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Helping Your Child Keep His (or Her)

By Yelena Sapin


eeth play the starring role in many of our children’s milestones. Just look through any family photo album, and there’s the six-month old with a brand-new pair of incisors cutting through a drooly smile, the 5-year old with a bloody grin offering a first gift to the Tooth Fairy, the middle-schooler awkwardly sporting a mouth full of shiny braces, the beaming teen showing off newly straightened pearly whites. We know about the importance of brushing, flossing, and seeing a dentist twice a year, but there are still a few things parents need to do to keep their children’s smiles as healthy as can be.

Caring for a Baby’s Mouth Even before the first tooth makes an appearance, it’s a good idea to get your infant, and yourself, accustomed to a daily mouth-cleaning routine. You can gently rub your baby’s gums with a piece of gauze or a soft wet washcloth wrapped around your index finger, then switch to brushing with a soft baby toothbrush once the teeth arrive. And never let your baby go to bed with anything but water in a bottle or sippy cup. Any food or drink that sits on the teeth at night, even breast milk, can cause cavities, says Dr. Korie Acord of Derby City Pediatric Dentistry in Louisville. When brushing isn’t convenient, like during those nighttime feedings, you can wipe off the teeth with gauze or a wet washcloth, says Acord, or use a tooth-wiping product like Spiffies, a wet towelette designed for cleaning little gums and teeth.

When to See the Dentist The first dental visit should happen any time between the first tooth coming in and the child’s first birthday, says Dr. Ann Greenwell, director of the Pediatric Dental Residency Program at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry. It’s best to choose a pediatric dentist for the early years, says Greenwell, since the special training they receive makes them better suited to deal with the needs of infants and young children. On that first visit, the dentist will look in your child’s mouth to make sure that everything is developing appropriately and educate you on how to take care of your child’s teeth. Over time, the dentist will monitor your child’s dental health, take care of any problems, and refer you to an orthodontist if necessary. Your child needs to establish a dental home where she is known and her records are kept, says Greenwell, so it’s best to maintain continuity with the same practitioner throughout childhood.

Preparing for the Visit

Healthy Smile not pushing kids if they’re not ready. There’s always next time, says Acord, and “for us there’s nothing better than having an anxious little kiddo who comes in worried and then leaves high-fiving and really excited to come back.”

Practicing Good Habits With the younger kids, Acord focuses on educating the parents on how to clean their children’s teeth. But diet also makes a difference in keeping cavities at bay. Acord is not a fan of gummies, fruit snacks, dehydrated fruit and other sticky, chewy foods that are high in sugar. “They’re very convenient,” she says, “but they get stuck in all the nooks and crannies and are very difficult to get out.” Kids generally have the manual dexterity to do a good job brushing once they can write in cursive or tie their own shoes, says Acord, but healthy snacks are still important. Once they get into the teenage years and start getting a lot more freedom, Acord encourages kids to drink water instead of sugary sodas and acidic soft drinks, and to limit sports drinks to when they’re actually doing sports. To make flossing easier at any age, Acord recommends and hands out pre-strung flossers. For younger children, “Mom and Dad can get the back teeth and the kids can practice on the front teeth,” she says.

Handling Emergencies Much of the early tooth trauma happens between the ages of one and two, says Greenwell, when kids are learning to walk and are bumping into things. After drying the tears and assessing the damage, you need to take your child to your pediatric dentist if there’s any bleeding from around the tooth socket, if a tooth gets knocked loose or out, or if any piece of a tooth is missing. A knocked-out baby tooth belongs to the Tooth Fairy, says Greenwell, because trying to put it back into the socket can damage the permanent teeth that are forming right there. A permanent tooth, on the other hand, may be re-implanted, but there’s a very small window on how long it can remain out of the mouth before drying out. “If you have the stomach for it,” advises Acord, “you can rinse the tooth with either milk or saline, not water, and put it back in the socket, have your child bite down on something, and get them to the dentist right away” to keep the tooth alive as long as possible. Accidents can happen, so it’s crucial to wear protective mouth guards when playing sports. And keep your dentist’s phone number handy in your cell phone, just in case.

In Acord’s experience, the average child doesn’t see a dentist until age two or three. Kids pick up on their parents’ anxiety, says Acord, so keeping the atmosphere light and stress-free, and not using words like “needle,” “shot,” “hurt,” and “pull,” can go a long way to help make your child’s first visit more comfortable. “We’re just brushing and counting and taking pictures of the teeth,” says Acord, “but if your kiddo is really anxious, stop by the office in advance so he can meet everyone, and see other little kiddos doing a good job, and just visit.” Pediatric dentists go that extra mile to put their littlest patients at ease by using kid-friendly language, providing fun distractions, and 30 June/July 2012 444 /todaysfamily 444 @todaysfamilynow

Today's Family  

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Today's Family  

Quality Resource for Quality Time for families, parents and children