Dr. Rita Burnett, Director of Dental Services, has more than 30 years’ experience in dentistry. She’s an advocate for children’s dental health and has loads of ways to make a first dental visit a safe and even fun experience.
As this is National Children’s Dental Health Month, we asked Dr. Burnett to share with us what parents and children can expect on the first visit to the dentist.
What happens in that first dental visit?
The first visit is usually at about three years old. I introduce children to Mr. Thirsty — that’s what I call the little suction that removes saliva and water (kind of like a straw).
I usually talk about the explorer where I count their teeth and explain that I’m looking for dirty bugs. When I’m cleaning, I tell them that I’m going to tickle their teeth. I like to get them giggling.
I explain everything I do and work very slowly and gently. Sometimes kids are afraid or impatient, so we might not do much. But it’s still important to introduce them to the idea of checking their teeth and get them comfortable.
If we’re lucky, we might be able to take X-rays and apply a fluoride varnish for protection. That’s where we paint on a super-concentrated sticky “varnish” and let it soak into the teeth. Even though it’s flavored (cupcake, watermelon or butterscotch are the choices), the kids always make a face when they taste it. I can’t blame them!
Why check on baby teeth?
Baby teeth have a purpose! They are holding the place for permanent teeth as the child’s jaw grows. They need to be healthy until the permanent teeth appear. But most of all, I want kids to learn to take care of their teeth. I want to help them learn good healthy habits.
How often should children come to the dentist?
I like to see children every six months, once for an exam and then for a check-up. In these visits, I’m checking their baby teeth and permanent teeth for cavities. If there’s a lot of cavities — say four or five — I might prescribe a fluoride toothpaste.
If fewer cavities, I may recommend they use a fluoride rinse, if the parent is certain they will not swallow it! (Besides the possibility of an upset stomach, there can be a risk in taking in too much fluoride, which can cause a different set of dental problems.)
Do parents attend the visit, too?
Yes. I like to discuss home care and talk about good habits. I remind parents to brush their children’s teeth for them until a child is about five years old. Until that age, most kids lack the dexterity and manual control to brush properly.
I recommend a spin brush, too, to make sure that they’re brushing thoroughly — about 30 seconds in each quadrant of the mouth. Two minutes total. The spin brushes have lights and timers to make it fun, but even if you don’t have a spin brush you can make it a game or sing a song for the two minutes it takes to brush.
Sometimes smart rinses can help. These are products available over the counter to help with cleansing. You swish a little in your mouth then brush until the color is gone. That tells you that it cleaned out the bacteria that causes decay.
Is it time for your children to have an exam? Call 816-923-5800 to schedule an appointment. Questions and comments welcome in the space below.