Recently, someone asked me why I like teeth so much. To me, the answer is clear: I care about people’s mouths and teeth, especially those of young children, because they are not able to take care of their teeth by themselves. It’s important work: Dental decay is the #1 chronic illness among children in the United States. It is 100 percent preventable and early intervention is the key.
That’s why I have been a practicing dental hygienist for more than thirty years, with seven of those last years spent at University Pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the UVM Medical Center.
My role is to talk with parents and caregivers of children from birth to age three and answer any questions they might have and offer information regarding their little one’s mouths. I know I have done my job when – as we are talking “dental” – I hear responses such as “I didn’t know that!” or “Seriously, you can get a cavity from someone else?” or my favorite, “Why hasn’t anyone ever told me this before?”
Many times our conversations switch from the child’s teeth to concerns or questions about their own mouth or another family member’s situation. Either way, I am always happy to “Talk Teeth.”
Here are our tips to keep your children’s teeth (and yours!) clean and healthy:
- Start early! Wipe your newborn’s gums even before teeth appear so they are used to the feeling before their first tooth appears.
- Don’t make assumptions: Your child may not be able to clean or floss his or her own teeth. Take turns (well into elementary school age) to make sure all surfaces are clean.
- Pick your battles: The brushing/flossing battle is one worth fighting for and winning with young children. Make it fun, make it a game, you could even make a monthly reward chart. For example, no TV or computer until they are finished. Do whatever it takes to make brushing and flossing a positive time. Remember to be a great role model yourself, too.
- Floss early and often: The 6-year and 12-year molars do need to last a lifetime. Incorporate flossing at least every 24 to 48 hours, starting at age 2, to make sure plaque isn’t hiding between them.
- Talk to teens: Teens have freedom of food and beverage choices. Let them know it takes 40 minutes for their mouths to get “out of the cavity making mode” after they eat or drink anything.
- Visit your dentist and dental hygienist: Even the best daily homecare routine isn’t enough without having professional dental cleanings twice a year or as often as recommended by your hygienist and dentist.
- Fight off cavities: Crackers, raisins, pretzels, even spaghetti can cause a cavity, not just sugar, candy, or soda.
- Never stop fighting decay: You can still get a cavity on a tooth that has been crowned (capped). There is still a root under the crown and plaque, food particles, or decay can hide there. All the more reason to floss and rubber tip around the entire crown.
- Ask questions! There are no “silly dental questions,” so ask away. Having a good relationship with your dental team is essential. Doing your dental homework every day will make your visit better. For example, ask your dental team about your “pocket depths.” A healthy dental pocket around each tooth is 2-3 mm deep. Ask whether there is any bleeding around your pocket depths during your dental visits so you know where you need to concentrate your cleaning efforts.
It’s up to you to create your own dental destiny. We’re here to help. As hygienists, we get to clean your teeth twice a year. You get them the other 363 days. Together, we can win the battle.
For more information about dental health for any age here are some websites to visit:
- The University of Vermont Medical Center
- The Vermont Department of Health
- The American Dental Association
- The Vermont Dental Hygiene Association
Lisa M. Barnes RDH, BS, works in a private practice. She is also a dental hygiene consultant at University Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center, funded by the Children’s Miracle Network.