On the long to-do list that comes with new parenthood, dentistry usually takes a backseat to more urgent matters. Local dentists, however, urge parents to begin practicing proper dental habits before teeth even begin to surface as the foundation for a lifetime of good health.
Establishing a dental home
Dr. K. Jean Beauchamp recommends taking children to the dentist by age 1. “A main reason that we like to see them so early,” she says, “is simply so that we can ensure that teeth are erupting properly. Additionally, we like to encourage parents to establish their child’s dental home.”
By building a relationship with a dentist, she explains, parents have a familiar place to turn in the event that their child becomes injured or suffers from unusual dental pain.
Dr. Larry Deeds of the Children’s Dentist explains that if your child should experience an accident involving their teeth, it is important to bring them to the dentist, even if you believe that there is no damage to their teeth. “They need to bring them in immediately so that we can check the teeth and take an X-ray,” he says. “Damage isn’t always seen with the naked eye, but children can crack a root which then damages adult teeth.”
Barring an accident, of course, a child’s first visit to the dentist is relatively simple. “We never require a child to sit in the chair,” Dr. Beauchamp explains. “We prefer to allow them to sit in their parent’s lap while we look at their teeth.”
Dr. Deeds uses the same practice and says that it allows children to remain comfortable while they check for proper tooth eruption and dental hygiene.
“We use the first visit,” Deeds explains, “to talk to the parents about what they’re doing to take care of their child’s teeth as they begin to come in, which is usually around six months for their lower front teeth.”
“We look,” Dr. Beauchamp says, “at what they’re eating, drinking, how they take it. We go through a questionnaire and do a risk assessment based on parental history. Once we do all of the talking, we look at the child’s hard and soft tissue, their bite development, look for future issues that might come up.”
The most important thing for Dr. Beauchamp, however, is leaving the child with positive memories of the experience. “We try to send them off with a toy and a balloon and make it a happy visit.”
Addressing common mistakes
Both Dr. Deeds and Dr. Beauchamp agree that there are a few mistakes that they, as dentists, are passionate about correcting. “We see so many parents that think that they’re doing good things for their young children by giving them juice,” Dr. Deeds says. “If they want juice, give them some fruit, but never give them juice in a bottle or a sippy cup. It just dissolves their teeth.”
Dr. Beauchamp concurs. “If your child does have something with a great deal of sugar, take a damp cloth and simply wipe their teeth.”
When to use a toothbrush
By the time children are 15 months old, it is recommended that they begin using a toothbrush with parental assistance. “Many parents aren’t aware,” Dr. Deeds says, “that children don’t have the fine motor skills to adequately brush their teeth until around age eight. Parents should be checking to make sure they’re brushing well.”
Dentists agree that fluoride should be avoided until at least age 2, but Dr. Deeds recommends holding off until age 3. “Even then,” he says, “use a very small, pea-sized amount.”
‘Make things fun’
Perhaps the most important thing a parent can do for their child is instill in them a sense of pride in their personal dental hygiene. “Modeling is a great way to do that,” Dr. Deeds says. “Brush your teeth with them or with an older sibling. They’ll want to be one of the big kids.”
“Always make sure, as well,” Dr. Beauchamp says, “that you make things fun. Get a toothbrush that plays a little song, buy a special toothbrush timer and always, always make coming to the dentist a fun, special day!”