Preserve that smile: Tips for finding the right dentist for your kids

child getting teeth cleaned

Tooth decay is the most common childhood disease, so finding a good dental home is paramount in achieving dental health. Much like well-visits with a pediatrician, regular dental check-ups should be a priority. And starting dental care early can help promote a positive life-long dental experience.

Getting started

Referrals are very helpful when choosing a dentist and a good place to start is by asking your pediatrician. Friends and family with kids can also be good resources. If you’re looking specifically for a pediatric dentist, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has a great search feature by location.

Both family dentists and pediatric dentists can see pediatric patients. However, a pediatric dentist received two additional years of training pertaining to pediatric dental needs and psychology; he or she may be better prepared to address pediatric-specific dental issues including thumb-sucking.

It is a good idea to consider location as well, especially when your child is new to the dentist and may need to go more frequently than every six months. Once you have some recommendations, it is a good idea to visit the practice to get a feel for the atmosphere before choosing a dental home.

Office environment

While credentials may be of utmost importance to parents, a child’s first impression will be the waiting room and staff they meet upon arrival to the dental practice. An office with books for kids to look at and cheerful imagery will go a long way in reducing anxiety. Some small things like a step stool in the bathroom, no cavity clubs, positive reinforcement treats/stickers, and sunglasses to wear when under the bright lights can make kids feel welcome too.

Ask questions to find out who will be cleaning your child’s teeth; regardless of whether it is the dentist or the hygienist, make sure that person has experience with kids of all ages. Ask how he or she responds to a child who has some anxiety at the dentist and if you think your child may fit that bill, plan ahead and see if there is anything you can do to prepare your child. Determine what is included at the first visit and how frequently the dentist typically sees a child. Inquire as to what imaging studies may be routine and how often they are recommended. Finally, ask how the dentist handles after-hours emergencies.

As we observe pediatric dental care month, take the time to find a dental home and protect your child’s smile for years to come.

– Melissa Rettmann, M.S., PA-C, has a background in pediatrics and allergy. She is the mother of three young children and volunteers with the Parenting Program.

Upping the Toothbrush Game

Photo of power toothbrush head

Wikipedia. CC License.

Creating a fun toothbrushing experience for your children is a cool way for you to help to take care of their teeth.

The power toothbrush is a great choice!

A manual brush can actually get the job done when used correctly, however I don’t recommend taking the risk. As a parent, you’re looking for efficiency, and a power brush is a great alternative to manual brushes. Power brushes, especially the ones with a soft bristle head and timer, will create a fun routine for your child and get the job done well.

Choosing a Toothbrush

Whether you’re buying a manual brush or an electric power brush, keep these must-haves in mind:

  • ADA Seal of Approval. The American Dental Association’s seal reflects the standard in the dental health industry. The seal means the brush will last for a normal period of time and has no rough edges or unsafe components.
  • Soft bristles. Hard bristles are marketed to the consumer because many people believe they do a better job; this isn’t the case. In fact, the harder the bristle, the more potential damage you could cause to the healthy tooth structure. Also, make it a great habit to switch out the bristle head every three months.
  • Choose a child-sized head and handle. The brush must feel comfortable in your child’s mouth so he/she can maneuver it into all those nooks and crannies where bits of food can hide. The bigger the handle the better, because kids love getting a grip on their brush.
  • Variety. There are plenty to choose from. Rechargeable brushes are typically the “higher-end” style and I recommend using this style brush than the battery-operated models. Two popular brands of rechargeable brushes are Oral B and Phillips Sonicare. Both do a great job!

Using a Power Brush

  • Age 3 is a great age to introduce a power brush, but it also depends on the child. Some kids will pick up on things a little quicker. Overall, it’s best if they get used to this style of brush early on in life.
  • A power brush does the work for you. Instead of having to brush in a back-and-forth motion like you do with a manual brush, the power brush is designed to work on a tooth-to-tooth basis. Brushing routines vary by individual, but I brush by splitting my mouth into four segments (upper right, lower right, upper left, lower left). Spend 30 seconds on each segment and that’s the recommended two minutes!
  • Lighten up the pressure. Brushing with a power toothbrush requires minimal effort and less force, while still being more efficient and effective than a manual brush.
  • It’s music to their teeth. Some power brushes (i.e., Sonicare, Oral B) play music until it’s time to stop, which will encourage the two minutes of brushing and make it fun.

Other Tips

  • Be sure to brush morning and night.
  • Floss once daily. Flossing should be done prior to brushing because it will remove all of the food particles, etc. and you can brush them away after.
  • Count the teeth. When kids know how many teeth their tiny mouths contain, it brings excitement. They feel the need to take care of them! I recommend counting them in front of a mirror where the kids can visually appreciate all of their teeth. I typically do this and it helps engage kids on the importance of taking care of their pretty white teeth.

– Ali Saad, D.M.D., is a dentist practicing in southeast Michigan and a volunteer blog author for the Parenting Program. He was awarded the “Top Dentist” distinction by Hour Detroit and the Consumer Research Council of America.