To get your child on the right track for lifelong dental health we recommend you begin their dental visits around their first birthday. You can certainly visit your family dentist, especially if you and your family feel comfortable with them. But you also might want to consider a pediatric dentist for your child's dental needs.
What's the difference between a family dentist and a pediatric dentist? Both offer the same kind of prevention and treatment services like cleanings, fluoride applications or fillings. But like their counterparts in medicine — the family practice physician and pediatrician — the family dentist sees patients of all ages; the pediatric dentist specializes in care for children and teens only.
In this regard, pediatric dentists undergo additional training to address dental issues specifically involving children. Furthermore, their practices are geared toward children, from toys and child-sized chairs in the waiting room to “kid-friendly” exam rooms decorated to appeal to children.
While your family dentist could certainly do the same, pediatric dentists are also skilled in reducing the anxiety level that's natural for children visiting the dental office. This can be especially helpful if you have a special needs child with behavioral or developmental disorders like autism or ADHD. A pediatric dentist's soothing manner and the calm, happy environment of the office can go a long way in minimizing any related anxiety issues.
Your child may have other needs related to their oral health that could benefit from a pediatric dentist. Some children have a very aggressive form of dental caries disease (tooth decay) called early childhood caries (ECC).Â If not treated promptly, many of their teeth can become severely decayed and prematurely lost, leading to possible bite problems later in life. Pediatric dentists are well-suited to treat ECC and to recognize other developmental issues.
Again, there's certainly nothing wrong with taking your child to your family dentist, especially if a long-term relationship is important to you (your child will eventually “age out” with a pediatric dentist and no longer see them). It's best to weigh this and other factors such as your child's emotional, physical and dental needs before making a decision.
More than likely your child already receives fluoride from your drinking water or toothpaste. So, is it really necessary for them to receive topical fluoride during their regular office checkups?
We highly recommend they do. A naturally occurring chemical, fluoride has the ability to make enamel more resistant to acid attacks that lead to tooth decay. It’s most effective when it works its way into the structure of the enamel during early teeth development.
Both fluoridated drinking water and dietary fluoride supplements (recommended by a doctor or dentist) can be the vehicle for this to occur while the teeth are still forming in the jaw before eruption (when teeth become visible). After the teeth have erupted, fluoride applied directly to the enamel surface (topically) can become infused with it as it continues to develop during early growth.
But can’t fluoride toothpaste accomplish the same result? No — the fluoride added to toothpaste and other hygiene products is relatively low, and only strong enough to maintain and protect enamel. The fluoride levels in topical applications like gels, foam or varnishes are much higher (in the tens of thousands of parts per million) and remain in contact with the teeth during a treatment session for much longer. Some fluoride varnishes, in fact, will continue to leach fluoride into the tooth surface for a month or more.
Topical fluoride applications are especially beneficial for children who are growing up in an area without fluoridated drinking water or without the proper means for good oral care and hygiene. But even for children with access to fluoridated water and oral care, a topical application can still be helpful.
A topical fluoride treatment isn’t a stand-alone application, but a regular part of your child’s dental care of daily brushing and flossing and semi-annual dental cleanings and checkups. Topical fluoride enhances the care they already receive to help produce stronger enamel for future healthy teeth.
If you would like more information on topical fluoride applications, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Topical Fluoride: How Fluoride will Benefit Your Child.”
Your child’s dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-ray imaging. It’s one of our best tools for finding and treating tooth decay.
But since x-rays emit radiation, is your child in any danger when they’re exposed?
X-rays, an invisible form of electromagnetic energy, will form images on exposed film after passing through the body. Because it takes longer for x-rays to pass through dense tissue like teeth and bones, the corresponding areas appear lighter on the film than less dense tissue like the gums. We can detect decay because the diseased tooth structure is less dense and thus appears darker against healthier tooth structure.
The downside of x-rays, though, is the radiation they emit could potentially alter cell structure and increase the risk of future cancer, especially with children. That’s why we follow a principle known as ALARA when using x-ray imaging. ALARA is an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable,” meaning the doses for an x-ray session will be as low as possible while still gaining the most benefit.
Advances in technology, particularly the development of digital processing, has helped reduce the amount of radiation exposure. We’re also careful with what types of x-rays we use. The most common type is the bitewing, a device with the film attached to a long piece of plastic that the child holds in their mouth while biting down.
Depending on the number of our patient’s teeth, we can usually get a comprehensive view with two to four bitewings. A typical bitewing session exposes them to less radiation than what they’re receiving from natural environmental background sources each day.
Keeping the exposure as low and as less frequent as possible greatly reduces health risks while still getting the full benefit of early decay detection. Still, if you have concerns about your child’s x-ray exposure, we’ll be happy to discuss our approach and all the precautions we take using x-ray imaging.
If you would like more information on x-ray diagnostics and your child, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
As a parent, you have plenty of questions about your child’s health. One we hear quite often is when dental care should begin for a child.
The short answer is when their first tooth comes in, usually at six months to a year of age: that’s when you should begin brushing at home. But there’s also the matter of when to begin your child’s regular dental visits: we recommend the first visit around the child’s first birthday. Here are 4 reasons why this is the right time to start.
Prevention. First and foremost, starting visits at age one gives your child the best start for preventing tooth decay through cleanings, topical fluoride or, in some cases, sealants. Preventive care for primary teeth may not seem that important since they’ll eventually give way to the permanent teeth. But primary teeth also serve as guides for the next teeth’s ultimate position in the mouth — if a primary tooth is lost prematurely, it could affect your child’s bite in later years.
Development. Early dental visits give us a chance to keep an eye on bite and jaw development. If we notice a developing malocclusion (bad bite) or conditions favorable for it, we can refer you to an orthodontist for consultation or interventional therapy to reduce the possibility or extent of future treatment.
Support. Your child’s regular dental visits can also help you as a parent. We can advise you on all aspects of dental care, including brushing and flossing techniques, nutrition dos and don’ts, and how to handle situations like late thumb sucking.
Familiarization. Dental visits starting at age one will help your child become familiar and comfortable with visiting the dentist that might be more difficult to achieve if they’re older. Dental visit anxiety is a major reason why many people don’t maintain regular visits later in life. Children who come to realize that dental visits are a normal, even pleasant experience are more likely to continue the practice into adulthood.
Caring for your child’s teeth is just as important as other aspects of their health. Getting an early start can head off brewing problems now and set the course for healthy teeth and gums tomorrow.
If you would like more information on pediatric dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Age One Dental Visit.”
Dental disease doesn’t discriminate by age. Although certain types of disease are more common in adults, children are just as susceptible, particularly to tooth decay.
Unfortunately, the early signs of disease in a child’s teeth can be quite subtle—that’s why you as a parent should keep alert for any signs of a problem. Here are 3 things you might notice that definitely need your dentist’s attention.
Cavities. Tooth decay occurs when mouth acid erodes tooth enamel and forms holes or cavities. The infection can continue to grow and affect deeper parts of the tooth like the pulp and root canals, eventually endangering the tooth’s survival. If you notice tiny brown spots on their teeth, this may indicate the presence of cavities—you should see your dentist as soon as possible. To account for what you don’t see, have your child visit your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups.
Toothache. Tooth pain can range from a sensitive twinge of pain when eating or drinking hot or cold foods to a throbbing sharp pain. Whatever its form, a child’s toothache might indicate advancing decay in which the infection has entered the tooth pulp and is attacking the nerves. If your child experiences any form of toothache, see your dentist the next day if possible. Even if the pain goes away, don’t cancel the appointment—it’s probable the infection is still there and growing.
Bleeding gums. Gums don’t normally bleed during teeth brushing—the gums are much more resilient unless they’ve been weakened by periodontal (gum) disease (although over-aggressive brushing could also be a cause). If you notice your child’s gums bleeding after brushing, see your dentist as soon as possible—the sooner they receive treatment for any gum problems the less damage they’ll experience, and the better chance of preserving any affected teeth.
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