Generations Dental (Formerly Fullwiler Dental) with the same great dentists, specializes in assessing your specific situation and offering a variety of services to ensure that your teeth work the way you need them to work.
Having to visit the dentist every six months may not be the appointment that everyone looks forward to, but it is one of the most important ones to keep. If you have found yourself wondering what the point of having regular dental checkups and cleanings really is, we’ve got something for you to think about.
If you are considering skipping a dental checkup because of cost or another factor like time or dental anxiety, make sure to consider all the risks. What you might end up paying in the long run for not visiting your dentist will likely be much higher, both for your wallet and your peace of mind. Here are some of the most important reasons why you should see your dentist regularly:
1. Oral Cancer Detection
Oral cancer is an extremely serious disease that manifests itself in various ways. Without knowing the signs of its early onset, oral cancer is often not diagnosed and can quickly progress and become life threatening. But thankfully, an early stage oral cancer diagnosis is often easily treatable.
Your dentist is highly trained to recognize these signs and symptoms, and with regular dental checkups every six months the likelihood of catching oral cancer in time is dramatically higher. Recognizing oral cancer in its early stages is key in treating it successfully, and while you may not notice oral abnormalities, your dentist will.
A VELscope Cancer exam is non-invasive, entirely pain-free, is covered by MSP in some cases, and lasts only a minute or two at most. The exam catches invisible signs of dead tissue caused by tumors forming by shining a special light inside the mouth. Takes very little time, totally painless, and could save your life? It’s a no-brainer!
2. Plaque, Tartar, and Cavities
Even with the most diligent daily brushers and flossers, there are still small areas in the mouth that are missed by a regular brushing and flossing. When plaque builds up it becomes more difficult to remove, solidifying and turning into tartar, which is extremely difficult to get rid of without professional help.
Regular dental cleanings prevent tartar from eroding teeth or creating holes in them, which is how cavities are created. Cavities rarely give any warning signs as they form, only resulting in a small ache once the tooth is already decayed. Once the damage has been done, you will have to go back to the dentist to have cavities and other tooth problems filled and fixed. This can all be avoided with regular cleanings that take care of plaque and tartar before it becomes destructive.
A cleaning appointment is also more affordable than getting a filling, so if money’s tight you should make sure not to miss the cleanings!
3. Gum Disease
Plaque and tartar buildup not only cause tooth decay but can also erode the mouth’s gum tissues. This happens when tartar buildup causes an infection where the gum is connected to the tooth, making the gum pull away from the tooth. This infection is known as gingivitis and as it progresses the tissue that attaches gums to the teeth breaks down.
Once it reaches this point it is officially gum disease, and only at this point will there likely be any swelling, bleeding, or soreness in the mouth. Along with the breakdown of gum tissue, gum disease also causes a breakdown of the bone that holds teeth in place. At this point it is common to see teeth loosening or falling out altogether and drastic treatment methods will have to be taken by a dental specialist.
Not only do specialists require more appointments and likely a blow to your wallet, but treatment of gum disease, depending on the severity, can include surgery, extremely deep cleaning, and medication. To avoid all of this, regular dental cleanings are essential in catching and addressing gingivitis before it gets out of hand.
4. Keeping Bad Habits in Check
There are many bad habits that can have a negative impact on your oral health, some of which you may not even realize are causing issues. Some of these habits include chewing ice, biting your nails, clenching your jaw, grinding your teeth, eating particularly sticky or hard sweets, brushing your teeth too hard, drinking coffee and red wine, and of course smoking.
When you go for regular dental checkups, your dentist can check for any oral damage caused by these or other habits which you may otherwise not have noticed. Being informed about specific destructive habits allows you to change or alter your lifestyle choice to prevent further damage. Visiting the dentist allows you to fix the damage that has already been done, and help your oral health be the best it can be.
5. Find Problems Under the Surface With X-Rays
A crucial part of visiting your dentist every six months is getting your teeth and jaw bone x-rayed. X-ray images allow dental professionals to see what is happening beneath the surfaces of your mouth, and can find and diagnose issues that may be invisible to the naked eye. Problems like this can include impacted teeth, which are growing teeth that are blocked from pushing through the gum line, as often seen in wisdom teeth.
Damage to the jawbone can also be pinpointed as well as any bone decay, swelling, cysts, or tumours, all of which are impossible to actually see without x-ray imaging. Finding these or any other major oral issues as soon as possible is critical in order to properly treat them.
Especially with destructive diseases that show little to no symptoms but progress quickly, up-to-date x-rays and bi-annual checkups are the best way to keep on top of your health.
6. Head, Neck, and Lymph Node Checks
In addition to checking your mouth, gums, and tongue for signs or oral cancer, your dentist will also check your neck, jaw, and lymph nodes, located just below your jawline, for any swelling, lumps, or other abnormalities. If an abnormality is found it could be a sign of a major health issue, and your dentist will alert you to it and refer you the appropriate medical professional.
Swollen lymph nodes are a particular area that do not necessarily hurt or seem out of the ordinary but when identified properly by a professional could be a sign of certain kinds of cancer or other diseases that require immediate attention. Not having regular dental checkups drastically cuts down how often your neck and thyroid glands are checked. So while looking for abnormalities only takes your dentist a minute, it could mean an extremely serious disease is identified early enough to make a huge difference.
So, Are Dental Checkups Worth the Effort?
Dentists and dental professionals are not only concerned with fixing teeth. They professionally clean your teeth, aim to ensure your teeth and gums are healthy, and check for abnormalities that may otherwise go unnoticed and could be a sign of larger health issues. Dental professionals make sure that your bones are strong, and will help you correct any habits that may be sabotaging your oral health, among other things.
Skipping dental appointments may not seem like a big deal, but oral issues can develop and progress extremely quickly whether or not you notice it. By keeping on top of your dental cleanings and checkups you’re doing yourself a big favour in the long run.
A few years ago, a retired Navy SEAL commander named Bill McRaven gave a graduation speech at the University of Texas. His words went viral, starting with his advice that no matter what you do, if you want to be successful, you should make your bed in the morning.
McRaven, who had been in charge of the mission to get Osama bin Laden in 2011, has since become the chancellor of the University of Texas System, and he's also now a best-selling author, as his book Make Your Bed topped the New York Times bestseller list.
Lauded as "a book to inspire your children and grandchildren to become everything that they can," by the Wall Street Journal, McRaven's book is a short, easy read--just 144 pages--and highly motivating. Here are his 10 key pieces of advice.
1. Start your day with a task completed.
If you want to be successful in life, start by making your bed every day.
McRaven talks about how in the grueling six-month Navy SEAL training, he made his thin bed according to his instructors' meticulous standards, and how the habit sustained him for four decades. He also talks about seeing Saddam Hussein after he'd been captured by American forces in Iraq in 2003--and noticing that he never bothered to make the Army cot in his cell.
"Sometimes the simple act of making your bed can give the lift you need to start your day and provide you the satisfaction to end it right," McRaven says.
2. You can't go it alone.
Every leadership book out there includes this advice, but McRaven has some of the best anecdotes supporting it. He talks about SEAL training again, focusing on how small teams of wanna-be SEALs were required to work together and haul a heavy rubber boat with them wherever they went.
But years after training, when McRaven was a high-ranking commander and was badly injured in a parachuting accident, he learned what this really meant, crediting all of the people who forced him to believe in himself, to recover, and to save his own career--starting with his wife and including the friends who visited him and the senior admiral who helped him navigate the Navy bureaucracy.
"You cannot paddle alone. Find someone to share your life with. Make as many friends as possible, and never forget that your success depends on others," McRaven writes.
3. Only the size of your heart matters.
I'm barely 5-foot-7, so I love this advice: It's more about the size of the fight in the dog than the size of the dog in the fight.
In his speech at Texas, McRaven talked about his respect for a very tough crew of SEAL trainees, the tallest of whom was only 5-foot-5. In Make Your Bed, he talks about meeting one of the most decorated SEALs from Vietnam--a diminutive man who was a Medal of Honor recipient and who had gone behind enemy lines many times to save downed airmen.
Before McRaven knew who the man was, he'd dismissed him in his mind because of his small size. That, he says, was a mistake: "It's not the size of your flippers that count, just the size of your heart."
4. Life's not fair. Drive on!
Often, during SEAL training in San Diego, McRaven writes, the instructors would punish students for small infractions, or even no infraction, by requiring them to run fully clothed into the Pacific Ocean, then roll around in the sand until they looked like a "sugar cookie." As a result, they'd face a very uncomfortable day, cold, wet, and sandy.
"Do you have any idea why you are a sugar cookie this morning?" an instructor who'd punished McRaven asked him once. "Because...life isn't fair, and the sooner you learn that, the better off you will be."
As McRaven writes, sometimes life just sucks through no fault of your own. The most successful among us accept it--and drive forward anyway.
5. Failure can make you stronger.
This is another one of those pieces of advice that you hear from many leadership experts, but it just has a little more oomph coming from McRaven.
He talks about how failure literally made him stronger during SEAL training, when, as a result of coming in last on a distance swim exercise, he and another SEAL were punished with an extra two hours of physical training each day.
The punishment was known as the "circus," and it was no fun. But a funny thing happened, McRaven writes: While the circus could have broken them, it made him and his fellow SEAL trainee stronger. Eventually, they were the best swimmers in their class.
6. You must dare greatly.
SEAL training included a daunting obstacle course, and McRaven talks about how he had to be willing to dive down a 200-foot "slide for life" headfirst to have any chance of finishing it in time. It was risky, and scary--but effective.
He also talks about one instance in which this same willingness to dare greatly led him to authorize an incredibly risky helicopter rescue of prisoners in Iraq. The mission was successful--but being willing to take risks means knowing you'll likely fail at least sometimes.
"Life is a struggle and the potential for failure is ever present," McRaven writes, "but those who live in fear of failure, or hardship, or embarrassment, will never achieve their potential. Without pushing your limits, without occasionally sliding down the rope headfirst, without daring greatly, you will never know what is truly possible in your life."
7. Stand up to the bullies.
McRaven talks about being scared of sharks during SEAL training--quite understandably, since the waters off San Diego, where they swam for hours each day, were full of them. Facing the sharks was just one price of becoming a SEAL.
He also talks about another experience later in his career, again after the United States had captured Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Even as a deposed despot and prisoner, Hussein managed to intimidate the Iraqi leaders who came to see him. So, McRaven ordered him isolated and humbled, so that when the Iraqi leaders met him again, they wouldn't be afraid.
"In life, to achieve your goals, to compete the night swim, you will have to be men and women of great courage. That courage is within all of us. Dig deep, and you will find it in abundance," McRaven writes.
8. Rise to the occasion.
Among other missions, Navy SEALs conduct underwater attacks against enemy ships. That requires swimming several miles underwater, "using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass to get to their target," McRaven writes.
It's scary as heck. But the true moments of rising to the occasion, McRaven writes, came later--when he was commanding soldiers and SEALs and had to watch men react to the deaths of some of their comrades in arms.
"At some point, we will all confront a dark moment in life. If not the passing of a loved one, then something else that crushes your spirit and leaves you wondering about your future. In that dark moment, reach deep inside yourself and be your very best," McRaven writes.
9. Give people hope.
McRaven talks about a SEAL training exercise in the freezing mud that pushed him and his classmates to the limits. Their instructors promised that if five students would quit, the rest of their class would be allowed to sit by a fire and warm up. Instead of quitting, he said, the students started singing, and thus inspiring each other to endure.
Many years later, McRaven recounts losing soldiers in combat--and seeing the example of a Marine general named John Kelly as he met with families of the fallen. The general's rapport with families came from his own tragedy, as his son had been killed in Afghanistan.
"Without ever knowing it, John Kelly gave all those around him hope," McRaven writes. "Hope that in the very worst of times we could rise above the pain, the disappointment, the agony, and be strong.... Hope is the most powerful force in the universe."
10. Never, ever quit!
Students in SEAL training can quit at any time--in McRaven's class, 150 students began with him, and only 33 graduated. Symbolically, students who quit are required to go to the center of the training compound and ring a brass bell three times.
On the first day of training, an instructor told McRaven and his classmates that his goal was to push them to ring that bell, but also told them: "If you quit, you will regret it for the rest of your life. Quitting never makes anything easier."
McRaven focuses on one time in particular when that lesson really became clear to him, when a 19-year-old Army Ranger under his command was wounded in combat and lost both of his legs. A year later, the soldier was still on active duty, never quitting, his prosthetic legs hidden by his uniform trousers.
"Life is full of difficult times," McRaven writes. "But someone out there always has it worse than you do.... Never, ever, ring the bell!"
The left side of Jacquelyn Garcia’s face throbbed fiercely. She had tried taking Tylenol and Excedrin for the pain, but threw them up. On a Monday morning straight after working the night shift as a custodian, she rushed to the N.Y.U. emergency dental clinic. Here a student delivered the verdict: decay so deep it had reached the nerve. The tooth needed to be pulled.
Paradoxically, this could make her mouth worse off. Dentists say pulling a tooth can lead to a cascade of other problems: the teeth start shifting, the bone diminishes, the skin sags and the risk of gum disease increases. But Ms. Garcia didn’t have any choice. Her tooth had been rotting from the inside out for more than a year. She didn’t have dental insurance and didn’t want to pay the high fees until the pain had surged and she couldn’t stand it anymore.
As Americans debate medical coverage, the problem of our teeth has remained almost entirely unaddressed. About 114 million Americans don’t have insurance coverage for their teeth – more than twice the number of people who didn’t have health insurance before the Affordable Care Act.
“Oral health is a neglected issue nationally,” said Julia Paradise, an associate director of the program on Medicaid and the Uninsured at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “This is a big problem. The mouth and the head – mental health and dental health – somehow remain outside of what people think of as general health.”
Lots of people (including politicians) think of dental care as a luxury – pleasant, sure, but not vital. But that’s just not true, experts say. Gum disease can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, and among pregnant women it is correlated with lower birth weights for their babies.
“It’s a lot more than just having a pretty smile,” said Peter Polverini, a dean emeritus at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. “It’s not uncommon that you wind up with people being hospitalized because they can’t afford care.” Emergency room visits for dental problems – when teeth are often too ruined to save — cost the U.S. health care system an estimated $1.6 billion a year.
It’s virtually an accident of history that dental care isn’t considered part of medical care. The medieval barber-surgeon used to attend to all the human ailments that required a knife: bloodletting, tooth extraction, shaving. In the 1840s in the United States, the heirs to the tradition wanted to become professionals; they didn’t want to keep wandering from town to town selling their services. They asked physicians at the Medical College at the University of Maryland if they would include dentistry in the medical coursework, but the physicians refused. Soon after the dentists opened a separate dental school nearby.
This “historic rebuff,” as some historians have called it, is the creation myth of modern dentistry. The central tension in the tale – the separation between doctors and dentists (and the health of the mouth and the health of the body) – continues to plague patients today.
Obamacare doesn’t require plans to include dental coverage for adults and Medicaid has no required adult dental benefits, so coverage varies widely state-by-state, and even year-to-year. In addition, more than 51 million people live in federally designated “dental professional shortage areas,” where there are simply not enough providers to cover the need, according to Mary Otto’s new book Teeth. In many places, Medicaid offers such skimpy reimbursements that dentists don’t want to participate.
Experts have long observed that people’s teeth both reflect and reinforce poverty.
“I’ve been a public health researcher for about 25 years. I’ve worked with a lot of different populations of people,” said Harold Pollack, a scholar of poverty at the University of Chicago. “One common element of every severely vulnerable population I’ve worked with is people always have bad teeth. And they have always borne a real stigma for that.”
In New York, non-profits, teaching schools, and clinics that receive federal money have popped up to fill the demand for care, but the result is a patchwork system.
At the N.Y.U. School of Dentistry, some patients suffer traumatic injuries, but others simply never had preventative care and have reached the point of emergency. Dr. Laurie Fleisher, the amiable director of urgent care, recalled seeing a sixteen-year-old girl who hadn’t been to the dentist in five years. She came to the clinic in terrible pain. Neither the mother nor her daughter had realized how bad the damage to the girl’s teeth was, and soon they were both crying.
“I have to turn away sometimes, walk out,” said Dr. Fleisher. “Because I cry.”
In attempts to cheaply stem tooth pain, patients sometimes make their problems worse. Dr. Fleisher said she regularly sees patients crush aspirin onto their gums, hoping to soothe their mouths; instead, it burns away the gum tissue.
At the Institute for Family Health clinic in Harlem, which receives federal funds to treat the uninsured, a couple described taking two buses and a train from Long Island to reach an affordable dentist.
Dentists at the Institute recently saw a 12-year-old girl with such swollen gums that they wrote a case study about her to teach other medical professionals. “Kate,” as they refer to her in the study, had dental troubles that were affecting nearly every aspect of her life. She weighed only 69 pounds, likely because she was drinking liquids to avoid chewing. She barely spoke and rarely participated in school; her mother said she was bullied.
“Can you fix this?” a woman once asked as she spat six crowns into her hand one by one.
Dr. Cardona sees patients who haven’t been to the dentist in decades, who tell her they don’t want to work in the front of the office, or talk to people, because they’re too humiliated by their teeth. They fear that rotting teeth will be seen as evidence of poverty, homelessness, or bad hygiene. (“My family’s distress over our teeth – what food might hurt or save them, whether having them pulled was a mistake – reveals the psychological hell of having poor teeth in a rich, capitalist country,” the essayist Sarah Smarsh wrote.)
Dentists and public health officials say ignorance and indifference are primary reasons dental care still isn’t included in general healthcare nationwide. Burton Edelstein, a professor at Columbia’s College of Dental Medicine, recounted a visit to lawmakers, seeking an adult dental benefit.
Lawmakers quickly rebuffed him, he recalled, saying in effect, “Dental doesn’t matter. Adults can take care of themselves.”
So the advocates tried again, pitching a dental benefit for disabled adults to the lawmakers. That didn’t work. Finally, they proposed something even more minimal: dental care for pregnant women. Lawmakers refused.
As Julia Paradise from Kaiser noted, “Unlike a lot of chronic disease where we’re still struggling with the science of how to prevent these diseases, we know how to do this in oral health. This is actually a problem we can solve.”
When it comes to diet trends, there are a few heavyweights that top the list, including the low-carb, low-fat, South Beach® and Atkins® diets. There are, however, a few others gaining speed, including vegan, slow-carb and Paleo. All of these diets have negatives and plusses, and generally speaking, most physicians advise patients to pursue a “balanced” approach appropriate to your physical makeup, habits and lifestyle. The open-ended question is: are these diets good or bad for your teeth? We’ve looked ata few othersalready, so let’s look at The Paleo Diet®.
What is The Paleo Diet?
The Paleo Diet takes its lead from the food consumption habits of humans who lived in the Paleolithic era – the period between about 2.5 million and 20,000 years ago. These hunter-gatherers, who lived during the period more commonly referred to as The Stone Age, lived on a diet of wild plants and animals. The Paleo Diet is modern man’s attempt to mimic that consumption pattern.
Meat, Fresh Fruit, and Veggies. What’s not to Like?
At first glance, Paleo’s recommendation to focus on lean meats, fish, fruit, and vegetables, seems like the perfect plan for healthy living. And, to a large degree, if youwereto fill your refrigerator with these foods, your doctorwouldbe pretty happy with your decision.
That said, because Paleo excludes dairy and grains, your doctorandyour dentist might ask you to aim for a bit more balance once you’ve achieved any weight loss goals you might be chasing. Let’s see how the Paleo plan stacks up when it comes to your teeth.
Positive Oral Health Aspects of a Paleo Diet
Fiber:We could all use more fiber, and with all the fruit and vegetables you’re going to be consuming, getting the 22-34 grams a day recommended for adults should be a breeze. Your teeth will love you for it as well, because fiber has somewhat of adetergent effecton your mouth, scrubbing away plaque and debris as you chew. This is one reason why celery is great for teeth – it’s like built-in floss!
Potassium:Bones (like the ones that comprise your jaw and hold your teeth in place!) love potassium, and it’s a difficult nutrient to get unless you’re consuming a ton of bananas and V-8® juice. Muscles, too, thrive on potassium, so if you’re an athlete, or just someone who likes to remain active, you’ll likely notice the boost you’re getting from higher numbers of fruits and vegetables.
Vitamin B-12:Thank your lean meats and fish for good numbers in this area. B Vitamins are essential for healthy gum tissue, and on a Paleo diet you’ll have no problem accumulating the recommended 2.4 micrograms a day.
Vitamin C:We all know Vitamin C is good for us, and once again, it’s fruit to the rescue. Vitamin C is critical in the development of collagen and healthy gum tissue and has the added benefit of keeping youfree from the ravages of scurvy. Not a bad deal.
Low-Glycemic Carbs:Since you’ll be avoiding all sorts of refined sugars and starchy vegetables on The Paleo Diet, your teeth are going to get a break from the sticky sugars that are the primary cause of teeth decay. As we always say, what’s good for your waistline is often good for your teeth.
Unprocessed Oils, Nuts and Seeds:Healthy fats from olive and sesame oils, avocados, nuts and seeds protect teeth by helping them re-mineralize. When it comes to nuts, though, binge eating is a real concern – don’t eat too many if you’re concerned about your fat intake.
A Healthy Reliance on Water:The Paleo Diet shuns beverages that are bad for your teeth. Nut milks are okay when unsweetened, but water remains the beverage of choice for the majority of Paleos. Is water good for your teeth? You betcha. Swish it around and remove all that junk from your teeth, stimulate saliva flow, and keep that oral cavity properly hydrated!
Oral Health Concerns with the Paleo Diet
Getting Energy from Sticky Fruit:Carbohydrates provide the fuel our bodies need to function, and the majority of us meet those needs with grains first, and vegetables second. However, since The Paleo Diet avoids grains, and consuming the larger volumes of vegetables necessary to get the same amount of energycan prove difficult for most adherents, many opt to get their carb boost from the natural sugars in fruit.
While this isn’t a terrible idea (fruitarians, for example, consume only fruit), many Paleo dieters rely on dried fruit – which give you energy in spades, but are bad for your teeth because they tend to stick. So, keep a toothbrush and floss handy if you find yourself overdoing it on dried fruit.
Excessive Fruit Acid:Lots of fresh fruit means lots of fruit acid – and, that’s bad for tooth enamel. Chooseless acidic versionsas often as possible, and keep a bottle of water handy to rinse between portions. Also, be sure to wait at least 30 minutes after eating before brushing. Doing so earlier can drive the acids in your mouth deeper into your teeth. Not good!|
Lack of Vitamin D, Magnesium, Calcium and Iron:While supplements can appear to solve just about any nutrient deficiency, any doctor or nutritionist will also tell you there’s nothing like getting your nutrition in its original package. Paleo fans will find they’re lacking in a few vitamins essential to healthy teeth and bones (not to mention an overall healthy body), and may wish to consider supplementation if on the diet long term. Please know that it can be harmful to over consume some nutrients, especially if you’re already taking a multi-vitamin, so do not supplement without consulting with your physician.
No Dairy:No yogurt. No cheese. No milk. No exceptions. You’ll find many arguments for and against dairy out there, and for some populations with allergies, or intolerance, it’s something that has to be avoided no matter what. The trouble for Paleo dieters, though, is without a medical necessity preventing the consumption of dairy, avoiding this entire food group does lessen opportunities for teeth to repair themselves through the natural process of re-mineralization. And while meat does play a role in re-mineralizing,dairy is by far the bigger player.
As you can see, the ancient diet of Paleolithic men and womendoescontain some very solid health benefits. However, it’s not a panacea. Do your homework, think smart, eat smart, and consider all of your options!
Regular dental visits are important year-round, but a back-to-school checkup is key in fighting the most common chronic disease found in school-age children:cavities. In fact, dental disease causes children to miss more than 51 million school hours each year.
Prevention and early detection can help avoid pain, trouble eating, difficulty speaking and school absences. “When people are beginning to do their pediatrician checks to make sure their kids are school-ready, make sure teeth are part of it,” says pediatric dentist and American Dental Association spokesperson Dr. Mary Hayes.
Between cookouts, camping trips and everything else on your family’s summer bucket list, it’s easy for school to sneak up on you. Unfortunately, many parents may not think about making that appointment until August, which Dr. Hayes says is one of her busiest times. “The rush is pretty intense,” she says.
Give yourself enough time by making it a habit to call when your child gets her spring report card each year. “Planning ahead is good,” Dr. Hayes says. “If families want to avoid the rush to go back to school in August, then plan on getting appointments for the beginning of the summer.”
Encourage Age-Appropriate Dental Habits at Home
The best kind of checkup is a cavity-free checkup. Moms and dads can help make this happen by encouraging kids to brush twice a day for two minutes and floss once a day. Here’s Dr. Hayes’ age-by-age advice:
Ages 6 and Under At this age, your child might want to do all the brushing herself but doesn’t have the fine motor skills needed to do a thorough job. Let them start and jump in when needed. “During that age, the mouth is changing so much that children who are 5 or 6 are often brushing their teeth in the way they were when they were 2 or 3,” Dr. Hayes says. “They’re not accommodating the new molars, and they’re not accommodating the fact that the mouth is growing.”
Ages 7-12 By now, your child knows what to do, she just might not want to. Keep encouraging healthy brushing and flossing habits. “Be aware of the fact that sometimes you have to take over a little bit more,” she says. “By the time they’re teenagers, they’re starting to understand self-care, accountability for their actions and such.”
Ages 12-18 Dr. Hayes says this is a critical time for dental health. “When you look at research for when caries appear in kids, it tends to be in young kids. But another bump-up time is teenage years and early adulthood,” she says. “Part of this has to do with the fact that teenagers may have gone for many years and never had a cavity. They don’t necessarily take care of their teeth because they don’t see the consequence of not.”
Don’t let your teen’s habits become out of sight, out of mind. “The behaviors of the teenager are going to translate into the 20-year-old. We want to be able to support them and be respectful of them because they’re not kids anymore.”
Timing Is Everything
Time of day can make or break your child’s appointment. “It’s important for a child of any age who’s used to a nap to not schedule during naptime,” she says. If your child is always cranky after waking up, factor that in too.
For older children, avoid cramming in a dentist appointment right after day camp or school. “Not all kids have the energy to do that,” she says. “I will have parents who want to do very elaborate operative work after school because that’s when the kids can come out. But if the child has already been exhausted or had a bad day or had tests, they just don’t have the stamina to make it through the appointment successfully.”
Make One Child a Model
If you’ve scheduled back-to-back appointments for your children, there’s a simple way to decide who goes first: Choose the child who’s had the most positive experiences at the dentist. “Every child is going to be a little bit different in their temperament about how they approach a visit,” she says. “You generally want the ones first who are more successful because the others get to see how it goes.”
A Hungry Child Is Not a Happy Patient
Feed your child a light meal before the appointment. “Hungry people are grouchy people. You want them to be comfortable,” she says. “It’s also generally a good idea not to feed them in the waiting room before you see the dentist because there’s all that food in [their mouth].”
Eating light is also better for a child with a healthy gag reflex. “Some children gag a lot just because they gag with everything,” she says. “As they age and they get more control over swallowing, kids tend to gag less.”
Bonus points if your child brushes before an appointment. “It’s polite,” Dr. Hayes says.
Leave Your Anxiety at the Door
If your heart races at the very thought of the dentist, your child can probably tell. “Kids pick up on parents’ anxiety,” Dr. Hayes says. “It’s important with kids, especially at 4, 5 and 6, because I believe the phobic adults are the ones who had bad experiences when they were that age.”
The younger your kids are, the more you need to be aware of how you’re communicating with them. For example, if your child asks about getting a cavity filled, don’t say, “It will only hurt for a little bit.” Instead, encourage your child to ask the dentist. “With any child, you want them to be able to feel successful at accomplishing a good visit and link that positive feeling with the idea that their teeth are strong and healthy so they have that message going forward for the rest of their lives.”
Keep Cool If Your Child Won’t Cooperate
If your child gets upset during her visit, the worst thing you can do is swoop them out of the chair and leave. “The next visit is going to be harder,” Dr. Hayes says. “You still have to help them get through part of the visit.”
First, assess why your child is acting out. Are they truly afraid, or are they trying to test the situation? “One of the reasons I think a 4, 5 or 6-year-old gets upset is because they think they’re going to be asked to do something they can’t be successful at,” she says. “They’re in an environment they feel they can’t control and that makes them upset, so we try to break it down into small steps.”
Then, work as a team with your dentist to keep the visit going. Let the dentist lead the conversation. Jump in where you think it helps most, while still allowing the dentist and your child to build a good relationship. “Give the dentist every opportunity to turn the visit around,” she says.
Take a Card (or Three) on Your Way Out
Accidents can happen whether your child is in sports camp, gym class or just walking down the street. In case of emergency, make sure your child’s teachers and coaches have all the medical contact information they need – including your dentist’s number. Grab business cards for your wallet, your child’s backpack and your school’s files. “Parents should be very aware of accidents and make sure that wherever they go that they bring the number of their dentist so that if a child has an accident, they can certainly call the office,” Dr. Hayes says.