She carries a wand, she wears a crown, and she loves healthy smiles! We all know and love the tooth fairy—even though she may force you to make regular trips to the ATM, but the tooth fairy could not do her job if there wasn’t a healthy mouth to work with.
Long before the tooth fairy takes flight, children as young as age one should be making trips to the dentist at least twice a year to prevent cavities and gum disease. In fact, this preventative work is so important that tooth decay remains the most common chronic disease in children—resulting in 51 million lost school hours each year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in four children under the age of five already have cavities; and more specifically, 42% of children ages 2 to 11 have had tooth decay in their precious primary teeth. You may think little of those “baby teeth,” but these pearly whites help children speak clearly, chew naturally, and help form a path that adult teeth follow when they finally grow in.
Amidst all of these statistics, the good news is that tooth decay is 100 percent preventable. So, what’s the first step to maintaining a healthy smile for your youngster? The answer begins with finding a pediatric dentist that is a perfect fit for your family.
The American Dental Association has marked February as National Children’s Dental Health Month, and this month-long observance will bring together thousands of dental professionals, healthcare providers, and educators to promote the benefits of good oral health in children. Here are a few tips to jumpstart your search for the perfect pediatric dentist:
Tip 1: Trust the trusted.
A pediatric dentist provides the same basic services as a family dentist, including exams, x-rays, cleanings and treating dental disease. But pediatric dentists have an additional two years of residency training for babies, kids, teens and kids with special needs, so this specialty really is unique. Instead of turning to your laptop, start your search by asking friends or family for a recommendation on a good pediatric dentist in your area. Even your pediatrician may know a colleague with an outstanding reputation. Keep in mind that any dentist you see should be a member of the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Tip 2: Pay a visit, catch the vibe.
Make a plan to visit a handful of pediatric dentists for a consultation, and see how the dentist interacts with your child and other patients in the office. A pediatric dental office should have a warm, friendly feeling (and plenty of distractions for busy little hands!). Look for an office with a slew of hands-on toys, colorful waiting rooms, pint-sized furniture, books, and maybe even a movie playing somewhere in the office to make the whole experience fun. Take note on how the dentist responds to a scared or nervous child who might be in a seat nearby. You’ll be able to tell very quickly if this is the spot for you! Your dentist should give you and your child a welcoming, positive feeling each time you visit the dentist.
Tip 3: Get educated.
An excellent pediatric dentist will educate you, as the parent, on proper dental care at home, and a proper diet for your kiddo, too. The hygienist should take time to show you and your child the proper way to brush and floss, and even what to expect when your child’s permanent teeth come in. It is vital that you are informed about your child’s tooth development, the causes and prevention of dental disease, the ways to care for those pearly whites at home, and how to create good habits for dental health. If your little one is a challenge when it’s time to brush teeth, the dentist and hygienist should be able to share a few ways that can make brushing fun. There really is so much to learn!
This year, make it a goal to keep your little ones’ teeth healthy, keep the tooth fairy happy, and make family trips to the dentist a fun experience for everyone.
Richard Spaulding, DDS, is a Board Certified Pediatric Dentist, a Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry, and dental director for Healthy Smiles for Kids of Orange County. healthysmilesoc.org