Your Dental Questions Answered!
Dr. Michael Riggs, DDS and owner of three Shortline Dental locations in Tulsa, answers questions about how to best care for your children’s teeth.
TK: When should a child’s first checkup be?
Dr. Riggs: Tooth decay may start as early as the first tooth. I recommend parents bring their child in as soon as the first tooth is cut. At the first checkup, parents are provided with information on how to care for their baby’s teeth and prevent tooth decay.
TK: Should parents be concerned about teeth coming in late?
Dr. Riggs: The first baby tooth is typically seen a few months after birth. If a 1-year-old baby is not teething, we may x-ray to find out where the teeth are located.
TK: How regular should checkups be for children?
Dr. Riggs: Every 6 months is ideal.
TK: When should parents start brushing and flossing?
Dr. Riggs: As soon as the first tooth comes in, use a wet cloth and wipe the tooth to ensure all of the plaque is removed. When more teeth appear, start brushing and flossing. Brush twice a day with an infant toothbrush using a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste until they are 2 year of age, and then increase the dosage of the toothpaste.
TK: Some children are very resistant to having their teeth flossed. What do you recommend?
Dr. Riggs: We recommend parents continue to floss their children’s teeth. Eventually the child will understand the value of flossing, and it will become easier.
TK: When are children old enough to brush their own teeth?
Dr. Riggs: As soon as the child can write legibly. Until then the parent should assist in brushing.
TK: Should kids get sealants? Do baby teeth need sealants?
Dr. Riggs: Depending on the natural grooves in the teeth, some dentists recommend sealants for adult teeth. Sealants fill the crevices on a tooth’s surface. The application is fast and comfortable and protects the teeth for many years. If children avoid sugary diets and have good brushing habits, then sealants are generally not recommended.
TK: What if your child’s tooth is knocked out? What should you do?
Dr. Riggs: Find the adult tooth and hold it by the crown, rather than the root. Place the tooth in milk to keep it moist and take it to a dentist, who will reinsert it.
TK: Why does an injured tooth get discolored sometimes? Should parents be worried about that?
Dr. Riggs: If a tooth appears grey, brown or black, blood has leaked through small tubes in the tooth’s dentin layer. The darker the tooth, the more likely the tooth has died and needs to be removed and replaced with an implant. If a tooth is red or pink, a vessel inside the pulp has ruptured and blood has leaked inside the pulp. Also, a tooth’s color may slowly yellow, even years after an injury. This yellowing is due to a decrease in the amount of pulp in the tooth. In any case, we recommend getting a dental exam to prevent infection and to plan treatment, if necessary.
TK: What bad habits do you see that might cause tooth decay?
Dr. Riggs: Not brushing a child’s teeth, allowing a child to have a sugary drink before bedtime or giving a baby a bottle of juice or milk in the crib. This is called baby bottle caries or bottle rot; it occurs when bacteria feeds on the sugar from juice or milk and starts to decay the teeth. We would rather see babies fall asleep with a bottle of water or a pacifier.
TK: Does the Affordable Care Act have some kind of provision for free/reduced or other type of dental health insurance for children?
Dr. Riggs: Starting in 2014, the Affordable Care Act requires individual and small-group health plans cover pediatric dental services. However, plans with a grandfathered status are not required to offer this coverage.
Sarai Burris is a local freelance writer.