My daughter recently lost a tooth. She really lost it, too, since she was eating a bagel at the time. It got swallowed, never to be seen again. I warned her ahead of time that it was ready to fall out. I even asked her to let me help the loss along. I told her she could see the dentist, who would help her remove it. I should have known better. We have trouble getting her into the dentist’s chair when there’s no wiggly tooth involved. We are not alone. According to a WebMD article, between 9 and 20 percent of Americans say they are afraid of dentists, and that number is probably higher for children, according to experts.
If you’ve got a child who is dental-phobic take note: Dental health — or lack of — is a major problem since early childhood caries (ECC) or cavities is the most chronic childhood illness out there. Yes, you read me right: Cavities are an illness. Left untreated they can lead to infection and abscesses, and can harm permanent teeth sitting below the gum line. There are some very simple steps you can take to make sure you keep your child’s teeth healthy. Here are some ideas we’ve used with Big Girl, our resident dental-phobe.
- Get them brushing — early and often. This might seem difficult. It was for us. What helped: Getting a cool toothbrush and some tasty organic toothpaste. We use Tom’s of Maine, starting out with the fluoride-free and moving to the anti-cavity Silly Strawberry as soon as we knew she was old enough to avoid swallowing it.
- Find a pediatric dentist. This proved to be more difficult for our family. There are plenty of pediatric dentists in the area, but they don’t take insurance, and they are expensive. We found an affordable option at the local teaching college. Dental students, who work along side dentists, can charge far less, but provide cutting-edge treatment. Plus, they’re getting graded so they can’t ask us to leave if the screams get too loud!
- Get your pediatrician involved. Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine found that when doctors get involved asking about and explaining dental health, kids get fewer cavities. If your pediatrician doesn’t ask you about your child’s dental health, ask him or her about what you can do to improve your child’s oral health.
- Go alternative. A recent study in The Journal of Pediatrics found that kids do better when dentists adapt their offices to make them more kid-friendly. For example, bright lights can scare kids. My pediatric dentist, who knew about this study, had kid-sized sunglasses on hand when we got there. Big Girl, who is light sensitive to begin with, loved choosing and wearing her new shades, and seemed to deal with the bright light shining into her eyes much better. The study also suggests that soothing music helps, so we plan on bringing along her iPod on our next visit.
- Hold them close. The same study also suggested wrapping kids up tight as a way to keep them calmer. I’m not going to put my child in a straight jacket, but I can mimic that feeling by sitting on the dental chair and having my daughter sit on my lap with my arms around her.
We’ve got another loose tooth in the house. Big Girl requested an apple today. She wants it to come out on its own. Either way she’s got a dental appointment scheduled in a few weeks. I can’t wait to try a little of my own advice. My dad — her grandfather — was afraid of the dentist. As a result he wore dentures at the young age of 39. My mother, on the other hand, is vigilant about getting her checkups and gum treatments, so she has almost all her teeth at retirement age. Not a bad goal to set for my children.