Waiting until your child has a full complement of teeth before visiting the dentist for the first time might seem sensible, but the general rule of thumb is that the first visit should happen at the age of 1 year or when the first tooth appears in the mouth. Teeth can become cracked, loose, or chipped from accidents, and failure to get them checked by your dentist may result in otherwise avoidable long-term damage. Teeth can also decay and gums may become inflamed if dental visits are neglected. Common dental procedures done for kids include sealants, fillings, scaling and polishing, fluoride treatments, and the fabrication of orthodontic appliances.
Sealants are materials applied on children’s teeth to help act as barriers against plaque and acids in vulnerable areas on the chewing surfaces. Even though your child may brush twice daily to remove plaque deposits from the smooth surfaces of the teeth, it can be difficult to clean the hard-to-reach areas such as the chewing surfaces of the posterior teeth. Smaller food debris is able to accumulate in those spots resulting in tooth decay. To combat this, sealants are placed within the deep grooves of such teeth. It is a painless procedure that takes a few minutes. Sealants are most effective in permanent teeth immediately they emerge in the mouth. The first permanent teeth are the molars which appear around the age of 6 years.
Fillings, which dentists refer to as restorations, are performed on teeth that have decayed or teeth that fracture(break) due to trauma. Tooth decay occurs when the bacteria in the mouth ferments food debris, resulting in acid production which weakens the outer protective layer(enamel) of the teeth. This weakened enamel develops cavities(holes) over a period of time. When nothing is done about it, the cavities become deeper and get into the innermost layer of the tooth and this causes pain. Fillings that are placed in affected teeth are able to halt the progression of the decay. Fillings are also placed on teeth that fracture when the child sustains trauma from a collision, blow, hit or fall. The dental professional is able to contour the lost part of the tooth to its previous form and shape.
Apart from brushing and flossing the teeth daily at home, taking your child to the dentist every 6 months for scaling and polishing(dental cleaning) is very essential. Plaque biofilm is a sticky film of germs that form on the teeth when brushing and flossing is inadequate in some areas of the mouth. This causes discolored teeth, swollen and bleeding gums as well as bad breath. When plaque biofilm stays on teeth for long, it forms a harder material referred to as tartar/calculus. Plaque biofilm can be removed with the use of a toothbrush, however, tartar/calculus cannot be removed with the toothbrush. Consequently, the need to see the dentist for professional dental cleaning plays a vital role in preventing the sequelae of gum disease.
Fluoride helps to prevent tooth decay by making the teeth resistant to acid attacks from plaque and sugar-containing foods and drinks. Children can obtain fluoride from tap water, fluoride toothpaste, certain mouthwashes, and professional application at the dental clinic. Professional fluoride application is done on a routine basis with the use of a high-containing fluoride gel/varnish for children who are at a high risk of tooth decay.
Orthodontics is an aspect of dentistry that deals with the prevention and correction of malpositioned teeth and jaws. Children at a very young age develop certain habits such as thumb sucking and tongue thrusting which when continued for long would have dire consequences on the teeth. Simple removable orthodontic appliances are placed in the child’s mouth early to help curb these habits. As the child ages, braces would be indicated to aid in the arrangement of the teeth.
In conclusion, make it a point to take your child to the dentist every 6 months for professional care to maintain that healthy smile.
AUTHOR: DR MICHAEL AWUA-MENSAH