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What All Parents Should Know About Their Kids’ Teeth

In an exclusive Q and A with Mediaplanet, AAPD President Dr. James Nickman explains how parents can instill in their kids healthy dental habits early on and prevent oral disease as they grow up.


Dr. James Nickman

President, AAPD

So, why do you think some children are afraid of the dentist?

For some children, the first visit to the dentist can be very intimidating due to a fear of the unknown.  Sometimes, a parent can be nervous about a visit to the dentist based on their past experiences or concerns. As a result, children become apprehensive if they see that their parent is anxious.  A pediatric dentist has several years of additional training beyond dental school; they have techniques to make the dental office a friendly setting for children.  Their offices are geared to the pediatric population with child-friendly themes and decorations to help them feel more comfortable.

Do parents ever do anything that could portray the dentist in a negative light to their kids?

The best thing a parent can do to give their child a positive experience at the dentist is to come to the office with a positive attitude about the visit. Sometimes, because of their previous experiences or concerns, they may discuss their experiences in an unfavorable light.  Sometimes, parents unfortunately use the dentist as a negative reinforcement to get their child to brush, etc.  For example, “Johnny, if you don’t brush, the dentist is going to drill your teeth.”  Every parent wants their child to have a great start in life and part of that is setting the stage for a great visit at the dentist by discussing the visit in a positive light. If parents are unsure how to discuss something, they can contact their pediatric dentist for tips on how to prepare for the visit in a child-friendly manner.

What are the biggest contributors to poor oral health in kids?

Dental cavities are the most common chronic disease of childhood — five times more common than asthma. By their eighth birthday, 60 percent of children have had a cavity.  Some of the most common causes of childhood cavities are diet and oral home care. Unfortunately, the common American diet includes frequently eaten snacks or treats that are high in carbohydrates and sugars which can make cavities grow.  Your pediatric dentists are very happy to provide recommendations on healthy snacks and treats, as well as great tips on how to care for your child’s teeth and gums.

What are some oral health best practices and how can parents enforce them at home?

The first is to establish a “dental home” with a pediatric dentist. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Dental Association all recommend that parents establish a home base for all of their children’s dental needs by their first birthday. The second tip is to provide your child with a well-balanced diet with healthy fruits and vegetables for snacks. Healthier occasional treats would be chocolates or other non-sticky treats once in a while. Third, establish a good home care routine with your child that includes parents brushing teeth for younger children and supervising older children. Your pediatric dentist can provide great tips for diet and home care, as well as provide information on your child’s overall growth and development.

Do parents ever voice concerns over their child’s oral health?

Every parent wants their child to get the greatest start in life and part of that is good oral health.  It’s not uncommon for a parent to be concerned. Especially if they have noticed stain or part of a tooth break.  Regular visits to a pediatric dentist can help to keep a child in good oral health. If a cavity is present, catch it at an early point when it is easier to treat. My heart goes out to parents who think they have been doing everything correctly only to have a child with extensive cavities. Visits by a child’s first birthday can provide parents with information of proper diet. Additionally, they’ll learn habits to avoid and oral care tips that can keep their child cavity-free.

Do you find that most parents enforce healthy practices with their kids’ oral health?

I think all parents want the best for their children and are willing to make an effort to keep them cavity- free. It really comes down to establishing a dental home with a pediatric dentist by their child’s first birthday. Makes regular preventive visits, offer healthy meal and snack options and developing consistent home care routines. In our practices, we spend a great deal of time educating both parents and children on best oral health practices. It’s really a partnership with parents to identify what is possible and reinforcing positive behaviors in a culturally appropriate manner.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing pediatric oral health?

Dental cavities and ways to prevent them are always top of mind. Although there have been great innovations in materials and preventive products, one of the most promising recent products is silver diamine fluoride (SDF). Silver diamine fluoride is a quick, relatively inexpensive and painless medication; it halts the decay process as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. SDF show great promise with very young children. Additionally, individuals with special health care needs and the other potentially difficult to treat populations can benefit. In the case of a very young child, silver diamine fluoride offers the promise of delaying treatment until they are mature enough to undergo dental treatment in a normal clinic setting. Although not a final fix, it is one more option for parents to discuss with their pediatric dentist.

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