When it comes to your child’s teeth, what used to be the standard age to begin maintenance is history. Younger is the new better.
“We will see a child at their first tooth,” said Tara Brodbeck, dental clinical coordinator for Health Partners of Western Ohio. “The sooner we get a child into a dental office, the better off they’re going to be as they age.”
In recognizing February as National Children’s Dental Health Month, Brodbeck said priorities have changed where kids are concerned. With the proliferation of sugary snacks and drinks they have within reach, starting a dental regimen earlier just makes sense, she said.
She believes bringing a child to the dentist after they sprout their first tooth is not too soon.
“I think it’s promising the dental profession overall is starting to shift our focus to begin to see the kids before waiting to some magic birthday. We’re starting to see the quicker we can get them in the better,” she said.
Cindy Rose, director of nursing for the Fulton County Health Department, agrees. While her experience has suggested that dental problems in children haven’t increased over the past several years, medical reports she has read argue otherwise.
“We tend to have snacks all the time, having more sugary snacks and more beverages around. There just are more options available for people to choose than their used to be. We have more choices to make,” Rose said.
Brodbeck said while she, too, hasn’t necessarily seen evidence of worsening dental conditions in children, “Now kids do have access to the kind of stuff that causes dental decay – just a constant stream of it. Part of the problem with this generation is accessibility.”
What’s important to protecting a child’s teeth is educating the parents. The food and drink choices made when today’s parents were raised may need some tweaking.
For instance, when a child makes the transition from formula to beverages, they should be encouraged to drink water, Brodbeck said. “Keep them away from acidic sugary beverages. They won’t learn that they like them if you don’t give them to them,” she said.
And when a child weans off a bottle, “those parents are going to put the same (beverage) in a sippy cup, and think that’s fine. It’s just constant accessibility to what causes tooth decay,” she said.
Giving a child juice at breakfast or lunch is fine but, like adults, they don’t need and probably shouldn’t have constant access to it. “Educating when is the right time for those things is rerouting (parents’) thinking a little bit,” Brodbeck said.
“No matter what we’re drinking, if it’s not water, if it’s soft drinks or iced tea or Gatorade, it tends to have pH that’s more acidic. Things that seem good for you in one way have that acidic nature in it.”
Brodbeck said she’s not trying to scold parents for their choices, but rather guide them to better ones to ensure their children maintain healthy teeth.
“I think parents do as good as they know how to do. Educating them is one of the most important parts of the dental visit,” she said.
And taking children to the dentist from a very early age is becoming more widely accepted.
“We’re seeing a good trend in which the dental profession is more receptive to seeing kids at a younger age,” Brodbeck said. “It used to be that they didn’t see kids until they’re two or three. We want to get that child in, and get them used to that atmosphere, so they can establish a rapport with the dentist so it’s not so scary.”
Visiting a dentist is very personal, moreso than seeing a doctor, she said. “Kids that aren’t used to coming in…it’s an invasion of your personal space. We try to get kids used to that early on.”
Local school districts are good at encouraging parents to seek dental care for their children, Brodbeck said. And at the some health care facilities pediatric medical providers work in tandem with dentists.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.