According to Dianne Riter, Senior Program Officer at the Washington Dental Service Foundation, many of our kids will unfortunately go back to school next month with tooth decay.
“Too many children experience tooth decay: in Washington state, nearly 40 percent of children start Kindergarten with tooth decay," Riter said. "Yet, it’s a largely preventable disease.”
Dr. John Liu has a pediatric dental practice in Issaquah with Eastside Pediatric Dental Group, along with Dr. SallySue Lombardi and Dr. Donna Quinby.
Liu's practice sees a wide age range of patients from infants to high school students. He said parents need to have their child start seeing a dentist early.
“The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child see the dentist by their first birthday or six months after their first tooth erupts,” he said.
In addition to frequently offering a more kid-friendly office environment, Liu said that “pediatric dentists receive an additional two years of training after graduating from dental school on how to work with children.”
An ounce of prevention
Bellevue has a number of pediatric dental practices including , , the , and .
Dental health is an important part of overall health and wellness, according to Liu.
“Parents need to realize that the health of their children's teeth can have dramatic implications on their children's adult teeth as well as their overall health," he said.
Just because cavities are in "baby teeth" -- teeth that will fall out as children develop -- doesn't mean that the cavities can be ignored, he said.
"It can lead to infections that can spread to other parts of the body resulting in unnecessary pain and even possible hospitalization for the treatment of the infection," he said. "This can set the child up for a lifetime of problems with their adult teeth, if problems with their 'baby-teeth' are left untreated."
Liu recommends parents schedule a dental cleaning and exam for their children every six months to catch problems sooner rather than later.
"Additionally, for some children, we may recommend more frequent visits depending on the level of their brushing and rate of getting cavities," he said.
Putting off dental visits for your kids can cause more expense and damage in the long run.
“All too often, we are confronted with parents who wishes after the fact, that someone had told them what to do and what not to do because by the time they've come to see us, the damage is already there. That's why the biggest challenge is getting the parents to get their children in as early as possible, before problems arise, become established with a 'dental home' for their children and therefore be able to receive all the helpful information and guidance on how to insure their children enjoy a lifetime of healthy teeth and beautiful smiles.”
Parents can sometimes pass on their own fear of the dentist to their kids. So Liu advises parents to manage their own anxieties.
"They need to remember that their children can pick up on their parents' fears and anxiety," he said. "They need to stay positive about the visit and keep it simple as to what the dentist and his/her staff is going to do. There are books that they can get to read with their children about going to the dentist."
Parents are a big part of helping kids establish healthy habits that will serve them for life, and Liu said they should remember to set a good example -- and ask family members to be good examples as well.
“Parents need to help with the child's brushing. Initially, the parents will have to do most of the brushing and even though sometimes there is a lot of protesting going on by the child especially when they are much younger, parents need to be persistent yet patient with the child," he said. Parents should continue to help, and allow their children to do more of their own brushing as they get older, he said.
"By the time children can write cursive, they should have the hand dexterity to do a good job on their own.”
For kids playing sports also need protective gear for the teeth, which help prevent injuries, Liu said. Dentists can create custom mouth guards that fit better and are more comfortable, making it more likely that a child will wear it.
Accidents will happen
And sometimes, despite our best efforts, the worst happens and your child knocks out all or part of a tooth. Parents shouldn't panic, because there are things that they can do to save the tooth within a certain window of time. After 30 minutes of being out of the mouth, the success in saving the tooth goes down dramatically, according to Liu.
"If the parents is present at the scene of the accident and are able to find the tooth, they should, if they are comfortable, put it right back into the mouth," he said. "Don't scrub the tooth, just gently rinse off any debris. If the parents are not comfortable putting the tooth back in the mouth, they should put it into a container with milk and see the dentist as soon as possible."
If the tooth is chipped, depending on how big the chip is, it may be really sensitive and need to have a protective covering put over the chipped portion of the tooth, he said. If the chip is significant, it might be worth looking for the chipped off portion so that it can potentially be rebonded on to the tooth, he said.
For parents who have put off making regular six month dental cleanings and exams part of their child’s routine, Liu said now is the time to get started.
“By seeing the dentist regularly and practicing some simple preventive habits at home, it will go a long way towards insuring the child grows up to enjoy a lifetime of healthy teeth. To quote Ben Franklin, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he said.