From the minute our first baby tooth erupts, we begin a relationship with dentistry that lasts a lifetime. But when do we take our children for the first time? What treatments will we need as we age? What can I do to get back the radiant smile of my 20’s?
All shall be answered in this handy-dandy guide to caring for little teeth, big teeth and even moving teeth.
THE FIRST VISIT
THE SCOOP: Visits to the dentist are beginning at an earlier age than ever before—as early as a child’s first year. But this first visit is more about the concept of dentistry than the actual practice.
“It’s mostly talking,” says Dr. Robyn Loewen of Dentistry for Children and Adolescents, Ltd. “Oftentimes after that visit, if everything looks good, we’ll postpone the next visit until age two or three.”
QUESTIONS TO ASK: The first visit is a great time to talk with your child’s practitioner about the dental concerns you have:
- What happens after a child suffers trauma to her mouth?
- What could be the long-term effects of your child sucking on her thumb or a pacifier?
- Your child’s diet and optimizing the right nutrients for a healthy smile.
THE FIRST CLEANING
TELL, SHOW, DO: Regardless of how old your child is when she gets her first cleaning, the dental community works hard to tailor the visit and present information in a way kids will understand.
Dr. Loewen and Dr. Candace Mensing from Dentistry for Children and Adolescents and Dr. Katie Post of Northwest Dental Group all employ a method called “tell, show, do.” During a child’s cleaning, they tell the child what they are going to do, show her how they will do it and the tools they will use—usually with the help of puppets or stuffed animals—and then they do the actual cleaning.
PARENTAL GUIDANCE ADVISED:
Post encourages parents to be present during their kids’ appointments: “The parents can learn the whole time that I’m with the kids.”
“We always want the parent in the first exam,” agrees Dr. Mensing. “We really want to communicate to the parent while we’re communicating with the child.”
HEALTHY HABITS: In between visits, Drs. Post, Mensing and Loewen recommend parents:
- Assist children in brushing 2–3 times daily, two minutes each time, until age eight (when they achieve good manual dexterity). Floss teeth that are in contact with each other once daily.
- “Watch your kid’s diet like a hawk,” advises Dr. Loewen. Two common cavity culprits are raisins and fruit snacks. “They are high in sugar and get caught in the backs of kids’ teeth,” says Dr. Post.
Now that you’re grown up, you get regular checkups (every six months or so) and brush/floss regularly, what else is there?
What should I be thinking about If I’m in my …
20s – 30s
- Wisdom teeth extraction (if not already done)
- Cleanings & dental exams every six months
- Yearly bitewing x-rays (or twice yearly, depending on decay risk)
- Trying to get pregnant? Get x-rays first
- While pregnant, keep up cleanings
40s – 50s
- Gum recession
- Broken teeth
- Increased grinding of teeth
- Cosmetic concerns: bleaching, filings and crown replacement
- Deep cleanings
- Root decay
- Partial and full dentures
- Breaking teeth
- Deep cleanings
Q: Is fluoride just for kids?
Local dentists recommend children and adults get fluoride treatments. Fluoride is a naturally occurring element that helps strengthen teeth enamel and fight plaque and bacteria and is “very effective at preventing decay,” according to Dr. Mensing. It’s crucial when teeth are forming and helps with the remineralization of teeth—where minerals return back to the teeth that are eroded through tooth decay.
But while too little fluoride can cause more tooth decay and loose teeth, parents should avoid over-exposure to fluoride, according to Dr. Mensing.
“Not because it’s harmful,” she explains, “but to avoid fluorosis which is where the enamel of the teeth are marked with white specks or streaks.”
Parents can strike a balance for their children’s dental health, as well as their own, by drinking water supplemented with fluoride, using fluoridated toothpaste and seeking fluoride treatments at the dentist.
PAYING FOR DENTAL CARE: In a budget-crunched society, it’s easy to put dental appointments at the end of the priorities’ list. If a family can’t afford regular dental checkups, what should they do for care?
“They should maintain good oral hygiene,” says Dr. Billie Vasdev from Crystal Dental Clinic. This includes brushing 2–3 times per day, flossing and using mouth rinses.
Dr. Vasdev also recommends the dental hygiene program at Rochester Community Technical College (RCTC): “It is a fantastic program. For a set fee, the patients get an exam by a dentist, x-rays and an evaluation for a cleaning or a deep cleaning.” For more details, call the RCTC dental hygiene program at 280-3169.
Other reduced-cost dental services in Rochester include:
- Children’s Dental Health Services, United Way Building, 273-7257 Sliding fee scale services for kids 0-14 years including dental hygiene, teeth cleaning, fluoride treatments, nutritional counseling and oral hygiene instructions
- Salvation Army Good Samaritan Dental Clinic, 529-4100 Please call for information on services offered.
THE SCOOP: Teeth are constantly moving. Over time, shifting teeth can affect your smile. They may even cause or aggravate various mouth and jaw problems, such as temporomandibular disorder (TMD)—painful problems in the jaw muscles, joint or both.
THE SOLUTION: “Proper tooth positioning can relieve symptoms related to tooth grinding and TMD and avoid other detrimental effects of malocclusion [misalignment of teeth],” says Dr. Elizabeth Kellogg of Kellogg Orthodontics.
Not surprisingly, more adults are turning to cosmetic dentistry and orthodontists to move teeth via braces or retainers to straighten a crooked smile or relieve TMD. Today’s braces are not like the metal ware that was prevalent 20 years ago. In some respects, “moving teeth” is easier than ever.
“This is because teeth may be moved by less-obvious appliances such as toothcolored braces, clear aligners and removable appliances,” says Kellogg.
Aligners—clear, plastic, removable molds worn most hours of the day but not as a fixed appliance—may help straighten mildly crowded teeth, avoiding traditional braces altogether.
How long will you need to wear braces or a retainer to fix jaw problems or get the smile you want?
“[It] depends on the individual patient and their malocclusion [misalignment of teeth] and what they want to accomplish,” says Kellogg.
SMOOTHER SURFACE: Veneers and lumineers—artificial coverings applied over the front of natural teeth—improve the appearance of chipped, broken or discolored teeth, as well as shorten gaps between teeth, according to Dr. Phillip Perry of Cosmetic Dental Center of Southeast Minnesota in Wabasha.
COLOR CORRECTION: Professional teeth whitening lighens and brightens dark or discolored teeth.
“The in-office procedure is short and safe,” says Dr. Perry, “and achieves dramatic results.”