Got Teeth? A primer for dental care

Until yesterday, Little L was overdue for his first dental appointment.

Yes, that’s right. Dr. R, who routinely recommends – along with the American Dental Association – that a child see the dentist by the age of 1, had not taken her own son to the dentist.

To be honest, I simply had never gotten around to it. With well checkups at the doctor being numerous during these months, and our lives having gotten extremely busy with our house-hunting ventures, I just let it slide. I figured, well, I’m brushing L’s teeth regularly and I don’t see any brown spots (which are the first indicators of tooth decay), so I figured I was getting away with things scot-free.

But in the back of my mind, I believe that fear also motivated the delay. I was also apprehensive when I booked L’s appointment and they mentioned that X-rays would not be taken. X-rays? At this age! It seems so young? Would he have to get x-rays at his visit, were he slightly older? And will he freak out if he has all this manipulation and someone trying to examine his mouth?

While T and I have never had issues with our teeth, and have generally not even required any orthodontic worth during our youth and minimal fillings, I wasn’t sure if the same fate would befall L. We night nurse, so I am constantly worried that the milk exposure at night could be causing damage to his teeth in unseen areas, such as behind his upper front teeth, which is where milk tends to pool and collect in little babies’ mouths.

Indeed, one should certainly be concerned about this in any child. The same goes for any children above one who are still using bottles or are giving their children sugar-sweetened beverages. All of these triggers are fodder for bacterial growth and subsequent decay. But I commonly am asked the following question by my patients:

“How does it matter, anyway, whether a baby goes to the dentist? Baby teeth will fall out anyway.” Any dentist will tell you, “Yes, it does matter.” But why? For starters, childhood dental health can be a predictor of adult dental health. Think about it. If your mouth and gums are filled with unhealthy bacteria eating away at baby teeth, chances are that at least some of them stick around and will infect adult teeth. A happy childhood set of teeth increases your chances that your adult teeth will be happy as well. Additionally, the development of good oral hygiene habits cannot be underestimated. Would you believe they flossed my little one year old’s teeth at the office? They did, and he did fine with it. Brushing twice a day, and flossing, is the best way to get children on the right track.

When I first started brushing L’s teeth – when the first tooth erupted, we had considerable difficulties cleaning. He didn’t want to open his mouth. Instead, he would gag with the toothbrush and get very upset when I tried to shove the brush in his mouth. So we eased him into it. We taught him to say “Ahhh” for starters and only then would we use the brush, and I had a spare brush that I would hand him so that he could feel the brush and try to brush his own teeth. Worked like a charm. These days, he has no problems opening his mouth to say “Ahh” in the mornings and evenings and he waits patiently while I brush all areas of his teeth. We do not use toothpaste, which is not recommended until a child is over two and is able to spit without difficulty. One wouldn’t want a baby to swallow the amount of fluoride in a regular serving of toothpaste. But “baby toothpaste” or no toothpaste are both equally acceptable for children in getting used to good oral hygiene.

Now that we brush regularly, it seems that L really is aware of his mouth and does not like foreign body feelings on his tongue, dirty textures if he is eating and something doesn’t feel right, and if he gets an object between his teeth he notices it. So I feel that our cleanings must be doing the trick; he is getting used to having a nice clean feeling in his mouth!

And our experience at the pediatric dentist was fortunately anything but scary. My vlog above will help outline some of our experience and what it was like. Behold. The only thing I would add is that if your water is not fluoridated (in other words, if you have well water or drink mostly bottled water, and do not drink fluoridated public water) your child will probably need fluoride supplements, which you can discuss with the dentist.

And here are a few links that may prove helpful: