November 16, 2012 – The first time I entered a dentist's office I was overcome by a putrid, acrid smell and the shrill, buzzing sound of a cantankerous contraption. The furniture was grey, the prints on the wall were lacklustre, and the lighting was gloomily dim. The receptionist resembled Nurse Ratched from 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' and I remember pursing my lips tight as she looked at me with her cold, stoic blue eyes. Would it not have been for my mother I would have exited the dentist's office without a moment's notice.
Things are quite a bit different today. Dentist's offices are bright and kid friendly with colourful books, toys, puzzles, aquariums, and the sounds of happy, children's voices permeate the air. I look around the waiting room area and everyone is chattering and smiling, staff are dressed in vibrant clothing, and they have those exuberant, pearly white smiles that make your fears dissolve into nothingness.
1st Visit to the Dental Office
- The Canadian Dental Association recommends a dental assessment within 6 months of the eruption of the first tooth or by one year of age. The goal is to have your child visit the dentist before a problem exists and at the same time, dentists have the opportunity to discuss the importance of diet and oral hygiene with the parents.
- Visits to the dental office at a young age helps to start a healthy, positive relationship between your child and the dentist. Should your child require dental treatment in the future, your child will be more willing and accepting and not as fearful of the unknown.
- Once a child has teeth, he/she is susceptible to tooth decay because mother's milk, formula, cow's milk, and fruit juice all contain sugars. Babies may get early tooth decay from going to bed with a bottle of milk, formula, or juice. Breastfeeding at night may increase the risk of tooth decay, although this is not experienced by the majority of breastfed babies.
- If your child has a medical condition or takes medications, inform your child's dentist and give him your paediatrician's name and telephone number should he require further information.
- If your child has a sucking habit with his/her thumb, a pacifier, or bottle, inform your dentist because it could affect your child's teeth and jaw.
- If your child's first visit to the dentist is at the age of 2½ when they have cut all their teeth you may be presented with a different set of circumstances but with careful planning and preparation your first visit may be a success.
- Talk to your child about your trip together to the dentist's office and practice brushing your child's teeth so he/she will be used to having a toothbrush in his/her mouth.
- To ensure your child feels comfortable, introduce him/her to the dentist.
- A good dentist will explain each step of the checkup with your child and show him/her the tools that he will use.
- A good dentist will allow your child the option to sit on Mommy's or Daddy's lap and should your child become nervous or agitated, the dentist will stop the procedure.
- Using finger puppets, models, or an oversized brush, the dentist will show your child how to brush his/her teeth to prevent cavities. The dentist will also explain how the cavities harm teeth and how eating nutritious meals and drinking plenty of water will keep your teeth healthy.
- The spitting cup may make unusual sucking noises that your child has not heard before. The dentist will show your child how it works and how to spit into it properly.
- The dentist will put on a mask and gloves and then proceed to count teeth on a model before putting his fingers in your child's mouth.
- The dentist will polish your child's teeth with a rotary toothbrush. Make sure the dental hygienist or assistant provides your child with goggles or sunglasses to protect his/her eyes in case a tool slips or toothpaste sprays. Letting the child see and hear the toothbrush before it's placed in his/her mouth will put your child at ease.
- The dentist will show your child how the sucking straw works before she uses it to remove extra toothpaste and saliva.
- The dentist may talk to you about fluoride treatments for your child's permanent molars and suggest a sealant to protect them from cavities.
- Prizes from the dentist like stickers, finger puppets, crayons and a toothbrush are a wonderful way to get kids to think the dentist's office is a secure, cool, and fun place.
- If your child becomes very upset during the first visit, he/she may not be ready. Cut the visit short and try again at another time according to your dentist's recommendation.
- Your dentist may want to take X-rays, which will show if teeth are coming in properly and if decay exists between the teeth.
- Your dentist will know if crooked or crowded teeth may cause problems. In many cases, crooked teeth straighten out as the child's jaw grows and the rest of the teeth come in.
- Some primary (baby) teeth will be in your child's mouth until they reach the age of 12 so if your child has a cavity it is recommended that the tooth is fixed right away because it can affect the healthy growth of the second set of teeth.
- Broken or infected teeth can hurt your child's health and the way your child feels about him/herself.
- To do a filling the dentist removes the decay with a drill and 'fills' the hole with metal, plastic, or other material. A filling can be a financially economical and easy way to fix a problem that later could be more painful and costly because it stops decay from spreading deeper into the tooth. If a filling is not done and decay spreads, the tooth may need to be pulled out. If this happens, your child may need a space maintainer to hold the space for the permanent tooth to prevent teeth on either side from moving into this space.
- Your may want to take your child to your own dentist but unless a sizable part of your dentist's practice is children, this is not recommended.
What's New in Paediatric Dentistry
- Many teeth have rough surfaces that are hard to clean. When dental sealant is applied to these surfaces, it makes the pitted and grooved areas of a tooth much easier to clean.
- Back teeth have deep crevices where food can become trapped or lodged which over time can cause cavities. If your child has shallow crevices, dental sealants will not be required.
- Applied with a dentist's brush sealants bond to the enamel of a tooth. Sometimes a curing light is used to help the sealant dry faster.
- A gel or varnish fluoride treatment can be applied using a cotton swab or brush by the dentist, or placed in a tray that the child bites down on and holds for several minutes. After this treatment, your child should not eat or drink anything for 30 minutes to allow the fluoride to soak into the teeth.
- A Fluoride treatment needs to be repeated because it wears away.
- Fluoride that is contained in toothpaste is much less concentrated than a fluoride treatment your child would receive in a dentist's office.
- Most dentists start to look at a patient's wisdom teeth about the age of 16 or 17 to see if there is room for the teeth to come in properly without causing problems.
- Some dentists suggest removing wisdom teeth sooner rather than later if they look like they are not coming in properly. The less a wisdom tooth has to develop the shallower the roots will be and therefore the removal of the tooth will be easier.
- Other dentists say that if wisdom teeth don't affect function or appearance leave them in and if they're symptomatic then they will take them out.
- It is recommended that parents have discussions with their dentists the risks and benefits associated with leaving wisdom in or taking them out.
Practice Healthy Habits at Home
- Check your child's teeth periodically by lifting his/her upper and lower lips and look for dull, white spots or lines on the teeth, which could be present on the necks of the teeth next to the gums. Dark teeth are a sign of tooth decay.
- Stop sucking habits as soon as possible because they lead to potential tooth misalignment.
- Choose a soft, kid-size toothbrush and replace it every three months.
- Use no more than a pea-size amount of toothpaste on your child's brush, which offers adequate fluoride and protection from fluorosis, a damaging oral condition caused by overingestion of fluoride.
- Help your toddler brush his/her teeth after breakfast and before bedtime.
- Avoid starchy and sugary snacks that stick to teeth and increase the risk of decay.
- If your child is unable to brush his/her teeth, rinse his/her mouth with water to wash away food particles and sugar.