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When Should I Make an Appointment With My Dentist for My Child? Part II

Early Childhood Caries

A beautiful, healthy smile that lasts a lifetime is our ultimate goal when treating the children of St. Croix. A daily home care routine and a healthy diet play an important role in achieving that goal. At this time, we are only able to see patients for emergency dental care. Until Frederiksted Health Care Inc. resumes its full dental services, what people do at home to maintain healthy teeth and gums during the coronavirus pandemic is important.

Primary teeth or “baby” teeth are important! Baby teeth hold the space for adult teeth to grow into if extracted too soon, space closes leading to crowding are other developmental issues. Adult teeth begin to erupt around age six and are meant to last the child’s entire lifetime so early disease prevention is critical. Childhood cavities cause unnecessary pain, loss of school hours and lower grades, more time spent at the dentist, more money than preventative care, and can lead to traumatizing experiences or severe infection. Mechanically or physically removing plaque/food debris through brushing and interdental cleaning is the only effective way to prevent oral disease.

Below are instructions and tips about oral health care for children:

Babies should have their mouths cleaned even before the first tooth appears. Healthy teeth erupt from healthy gums. In the morning and at night, a damp clean cloth can be used to wipe the gums, cheeks and tongue. Avoid putting the baby to bed with a bottle or breast as this can increase the child’s risk of tooth decay (caries) and possibly lead to “bottle rot caries,” a more severe form of tooth decay. Visit the dentist by your baby’s first birthday to spot signs of problems early. Normal pacifier use during the first few years of life doesn’t cause long-term dental problems. However, prolonged pacifier use might cause a child’s teeth to be misaligned or not come in properly. Discontinue pacifier use by age three and discourage habitual finger sucking altogether.

Around six months of age, baby teeth begin to erupt from the gums. Use a smear (size of a grain of rice) of toothpaste on a soft-bristled brush to clean the teeth and gums gently. Make sure that all the surfaces of teeth are cleaned, including the inside, outside, and chewing surfaces. Children need assistance with brushing starting from their first tooth up until the child has developed good toothbrush control; some children benefit from assistance up to nine years of age. Even though most children have larger spaces between their baby teeth, flossing these spaces promotes positive lifelong habits. A floss pick is helpful navigating tight areas of a child’s mouth, plus the child can easily use them to practice on their own.

As children grow older and more of their permanent teeth come in, a rigorous daily dental hygiene routine is crucial to keeping teeth and gums healthy. Adult teeth erupt between ages six and 13. Pre-teens often lose interest in oral hygiene; an electric toothbrush or reminder that a healthy smile does not just feel good but looks good may help.

Encourage thorough brushing for at least two minutes, twice daily (especially before bed). Timers, singing songs or dancing while brushing are ways to help make brushing fun, while also ensuring the child doesn’t rush. You can have them brush, encourage that independence, then go in afterward and make sure to hit all the tough spots. Children learn by watching the actions of adults; try practicing homecare together as a family.

For most of the youth in our community, an alcohol-free fluoride mouth rinse is recommended, especially for children because they are at a higher risk of developing tooth decay. Use caution and adult supervision, only children who are able to rinse and spit without swallowing should use a mouth rinse.

Limiting the amount and frequency of sugar intake lowers the risk of developing tooth decay. For example, if a child has a sippy cup or bottle with a sweetened drink or even 100 percent fruit juice throughout the day, the teeth are being bathed in sugar. Ideally, children should only get 100 percent juice at mealtimes, and water or plain milk between meals or during snack time. Aim for healthy drinks and snacks like water, unsweetened tea, plain milk, vegetables, fruits, nuts, lean meats and dairy. Dips like hummus and ranch style dressings are naturally lower in sugar and can help make vegetables more appealing. Avoid food and beverages that are high in sugar, examples include candy, chewy fruit snacks, sports drinks, flavored milk, and sticky sweets/carbohydrates. Children are especially reliant on the food choices their caregivers provide; we encourage all caregivers to lead by example.

Patients that are waiting to been seen by our pediatric provider Dr. Sonia Griffith for sedation treatment; we understand your concern about your child’s oral health but we will have to wait until our clinic is ready to treat patients safely. We are asking for parents and guardians to please stay on top of your child’s oral hygiene and limit their sugar consumption to prevent new decay and gum disease from forming. If your child starts to experience any pain, swelling, difficulty eating, or you notice a “pimple-like” bump on the gum tissue, then please do not hesitate to bring the child during our walk-in hours.

Walk-in emergency care is provided Monday, Wednesday, and Friday starting at 8:30 am; except on every third Friday of the month we start at 1 pm. Patients will be seen on a first come first serve basis. In some situations, we may suggest a tele-dentistry appointment in which one of our dental providers discusses your concern over the phone and determines the need for an in-office visit. If you are unsure if you have an urgent dental need, please call ahead and ask at 772-0260. At this time, we are asking patients who are not suffering from pain or infection to stay home and please continue to be diligent with their homecare. Dental care is crucial, and we want to make sure we are able to provide it as safe an environment as possible.

Thank you for your continued patience and understanding during this time. Frederiksted Health Care Center.

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