MY dentist, Jun Nava, always enjoys recounting his experiences in caring for my teeth when I was a child. Back then, there were no special pediatric dental clinics, and I always went to my parents’ dentist.
Far from being a model patient, I had to be convinced, coaxed and sometimes coerced to sit on the dentist’s chair. Due to my refusal to go to the dentist regularly, I eventually had to get braces to align my teeth.
Now it’s my turn to figure out a way to convince my kids to go to the dentist.
I’ve found a nearby dental clinic that caters primarily to children, and I try to bring them as often as I can.
Fortunately they have a more positive attitude to the dentist than I did as a child. Maybe it’s the toys in the waiting area or the balloons and bubbles they get after every visit. Whatever it is, it’s working.
I don’t have rules for instilling a positive attitude toward the dentist. At the very least, I try to set my kids’ appointments in the morning so that they’re still in a good mood.
I also never use the dentist as a scare tactic. Instead, when they don’t want to brush their teeth or are lazy to go to an appointment, I look for images of cavities and tooth decay on Google and show these to them. That always seems to work.
I used to think that my kids didn’t have to go until their teeth needed to be extracted, but I’ve come to realize that, shortly after the first few teeth come out, whether at six or 16 months, it’s time to plan a trip to the dentist.
Parents should start watching out as soon as babies show signs of teething. Teething is a normal part of development and is usually accompanied by an irritable disposition and decreased appetite due to discomfort. Babies may start drooling more as well.
Diarrhea and fever are not normal symptoms, however; these are usually caused when the child puts something in his mouth in an attempt to soothe swollen gums. If the child picks up a dirty item or constantly touches the area with unclean hands, he/she may transfer bacteria, which can be ingested, or infect an open area in the gums.
Upon the arrival of the first tooth, you can expect a full set of 20 baby teeth over the next three years. These “baby teeth” will start to loosen and fall off to make room for permanent teeth from the ages of six to 12.
Rather than wait for dental emergency, start visiting the dentist six to 12 months after the first set of teeth comes out.
I also used to think that I could just wait for most of my kids’ teeth to fall off on their own, but realized recently that doing so was like setting the stage for future dental needs.
When a “baby tooth” refuses to budge and does not get out of the way early enough, a “permanent tooth” will grow instead where it can, and not necessarily in line or in the proper area. Of course there are some lucky kids whose teeth come out perfectly, but not all of us have genes for perfect smiles!
To lessen future dental needs, you might opt not to wait too long to have your kid’s baby teeth extracted when you see a permanent tooth making its way out. Don’t let the permanent one grow halfway out or more, while the baby tooth is still in place. In cases like these, it is best to have the baby tooth extracted so the permanent tooth can be “pushed” into place by the child’s tongue.
On a recent dental visit, I asked the kids’ dentist, “Tita Doc Angela” or Dr. Angela Livas of Children’s Dental Center, for more tips on caring for children’s teeth.
1) The recommended age for a child’s first dental visit is on his/her first year. It’s always better to do preventive rather than restorative procedures.
“You don’t want to do fillings and other extensive procedures on children. Rather, it is better to expose them to child-friendly procedures, such as cleanings and checkups, so as not to traumatize them,” Livas says.
2) Fluoridated toothpaste is a must as soon as the first teeth are out. This is safe for baby teeth, as long as the amount is regulated. The suggested amount for babies up to age two is “smear size,” while for children ages two to seven, it is “pea size.” Once the child is seven and above, he can take a “full bristle” size.
3) Visits should be every three to six months for a fluoridated cleaning and to check for cavities.
4) It is important to brush children’s teeth for two minutes, three times a day, and most important, at night, because saliva is not active while the child is asleep, so its cleansing mechanism is not as effective as when the child is awake.
5) Allowing a baby to fall asleep with a bottle in his/her mouth is a no-no. After feeding at night, brush your baby’s teeth if possible, as milk sugar causes cavities.
If brushing of teeth is not possible, you can try giving the baby water, or wiping their teeth with wet gauze to remove excess sugar from teeth.
6) Check the literature in the box of the toothpaste you buy for your children. The amount of fluoride content should be between 1,000-1,500.
7) For children, there is no need to gargle after brushing. They can simply spit out excess toothpaste and water after brushing, so that the fluoride stays on the teeth.
8) It is recommended that parents brush their kids’ teeth until age seven or eight because children below these ages do not have the dexterity to do it properly yet.
9.) Have loose teeth extracted rather than wait for them to fall off. Extracting early allows permanent teeth to grow properly.
10) Eat healthy. A visit to the dentist is just once every few months, but what our kids consume and expose their teeth to daily will have a much larger impact. Watch out for milk left over from night bottle feedings, sugar candies, and teeth-staining drinks such as tea and colored soft drinks.
Hopefully, with proper care at home and consistent checkups, the kids will grow up cavity-free and with healthy teeth and gums.