Fall is upon us and our kids are donning their backpacks and have headed back to the classroom. As families adjust to new school schedules and a more regimented, post-summer lifestyle, I felt it appropriate timing to share some dental prevention education to empower you and your loved ones.
I promote Preventive Dentistry because children with healthy mouths have a better chance of general health. Dental problems can interfere with eating and adequate nutritional intake, speech and self-esteem. Kids with dental pain may be unable to concentrate in school. Those that get off to a healthy start with routine dental visits and responsible homecare can minimize the need for definitive treatment over the course of their lives, avoiding unpleasant dental experiences that perhaps their parents have experienced. Even in our relatively affluent community, I witness many unfortunate dental problems in children due to lack of prevention.
A patient recently brought his daughter to my office for the first time at age 6, motivated by a painful infection caused by a neglected cavity. A dental office can be a scary environment for lots of people, but especially for a young child that’s experiencing pain and completely unfamiliar with her environment. After extracting that hopeless tooth and treating several others with advancing cavities, I sat down with the father to discuss preventive strategies. This is the same individual that only comes to my office when he’s experiencing his own dental emergencies and brought his 5 year old son to my office 3 years ago with such advanced problems that he had to be referred to a specialist for “hospital-level” dentistry. When I asked how his son was doing, he stated that he hadn’t been back to the dentist since that traumatic hospital experience. I was shocked. Clearly my recommendations for getting on a healthy path of routine maintenance and prevention hadn’t altered this destructive cycle. I reiterated to him that all this pain and suffering, all this time and financial commitment were 100% preventable. He holds a set of values where he believes a dentist is only someone you see when you have a dental emergency and consequently he’s on the verge of full mouth dentures, just like his parents before him.
Preventive dentistry begins when the first tooth erupts. We encourage daily cleaning of teeth and a first visit to a dentist at that point, or no later than 12 months of age. The main objectives for a visit so early is to educate the parents on healthy preventive strategies, implement a healthy preventive regimen, catch any destructive habits in their infancy and get the child accustomed to the dental office as a positive, nontraumatic environment. After completing a thorough oral examination and assessing your child’s risk for developing cavities, a dental team can design a personalized preventive program for homecare. Preschoolers generally lack the manual dexterity necessary to really do a thorough job and they need parental assistance. It’s not enough to send your 3 year old to the bathroom and expect that they’re going to do an adequate job on their own. With your support, your child can follow directions and create healthy habits to last a lifetime.
One thing is unanimously true for dental patients: they would prefer NO DENTISTRY and more time and money to engage in other life pursuits. The least invasive and least expensive way to control your child’s dental problems is to ensure they never occur in the first place or are detected early enough to avoid extensive treatments. As a father of three kids under 6 years old, I can relate to many of the same challenges and concerns that other parents face. You owe it to yourself and your family to take these simple, preventive steps to ensure that your family’s dental needs never become a needless source of stress.