Dig your Teeth into Dental Health: Decreasing Fears for Children and Adults

As we head into National Children’s Dental Health Month in February, it comes time to set the record straight about dental health. Katie Post, DDS, of Northwest Dental Group says only 60 percent of the population goes to a dentist on a regular basis. With the remaining 40 percent uninformed, there are some dental health myths to correct.

Those teeth-whitening toothpastes? Not the answer, Post says. Duration of brushing your teeth, two times per day? Two minutes each session. Gatorade? Worse for your teeth than Mountain Dew. As for when kids should start brushing, Post says the earlier the better so children get accustomed to “you being in their mouth.” Once older, there’s no great time to introduce teeth brushing. “As soon as they can run from you, they will,” Post remarks.


Post promotes Children’s Dental Health Month by going to several elementary schools and daycares to talk to kids. She tells them how to properly brush their teeth, talks about the “mean” sugar bug that causes cavities, and allows kids to play with dental instruments and tools. She also discusses what path kids should follow if they’re interested in the dentistry field.

 These visits decrease fear among kids, Post says. “Kids get to know me, and then I think they feel safer coming to see me. They feel comfortable and safe knowing I can help them.”

One major shift in children’s dentistry came in the last year, with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation to use fluoridated toothpaste. With the rise in popularity of bottled water, the population has experienced a decrease in exposure to fluoride. Part of Post’s call-outs to kids is to fill their water bottles at their school water fountain rather than drink bottled water.

As for how much toothpaste to use, Post recommends a rice grain-size of toothpaste for kids up to age 2 and a pea-size amount of toothpaste, with fluoride, for kids 2-8 years old. She also says for parents to sing the “ABCs” while they brush kids’ teeth—that way they’ll know they’re brushing for the recommended duration.


“Don’t be fooled by foods that appear healthy but are sticky and high in sugar,” says Dr. Matt Penz, dentist at Penz Dental Care. He says prime examples are raisins, dried fruit, whole grain crackers and granola bars. And that pre-bedtime juice or even milk for younger kids? Post and Penz both say that this common bedtime ritual is an enormous no-no. The liquid sits on kids’ teeth all night and can rot them.

Penz says, “Never put your baby to bed with a bottle or fill the bottle with juice. Prolonged exposure to sugars, especially at night when saliva flow is decreased, creates an environment for cavities to develop.”


Kids should enter the dentist chair by age 1. “The reason I recommend that is that when they get to know the dentist, they feel safe with the dentist. If their first experience is us pulling an abscessed tooth, they will never get over their fear of the dentist. They never will,” Post says.

Penz says a common mistake is waiting for that first dentist visit. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children be seen by a dentist once their first tooth comes in and no later than their first birthday. “During this visit, we check for cavities and development, as well as discuss how to care for your child’s teeth. It should be a fun, positive experience and a great way for your child to get comfortable seeing the dentist.”


Kids aren’t the only ones battling a fear of the dentist. Adults have anxiety too. Some might have a fear of needles. Others are challenged with overall fright.

Dentists have lots of tricks for reducing the fear factor, Post says, so it’s important for patients to be honest with their dentist about what their fears are. Headphones can reduce the pain of hearing a drill. Needles can be incredibly small. Cable TV is available for distraction.

“Nothing personal, Doc, but I hate coming to the dentist!” Penz says he hears this remark nearly daily. “It’s not everyone’s favorite place to be,” he says. “At Penz Dental Care, our mission is building relationships with our patients and community through quality dentistry. I want to get to know my patients on a personal level and build a trusting relationship with them as their dental care provider. I believe that if you can build trust, this will lead to decreased patient anxiety.”

Penz says the dentist office also plays a role in increasing or decreasing patient anxiety. A comfortable waiting room, with a living room feel, helps people relax. The massaging dental chairs at Penz Dental are popular, too, Penz says.

Adults, like kids, should use a plain toothpaste with nothing added—no whitening, no Scope. Post likes Colgate Sensitive. “It’s an awesome toothpaste, good flavor, good texture and good cleaning score,” she says, noting that regardless of what toothpaste you select, you should choose one that’s approved by the American Dental Association. Look for their seal on the box. As for mouthwash, use Listerine, she says.

Penz recommends flossing once daily, using a mouth rinse at night to help reduce plaque and gingivitis and eating a healthy, balanced diet with limited snacking between meals. He says limiting pop and sports drinks is a rule that holds true for adults too. “They are high in sugar and quite acidic,” he says. “It’s best to stick with water and milk.”


Invisalign—a series of clear retainers that help straighten teeth—is a great option for patients who are looking for a way to enhance their smile but aren’t interested in traditional braces.

Post says her office can handle 70 percent of the cases that come in and refers the remaining 30 to expert, local orthodontists. Invisalign has become immensely popular in recent years. “Over 20 percent of patients over the age of 50 have Invisalign done,” she says.

Patients seek out Invisalign because they never had their problematic bite corrected, which causes teeth to crack more easily, so they end up spending a thousand dollars on a crown. By aligning their bite, dentists protect the patient’s teeth, Post says.

“It’s become more affordable than doing veneers or crowns,” Post says of Invisalign. “You’re not doing anything permanent to the
tooth structure, either. I think it looks really nice, and more importantly, people value their teeth and don’t want to see them chipping and breaking.”

Penz says the popularity of Invisalign is on the rise. The American Academy of Orthodontists saw a 14 percent increase in the number of adult orthodontic patients from 2010 to 2012. “More adults appear to be seeking ways to improve their smile and function of their teeth than ever before,” Penz says. “I believe a big reason for this is advances in technology.”

Renee Berg is a Rochester freelance writer.