February is National Childrenís Dental Health Month. As parents and grandparents we generally pay close attention to our childís general health. The School District requires us to get certain vaccinations before our children can attend school. They donít require dental checkups. Unfortunately, many parents neglect their own oral care and forget about their childrenís as well. February is the month to change that concept.
Good dental care will affect your childís overall health in several ways. Having healthy teeth and gums avoids pain and infection. Children that have painful, infected teeth can miss an average of 7 days of school each year. Children that have dental pain canít concentrate in class and some may even develop behavior problems. Dental pain will keep a child from sleeping well through the night. Having healthy teeth and gums avoids problems with tooth loss as well. Children missing front teeth are less likely to smile and tend to shy away from social interaction. This can have a long term effect on their self-esteem.
So when is the right time to go to the dentist? A first visit to the dentist because of dental pain is usually not the best of circumstances. To become a good patient and have good dental health we would want to get started before painful visits have a chance to occur. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists offers that a child should go to the dentist within 6 month after the first tooth erupts. Practically, the child needs to be a little bit cooperative for the first visit. His or her ability to be a little independent helps as well. You know your childís behavior; a dental visit at one year old isnít too early for some. After all, decay can occur as soon as a tooth appears. Bringing a child to a dentist early can lead to a lifetime of good oral care habits and helps your child get used to the dental office environment.
What happens on the first visit? On an initial visit without any dental pain or infection, you can expect more of an orientation to dental health than actual treatment. A Knee to lap exam where you child will lie on your lap with his head in the lap of the dentist is the best way to start a very young patient. The dentist should take that opportunity to give you a tour of your childís mouth and talk about his or her needs. This is a good time for your dentist to talk about mouth care, your childís diet and perhaps apply some Fluoride Varnish. If your child is older, then maybe the dentist or an assistant could give your child a tour of the dental office to familiarize them to the environment. It is important to establish a regular dental routine starting at an early age. Even if your child is too anxious to have a cleaning done, it is not a wasted appointment. Becoming familiar with the equipment, instruments and staff of the office will help your child become more comfortable with treatment. The goal is to eventually perform a full examination, cleaning and x-rays. This is the key to good dental health. It will give your child something to smile about and will make for plenty of stress free visits in the future.
This article was written by Dr. John (Nick) Dane, who is the Dental Director of Truman Medical Center-Lakewood, and a member of the Leeís Summit Health Education Advisory Board. The Leeís Summit Health Education Advisory Board is a Mayor-appointed, volunteer board that promotes and advocates community health by assessing health issues, educating the public and government agencies, developing plans to address health issues, encouraging partnerships and evaluating the outcomes.