Pediatric Dentistry | Valparaiso & Merrillville
Pediatric oral care has two main components: preventative care at the pediatric dentist’s office and preventative care at home. Though infant and toddler caries (cavities) and tooth decay have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, a good dental strategy will eradicate the risk of both.
Pediatric Dental Checkups
The goal of preventative oral care is to evaluate and preserve the health of the child’s teeth. Beginning at the age of twelve months, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that children begin to visit the pediatric dentist for “well baby” checkups.
The Importance of Regular Dental Checkups for Your Child
Your dentist aims to provide a “good dental home” for your child. If a dental emergency does arise, parents can take your child for treatment at a familiar, comfortable location.
Your dentist keeps meticulous records of the child’s ongoing dental health and jaw development. In general, painful dental conditions do not arise overnight. If the dentist understands the child’s dental health history, it becomes easier to anticipate future issues and intervene before they arise.
Your dentist is also able to educate parents and children during the visit. Sometimes the dentist wants to introduce one or several factors to enhance tooth health, like sealants or fluoride supplements. Other times, the dentist asks parents to change the child’s dietary or oral behavior, like reducing sugar in the child’s diet or transitioning the child from sippy cups to adult-sized drinking glasses.
How Often Your Child Should Have Dental Check-ups
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists (AAPD) advises parents to make twice yearly dental appointments for children, beginning approximately six months after the first tooth emerges.
These two important yearly visits allow your dentist to monitor new developments in the child’s mouth, evaluate changes in the condition of teeth and gums, and continue to advise parents on good oral care strategies. Your dentist may schedule additional visits for children who are particularly susceptible to tooth decay or who show early signs of orthodontic problems.
What to Expect During a Pediatric Dental Checkup
After a thorough visual examination, your dentist will perform a thorough dental cleaning on your child’s teeth during each visit. These cleanings eradicate the plaque and debris that can build up between teeth and in other hard to reach places. Though a good homecare routine is especially important, these professional cleanings provide an additional tool to keep smiles healthy.
Your dentist can demonstrate good brushing and flossing techniques, advise parents on dietary issues, provide strategies for thumb sucking and pacifier cessation, and communicate with the child on his or her level.
When molars emerge (usually between the ages of two and three), your dentist may coat them with dental sealant that covers the hard-to-reach fissures on the molars, sealing out bacteria, food particles, and acid. Dental sealant may last for many months or many years, depending on your child’s oral habits.
Your dentist is also able to monitor the child’s fluoride levels during routine visits. Oftentimes, a topical fluoride gel or varnish is applied to teeth after the cleaning. Topical fluoride re-mineralizes the teeth and helps prevent mineral loss, protecting tooth enamel from oral acid.
Dental X-rays are only used when the pediatric dentist suspects cavities or orthodontic irregularities, but are often the only way to identify tiny cavities in primary (baby) teeth. Though the child may not be feeling any pain, these tiny cavities, left unchecked, can rapidly turn into large cavities, tooth decay, and eventually, childhood periodontal disease.
Caring for Your Child’s Teeth at Home
Though most parents primarily think of brushing and flossing when they hear the words “oral care,” good preventative care includes many more factors. Cavities, often a result of poor oral care, can be incredibly painful and lead to childhood periodontitis (gum disease) if left untreated. Ensuring that children eat a balanced diet, maintain a sound home oral care routine, and visit the dentist biannually are all crucial factors for both cavity prevention and excellent oral health.
Parents should provide children with a nourishing, well-balanced diet. Very sugary diets should be modified and continuous snacking should be discouraged. Oral bacteria feeds on leftover sugar particles in your child’s mouth after each helping of food, emitting harmful acids that erode tooth enamel, gum tissue, and bone. Avoid sticky foods (like toffee), which form plaque quickly and are extremely difficult to pry off the teeth. Space out snacks when possible, and provide non-sugary alternatives like celery sticks, carrot sticks or low-fat yogurt. Save the sugar and starch for mealtimes, when the child is producing more saliva and drinking water. Make sure they drink enough water to cleanse the teeth.
Though pacifier use and thumb sucking generally cease over time, both can cause the teeth to misalign. If the child must use a pacifier, choose an “orthodontically” correct model. This will minimize the risk of developmental problems like narrow roof arches and crowding. Your dentist can suggest a strategy (or provide a dental appliance) for thumb sucking cessation.
Also, sippy cups are thought to cause “baby bottle tooth decay” when they are used beyond the intended age (approximately twelve months). The small amount of liquid emitted with each sip causes sugary liquid to continually swill around the teeth. Ask your child’s dentist for advice in helping your child graduate from the sippy cup to adult drinking glasses.
The importance of maintaining healthy primary (baby) teeth is often understated. Primary teeth are essential for speech production, chewing, jaw development, and they also facilitate the proper alignment and spacing of permanent adult teeth. Brushing primary teeth prevents bad breath and tooth decay, and also removes the plaque bacteria associated with childhood periodontal disease.
Children’s teeth should be brushed a minimum of two times per day using a soft bristled brush and a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Parents should help with the brushing process until the child is capable of reaching all areas of the mouth. Parents should always opt for ADA approved toothpaste (non-fluoridated before the age of two, and fluoridated thereafter). For babies, parents should rub the gum area with a clean cloth after each feeding.
For children between three and a half and four years old, select an American Dental Association (ADA) accepted brand of toothpaste containing fluoride. The ADA logo is clear and present on toothpaste packaging, so be sure to check for it. Use only a tiny pea or rice-sized amount of toothpaste, and encourage the child to spit out the excess after brushing. Eliminating the toothpaste takes practice, patience, and motivation – especially if the child finds the flavoring tasty. If the child does ingest tiny amounts of toothpaste, don’t worry; this is perfectly normal and will cease with time and encouragement.
Be aware that adult and non-ADA approved brands of toothpaste often contain harsher abrasives, which remove tooth enamel and weaken primary teeth. In addition, some popular toothpaste brands contain sodium lauryl sulfate (shown as “SLS” on the package), which cause painful mouth ulcers in some children.
Cavities and tooth decay form more easily between teeth. Therefore, the child is at risk for between-teeth cavities wherever two teeth grow adjacent to each other. Your dentist can help demonstrate correct head positioning during the flossing process and suggest tips for making flossing more fun.
Avoid Drinks at Bedtime
Sending a child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup can be very tough on their developing teeth. The milk, formula, juice, or sweetened water has the opportunity to sit on their teeth all night, attacking enamel and increasing the risk of cavities. Let your child have a last drink before bedtime, and then brush their teeth.