Importance of Pediatric Dental Care: From Infant to Teen

Importance of Pediatric Dental Care: From Infant to Teen

Proper dental care is important for people of all ages, even among the youngest of patients. In fact, according to Dr. Craig Vinall, Residency Program Director for Pediatric Dentistry at the University of Tennessee, dental care starts in the womb.

It’s important that expecting mothers manage cavities and oral bacteria. “There are national programs dedicated to increasing dental access and dental care to expectant moms because we know that moms who have a higher volume of bacteria in their mouth are more likely to pass bacteria onto their children,” said Vinall.

Once a baby is born, it’s time to start practicing good dental hygiene activities like wiping the baby’s gums and mouth after feeding with a soft cloth, avoiding sharing other children’s toys and discouraging people from kissing the baby directly on the mouth as it increases bacterial exposure.

“A lot of those early experiences help towards our dental encounters that happen later. The more accustomed a child is to having somebody in and around their mouth, the easier those experiences are going to come,” adds Vinall.

The Importance of Regular Dentist Visits for Kids

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends the first visit to the dentist occur within six months of the eruption of the first tooth or by 12 months of age. Some children are born with teeth, and it’s important for those families to speak with a pediatric dentist to if any “special” care might be required.

Regular visits are essential—not just to preserve dental health but also to help kids feel more comfortable going to the dentist. Vinall says it’s no different than taking a child to the doctor on a regular basis.

“We know one of the greatest fears of childhood is fear of the unknown. So, it's normal for a child to come in and be afraid of the dentist. That's another reason we try to see them as young as we do. We want them to be in our office and be exposed and be used to people being in and around their mouths.”

Sometimes, a bit older child has never been to the dentist—so that comfortability hasn’t been established. A good approach is to sit down and talk with the child in simple, non-threatening terms. Vinall advises against showing YouTube videos, as many can be unnerving. If a child has special needs, he suggests using storybooks that show pictures of a dental office in order to familiarize the child with the office environment.

Reinforce Best Practices as Kids Get Older

As kids get older, they naturally want to establish more autonomy in their day-to-day. When it comes to dental hygiene, it’s imperative to reinforce proper brushing techniques—as well as best practices such as brushing both morning and night and avoiding eating or drinking after brushing at night. Kids may require supervision until about age eight or nine.

“Bacteria needs carbohydrates or sugars to thrive, and they prefer an acid environment. The more acidic foods and drinks and the more sugar we're putting in our mouth, the better environment we have for those bacteria to thrive,” cautions Vinall.

Debunking Myths Surrounding Fluoride

Some parents question whether or not fluoride is safe—for their children or themselves. Vinall assures that fluoridation, and water fluoridation in particular, are supported by the American Dental Association, American Medical Association, American Cancer Association, CDC, and the World Health Organization.

These major professional groups agree that fluoride is important in preventing tooth decay. Some of the controversy comes with the fact that it is a toxin. “But, many of the things we put in our own bodies or provide to our children depends upon the quantities with which they're provided,” he said. “Where we can get into trouble and where it really can be toxic is for a child who likes the taste, and they get ahold of a whole tube of toothpaste. For a child to ingest a whole tube of toothpaste, that is a serious medical emergency.”

Stay Consistent

When children are younger, brushing routinely can feel like a daunting task. Stay consistent in your routine and it will get easier with time as your child learns the importance of good dental health. If you have any concerns about your child’s dental health, schedule an appointment with a local pediatric dental clinic.

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