There are plenty of firsts that parents look forward to: first smile, first laugh, first steps. But first cavity? Not so much. Luckily, there are many actions parents can take to prevent that from happening, and if it does happen, there are ways to make it an easy and quick experience.
Help the Dentist Feel Like Home
Dr. Michael Peske, DDS, a pediatric dentist at Kids Teeth, Inc. in Naperville, IL and member of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, recommends creating a “dental home” for kids. “Nothing is easier for children than when they are familiar with something,” he explains. “If they visit me for a checkup and familiarize themselves with the office and become comfortable with myself and the staff, we teach them how to be a dental patient. When they are already comfortable going to the dentist, that makes dealing with a cavity a lot easier.”
Make Sure to Schedule Regular Checkups
Dr. Peske says kids should start seeing a dentist when their first tooth arrives — which is typically around seven months of age — or before their first birthday. After that, kids should get a checkup and cleaning every six months, or more frequently if your dental professional advises.
Keep an Eye on Brushing and Nighttime Snacks
In addition to biannual dental visits, the best way to keep cavities away is with regular brushing (just make sure you talk to your dentist first about the appropriate time to start your child on a fluoride toothpaste). Kids should brush for two minutes, twice a day, before bed and in the morning after breakfast. At night, make sure kids don’t eat or drink anything after brushing their teeth before going to bed.
“If kids want cookies and milk, [they should] have them before brushing, and then there should be no food,” says Dr. Peske. “If kids take a bottle, have them nurse earlier, then brush their teeth and put them down to bed. Something I try to avoid with kids is middle-of-the-night snacks — don’t give them warm milk to fall back to sleep without wiping their teeth off afterward.”
Parents also need to help young children brush their teeth. “A common mistake parents make is thinking that a 3-year-old can brush teeth well,” Dr. Peske says. “Three- and 4-year-olds don’t have the motor dexterity or motor skills to work a toothbrush. They just go through the motions, which is not efficient. Parents should help kids brush until age 6 or 7 so that they are actually getting their teeth cleaned.”
Another factor in getting the most out of brushing is using a toothpaste with fluoride, such as Aquafresh Kids. Aquafresh products taste great, strengthen teeth, and leave them feeling clean and fresh.
“I am a fan of fluoride because it’s one of the greatest public health initiatives ever,” Dr. Peske says. “It’s scientifically proven to strengthen teeth.”
Make the Cavity Experience Easier
If your child has been practicing good oral hygiene and still gets a cavity — hey, it happens! — there are steps you can take to make that visit to the dentist easier for everyone.
“Parents sometimes come in with preconceived notions of what is going to happen and can sometimes project their fears onto the child,” Dr. Peske says. “Even if they are nervous, parents should try to be positive — it’s how you talk about it.”
For example, when kids need novocaine, Dr. Peske will avoid using words like “shot” or “injection” and instead tells them he needs to make their tooth a little sleepy. Or, he’ll use laughing gas for kids who have a deeper fear of shots. “Distraction is important,” he says. “You can see these kids are anxious and worried, so I’ll say, ‘What’s your dog’s name?’ It goes a million miles because they are happy to talk about Rover, and their mind gets distracted.”
It’s natural for children to have lots of questions about going to the dentist, especially if they have to have a cavity taken care of. “Kids shouldn’t be prepped too much,” Dr. Peske says. “If a kid has a million questions, it’s better to take all those questions and write them down for the dentist, who will try to set them at ease.”
When Mom and Dad stay calm and collected, that makes it a lot easier for their little one to do the same when dealing with his first — and hopefully last — cavity!