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Health Articles
Dental Health
(posted on Parents’ Press)
By Heather Larson


Keep the Experience Positive for Best Results.

When Gavin Rader, a 2½-year old living in San Francisco, entered a dental office for the first time, most of what he knew about dentists had come from the movie Finding Nemo. The rest of his dental knowledge involved toys. He knew dentists used long-handled round mirrors like the one in his doctor kit.

“So I was amazed at how he wasn’t scared, but incredibly curious,” says Gavin’s dad, Dean Rader. “He was brave and it didn’t hurt that the movie Toy Story was playing on the flat screen TV and on the ceiling in the dentist’s office.”

Parents shouldn’t totally rely on the dentist to make the experience positive, though. Before stepping foot into the dentist’s office, it’s a good idea to familiarize your child with what a dentist is and what the dentist does with a patient and what the dentist likely will do with your child. Pretend, for instance, that you are the dentist and mimic an examination by teaching your child how to open his mouth and sit still as he will have to do in the dentist’s chair. It’s important to make dental health a regular part of your overall health program. That way, you can begin dental visits before dental problems develop, thus leading to early positive experiences.

Dental health should be a big part of your family’s healthy habits, in part because cavities and tooth decay present such prevalent health concerns today. In fact, tooth decay is the leading cause of chronic disease in children in the United States, says Neil Katsura, D.D.S., a pediatric dentist at Aloha Pediatric Dentistry with offices in Berkeley and Orinda.

“No symptoms precede tooth decay, and it is hard to detect the disease until it has advanced to serious levels,” says Katsura.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and Pediatric Dentistry recommends that all children visit a dentist when they turn 1. At this visit, which is primarily an educational meeting, the dentist talks about nutrition, eating habits, oral hygiene and brushing care.

After Gavin’s dental visit, he’s now expected to brush his teeth more often than the three times a month he previously did. The dentist made it clear that his parents should help with the brushing to make sure it’s thorough.

“At age 3 to 4 years, children develop fine motor skills enabling them to brush on their own, and it’s good to instill independence, but often they need assistance cleaning the hard to reach areas,” says Katsura.

Children also need help with flossing, and for that, Katsura recommends pre-strung floss sticks that are much easier to use on children than regular floss. By age 5 or 6 the child should be able to brush and floss on his own.

We know fluoride is good for teeth and helps harden the enamel, but is there enough in the water we drink or should we find other ways to obtain it?

The optimal level of fluoride in the water supply is 0.7 parts per million, says Katsura. Your water district should be able to give you that information. If your fluoride levels fall short, you can ask your dentist for a prescription plus use fluoridated toothpaste, but parents should be aware that the health effects of fluoride on the rest of the body is a big research topic. The toothpaste should be used twice daily on a child who is old enough to be able to spit well after brushing. Dental professionals can also apply fluoride treatments topically.

Brent Lin, D.M.D., and clinical professor for the Division of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of California, San Francisco, says expectant moms have the opportunity to ensure the dental health of their unborn child by maintaining their own oral health.

“After a child is born and prior to the eruption of the first tooth, the gum and surrounding tissue should be cleaned and wiped with a damp cloth after each feeding,” says Lin. “When the first tooth appears, it should be brushed with a small, soft-bristle toothbrush and a smear of fluoridated toothpaste. Excess toothpaste should be wiped off with a damp cloth.”

Tooth decay can be caused by a variety of circumstances with some of those being preventable. Katsura says those include a diet high in carbohydrates like sugar and foods that are sticky; consumption of juices, soda and sport/energy drinks; lot of snacking or eating, low-fluoride content in the water supply and resistance to brushing and flossing.

When parents make certain their children practice good oral hygiene, eat right and visit a dentist regularly, they’ve done their part to ensure strong, healthy teeth.

The First Visit to the Dentist

Brent Lin, D.M.D., and clinical professor for the Division of Pediatric Dentistry at the University of California, San Francisco, suggests parents do the following before taking their child to his or her first dentist appointment:

  • Schedule the initial appointment before any dental problems occur so the check-up is pleasant.
  • Refrain from sharing bad experiences with your child about dental history.
  • Explain that the dentist will look at his teeth, take pictures of them and brush them.
  • Bring your child to your own dental appointments so he’s familiar with that type of environment he will enter.
  • Tell the receptionist that it’s your child’s first time at the dentist.
  • Make an early morning appointment so your child is fresh, in good spirits and willing to talk to and help the dentist.
  • Ask your child to practice opening his mouth like he will for the dentist.
  • Model what to do and how easy it is by sitting in the dental chair first and have your child observe you.


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