Healthy Smiles = Healthy Children

Written by: Melissa Connell

When I worked on the Navajo Reservation for the first four years of my career as a dentist, I saw many pediatric patients. Most had severe dental problems, which reinforced the importance of early intervention in preventing dental caries. I witnessed the impact of poor dental health significantly on children’s general well-being. As soon as good dental health was restored, they were much healthier and happier. That experience motivated me to specialize in pediatric dentistry.

The average age for a child in Illinois to visit the dentist for the first time is three and a half years old. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children see a dentist by age one. Though it’s not wrong to wait a little longer, the guideline is based on experience that it’s best for the patient in the long run to start a little earlier.

It might be difficult to imagine what might happen during a one-year-old’s visit to the dentist. One of our jobs as pediatric dentists is to protect the emotional experience in the dental environment. It is normal to be anxious and for young children’s behavior to be challenging. Our goal is to help a child get used to the environment so that dental appointments are less overwhelming as time passes. Pediatric dentists and their staff focus on the specific needs of the pediatric patient in the dental environment.

Parents ask about the importance of baby teeth, since they eventually fall out. Baby teeth are important because they help with proper chewing and speech, and they hold space for adult teeth. The layers of enamel and dentin are thinner in baby teeth, which means a cavity can progress rapidly toward the nerve in the middle of a baby tooth. Prevention is key, and starting at age one can strengthen prevention measures. Unfortunately, we still see a high rate of cavities in the pediatric population. We strive to keep smiles healthy so kids eat better, sleep better and do better in school.

Here are some of the AAPD’s main reasons for recommending the first dentist visit at age one:

  • To establish a dental home and create an ongoing dentist-patient relationship inclusive of all aspects of oral health care delivered in a comprehensive, continuously accessible, coordinated and family-centered way
  • To review brushing and flossing recommendations
  • To review diet recommendations (for example, avoid gummy vitamins!)
  • To prepare for the unexpected, like trauma to the teeth; when we’ve established a relationship with both parent and patient, dealing with trauma is more comfortable than having their introduction to the dental environment be in an emergency

Our goal is to create healthy habits for a lifetime. The healthier baby teeth are, the healthier adult teeth will be. All the hard work by parents and their dental health care providers pays off in the long run. As a parent, I simply ask parents to do the best they can with the tools we offer them.

NPN has helped to spread the good word about pediatric dentistry and early dental intervention. As both a business owner and a parent, I feel fortunate to have the amazing NPN support system and its resources to find great information about all things Chicago!

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Photo credit: Photo Pin

Posted on January 10, 2013 at 10:09 AM