It’s common for kids to be less than enthusiastic about visiting the dentist. For some, though, it’s even more of a challenge: A child with extreme anxiety and fear during dental visits could interfere with them receiving the dental care they need. The impact could even extend into adulthood.
Recognizing the need to reduce this high anxiety, dentistry has used a number of pharmacological tools for many years that relax a child during dental care. Sedatives have often been the only choice for reducing anxiety, especially during extensive procedures and treatments. But now there’s a promising new approach in dentistry that doesn’t depend on drugs.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a psychotherapeutic method used for decades to treat depression, phobias and eating disorders, has been investigated recently as a possible approach for relieving children’s dental anxiety. During CBT, trained therapists use specific behavioral techniques to help patients develop mental and emotional strategies for dealing with stress.
During the usual course of CBT therapy, a therapist meets in counseling sessions with patients weekly over several months to help them change their routine thinking or behavior surrounding a stressful issue. Initially, the therapist guides the patient toward understanding the underlying causes for their negative reaction to the issue. They then work with the patient to devise an objective way to test whether those emotions and beliefs about the issue are true.
Using this effective method for changing behavioral and emotional responses for dental anxiety has had encouraging results from initial research. One study found CBT successfully reduced dental anxiety among a majority of a group of European children ages 9 through 16 who participated in the method.
CBT isn’t an overnight cure, often requires a number of months to achieve results. But for children who suffer from extreme fear of professional dental care, this drug-free method may provide long-term benefits that extend well past their childhood years.
Teeth lost to tooth decay can have devastating consequences for a child’s dental health. Not only can it disrupt their current nutrition, speech and social interaction, it can also skew their oral development for years to come.
Fortunately, we have a number of preventive tools to curb decay in young children. One of the most important of these, dental sealants, has been around for decades. We apply these resin or glass-like material coatings to the pits and crevices of teeth (especially molars) to help prevent the buildup of bacterial plaque in areas where bacteria tend to thrive.
Applying sealants is a simple and pain-free process. We first brush the coating in liquid form onto the teeth’s surface areas we wish to protect. We then use a special curing light to harden the sealant and create a durable seal.
So how effective are sealants in preventing tooth decay? Two studies in recent years reviewing dental care results from thousands of patients concluded sealants could effectively reduce cavities even four years after their application. Children who didn’t receive sealants had cavities at least three times the rate of those who did.
Sealant applications, of course, have some expense attached to them. However, it’s far less than the cost for cavity filling and other treatments for decay, not to mention future treatment costs resulting from previous decay. What’s more important, though, is the beneficial impact sealants can have a child’s dental health now and on into adulthood. That’s why sealants are recommended by both the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
And while sealants are effective, they’re only one part of a comprehensive strategy to promote your child’s optimum dental health. Daily brushing and flossing, a “tooth-friendly” diet and regular dental cleanings and checkups are also necessary in helping to keep your child’s teeth healthy and free of tooth decay.
Tooth decay and developing bite problems could be major obstacles to your child's normal growth and development. Without good, preventive dental care at home and from the dentist, these obstacles could impact their health now and well into adulthood.
Here are 3 things you should do to help your child stay ahead of harmful dental problems.
Start daily hygiene early. To protect your child from tooth decay, you should begin cleaning their teeth and gums early, even before teeth appear. For your first hygiene efforts use a clean wet cloth to wipe their gums after feeding to reduce bacterial growth in the mouth. After teeth begin to erupt start brushing them with a fluoride toothpaste—a slight smear for infants and up to a pea-sized amount when they get older.
Keep sugar to a minimum. The bacteria that causes tooth decay thrive on sugar. To minimize bacterial growth, keep your child's sugar intake to a minimum by providing dental-friendly snacks and foods. Also, try to limit any sugar they eat to mealtimes rather than with snacking through the day. And avoid sending them to bed with a bottle filled with a sugary liquid (including formula and breastmilk).
Begin dental visits around age one. Dentists and pediatricians recommend regular dental visits for children starting around their first birthday. This increases the chances of detecting disease or bite problems early before too much damage occurs. Your dentist can also provide preventive measures like sealants or topical fluoride to reduce the risks of tooth decay. And early visits lessen the chance of your child developing dental visit anxiety, a phobia that could continue into adulthood.
While children are less likely than adults to experience periodontal (gum) disease, the same can't be said for tooth decay. One aggressive form of decay called early childhood caries (ECC) can have a profound effect on a child's dental development and future health.
That's why dentists who treat young children often use a variety of preventive measures to reduce the risk of ECC and other dental diseases. One popular method is dental sealants, dental material coatings applied to the biting surfaces of teeth that fill in the naturally occurring pits and crevices. These areas are highly susceptible to plaque formation, a bacterial biofilm of food particles that tends to accumulate on teeth. It's the bacteria that live in plaque that are most responsible for the formation of tooth decay.
Roughly one third of children between the ages of 6 and 11 have received some form of dental sealant. It's a quick and painless procedure applied during a routine office visit. The dentist brushes the sealant in liquid form on the teeth, and then hardens it with a special curing light. It's common for children to begin obtaining sealant protection as their molars begin to come in.
With their increased popularity among dentists, researchers have conducted a number of studies to see whether dental sealants have a measurable effect reducing tooth decay. After reviewing the cases of thousands of children over several years, many of these studies seemed to show that children who didn't receive sealants were more than twice as likely to get cavities as children who did.
As evidence continues to mount for dental sealants' effectiveness protecting young children from decay, both the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry now recommend it for all children. Not only can sealants help preserve children's teeth now, but they can reduce future costs for dental treatment that results from tooth decay.
Although teething is a natural part of your baby's dental development, it can be quite uncomfortable for them—and upsetting to you. During teething, children can experience symptoms like pain, drooling or irritability.
Teething is the two or three-year process of intermittent episodes of the primary ("baby") teeth moving through the gums. These episodes are like storms that build up and then subside after a few days. Your aim as a parent is to help your baby get through the "stormiest" times with as little discomfort as possible. To that end you may have considered using over-the-counter products that temporarily numb irritated gums.
Some of those numbing products, however, contain a pain reliever called benzocaine. In recent years, this and similar ingredients have been found to increase the level of a protein called methemoglobin in the bloodstream. Too much methemoglobin can result in less oxygen delivered to body tissues, a condition known as methemoglobinemia.
This oxygen decrease can cause shortness of breath, fatigue or dizziness. In its severest form it could lead to seizures, coma or even death. Children and infants are at high risk for benzocaine-induced methemoglobinemia, which is why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned marketing for benzocaine products as pain relievers for teething infants and children.
Fortunately, there are alternatives for helping your child weather teething episodes. A clean, chilled (not frozen) teething ring or pacifier, or a cold, wet washcloth can help numb gum pain. You can also massage their gums with a clean finger to help counteract the pressure exerted by an emerging tooth. Be sure, though, that you're not allowing anything in your child's mouth like lead-based paint that could be toxic. And under no circumstances should you use substances containing alcohol.
For severe pain, consult your physician about using a pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and the proper dosage for your child. With these tips you can help your child safely pass through a teething episode.
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