth to help stop or prevent decay. Ask your child’s health care provider, dentist or water utility provider if your community has fluoride in the water and if supplements are necessary.
When all primary teeth have come in (usually around age 2 ½), your dentist may start applying topical fluoride. Fluoride hardens the tooth enamel, helping to ward off cavities. Cavities occur when bacteria and food left on the teeth after eating are not brushed away frequently enough. Acid collects on a tooth, softening its enamel until a hole (or cavity) forms. Regular use of fluoride toughens the enamel, making it more difficult for acid to penetrate.
Although dental research has resulted in increasingly sophisticated preventative techniques — including fillings, sealants and fluoride, which provide a protective barrier — a dentist’s care is only part of the equation. Follow-up at home plays an equally important role. Parents must work with their kids to teach good oral health habits. All family members should take good care of their teeth. Those with lots of cavities can pass the cavity-causing bacteria to babies and children by sharing cups or utensils.
As children grow older, their bite and the straightness of their teeth can become an issue. Braces may be needed if the permanent teeth are not aligned properly. The average child needing braces will wear them for 24 months with costs averaging between $3,000 and $7,000. Orthodontic treatment begins earlier these days than it once did. Kids as young as age seven now sport corrective appliances, and efficient, plastic-based materials have replaced old-fashioned metal contraptions. While wearing braces, it is important to keep all regular dental cleaning appointments and to avoid popcorn, hard candy, sticky foods and gum that can potentially get caught in the braces and be a setup for bacteria, staining, cavities and possible dental injury. Encouraging kids to use a mouth guard during sports also can prevent serious dental injuries.
There are a host of dental services that provide care to both insured and uninsured children. If you do not have dental insurance, contact your local dental society to inquire about community dental assistance plans and programs.
To locate the dental society in your state, go to:
Your partnership with the dentist will help ensure healthy teeth and your child’s beautiful smile!
Shacarah Fordjour, MSN, RN, C, CSN, CPNP, is a certified PNP clinician at the Jewish Renaissance Medical Center in Perth Amboy, NJ, and works as a PNP for the Paterson Board of Education’s Department of Early Childhood Education.