As a Pediatric Dentist, Orthodontist and Mom of three children, I am passionate about educating families about the importance of maintaining a healthy, straight, beautiful smile. February is National Children’s Dental Health Month and it is an exciting time at my practice, Commerce Park Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics.
New parents often ask me, “When should my child first see a dentist?” According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, every child should visit a dentist by their first birthday. This first visit is important to establish a dental home for the child early — a place where a patient can go for familiar, comfortable and compassionate dental care, especially in the case of a dental emergency.
Pediatric dentists have completed two additional years beyond dental school training to care for issues unique to young patients. They are experts in guiding parents in the early stages of oral care for their child. At Commerce Park Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we offer a complimentary first visit to all children under two years of age.
Our goal is to establish a fun and positive relationship with the child and parent in a dental setting. Some of the topics we review in that first visit – how to properly care for an infant or toddler’s mouth, oral habits, pacifier use, finger or thumb sucking, teething, fluoride, diet, prevention of oral disease and more tips to raising a cavity-free child.
Let’s face it, some kids are afraid of going to the dentist. Starting their visits early, though, does help reduce anxiety. One of our favorite events to make going to the dentist fun, and help reduce anxiety, is our “Dentist for the Day” event. This is an opportunity for kids to be hands-on and behind the scenes of what it is like to be a dentist. They learn about how the chairs move, how the X-rays work, how to properly brush and what to eat/not eat to prevent cavities. It’s a fun event that gets kids the opportunity to experience a dental office in a whole new way.
Another unique aspect of our office is our therapy dogs. We know that animals can help to reduce patient anxiety. We have had great success bringing this to the pediatric dental setting. Our parents can request a special therapy dog session during their child’s dental care. The calming effect of these dogs has done wonders to make our littlest patients more comfortable during their dental visits.
Regular cleanings at the dentist is important in maintaining a health smile but brushing and flossing at home is key. A wet toothbrush does the job for infants. Once a child is two years old, use a training (non-fluoride containing) toothpaste. Young children tend to swallow toothpaste when brushing, rather than spitting it out. Only use fluoride toothpaste once the child has learned to spit out and not swallow it.
As soon as two teeth touch each other, floss between them once a day. Either regular floss or special plastic floss holders will work well. Parents should encourage young children to brush and praise them for doing so, but understand that a young child’s dexterity is not fully developed. For this reason, it is always best for a caregiver to brush the child’s teeth until the child is at least seven years old.
Children these days, more than ever before, can have a cavity-free life with advances in dental care such as sealants and improved education. Cavities occur when sugar-containing foods stay in the mouth for a long time. The bacteria in the mouth convert the food into acid that destroys tooth enamel.
Saliva helps to wash away the acid between meals, but if your child is always eating, there may not be time for this acid to get washed away. Encourage brushing at least twice a day and limit snacking, especially the sticky snacks that linger on the teeth.
As a Pediatric Dentist and Orthodontist, I have the opportunity to meet our youngest patients and get them comfortable at the dentist from the very first visit. I get the privilege to monitor their growth and development, and if they need future braces, help ease them through that process that culminates in a beautiful, cavity-free smile. It really is a joy to see how our patients grow and develop into exceptional young adults.
Mary Ritter, DMD is pediatric dentist and orthodontist at Commerce Park Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics. She and her husband Tim have three children and a dog named Teddy. When she is not at work, you can find her reading or with her family. They have fun together no matter what they are doing; they love biking, walking the dog, and just being together.