As a speech pathologist, I spend a lot of time looking at mouths! I often consult with other professionals, such as ENTs, pediatricians, allergists, and dentists. This week, I had the pleasure of chatting with Dr. Rashita Jaju, a pediatric dentist, educator, and recognized dental laser expert. She answered some of my *frequently asked questions* from parents:
How can I prepare my child for a dentist visit, and how can I ease any anxiety about a dental exam?
“A pediatric dentist and their team’s priority is to make your child feel comfortable and excited about their dental visit. Some parents like to use picture books of their favorite cartoon character going to the dentist! The AAPD recommends that your child’s first dental health visit should be 6 months after their first tooth erupts or by their 1st birthday. If your kiddo is a little bit hesitant of new places, we can also use a social schedule that walks children step by step of what to expect when they go to the dentist with pictures. The most important thing is to make it sound fun and easy. Many parents have their own dental phobias, so it is important to not project or share that nervous energy. Kids are super smart and intuitive and if their parents look uncomfortable, they will in turn feel uncomfortable. So, get your children started on the path of prevention early in life so that they are able to grow up with a positive outlook on oral health.”
How important is it to brush twice a day? Any tips for making the process easier?
“Between breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, there are lots of food particles left behind on their teeth. While sleeping at night, plaque is sitting in a warm, dark environment. Bacteria grows and the leftover plaque breaks down to acids that eat away at the enamel of your child’s teeth. The AAPD recommends brushing teeth at night to clean away any residual plaque, and again in the morning to clean up any bacteria that developed overnight.”
My child sucks his thumb/fingers- how will this impact his dentition?
“Finger, thumb, or pacifier sucking is a common habit that many children use as a self-soothing tool during their newborn/infant age. If your little one’s habit is persistent beyond age 3 , changes in the growth and development of their jaw are more likely. You may notice their top front teeth are more flared out and their lower jaw and teeth are pushed in towards the tongue. This puts them at higher risk for trauma to the top front teeth if they trip and fall. Additionally, child’s upper palate can become narrower, compromising the health of their airway. Using age appropriate positive reinforcement and reward methods are always the best way to help your child loose the habit.”
My child grinds his teeth- what can I do to help stop this?
“Children can grind their teeth for a variety of reasons. Often times, because children are constantly growing, so are their jaws! When they are asleep, sometimes the jaw can have a difficult time finding a rest or “home” bite that is comfortable. While grinding teeth by itself may not be a big concern, it can be a red flag for stress and sleep disordered breathing condition. Keep an eye out for if your child mouth breathes while awake or asleep, snores, or has consistent dark circles under the eyes. A combination of any of these symptoms may warrant an evaluation from your pediatrician, pediatric dentist, or ENT.”
Are there any foods that I should avoid giving my child?
“Working with kids, we know we can never say never. However, there are some foods we try to limit to special occasions or as treats for our health. Sticky, sugary foods are usually smart to avoid because they like to stick to our teeth. Affecting, not only our oral health, but our body’s overall health. Be weary of children’s gummy vitamins, or carb based foods, such as crackers or puffs. Those foods break down into sugar, and if left on teeth, they can do just as much damage as sweets and candies. Whenever we do have these treats, its always a good idea to follow the snack with water to help rinse out any residual food that may be leftover.”
For more information about Dr. Jaju’s practice, you can visit www.smilewonders.com.
-Elizabeth Clark McKenzie, MS, CCC-SLP