There are few things that “light up” one’s day more than the happy smile of a child. Those precious smiles and their gleeful laughter are like potent doses of mood boosters, especially to parents and grandparents.

As a Demotte IN dentist who sees all ages of dental patients, the “little ones” in our patient family are always a joy to see. However, when a child is in pain or has developed a dental problem that could have been avoided through early care, we are a parent’s best advocate for helping youngsters move forward on a more positive note.

“Avoidable” isn’t when a child needs treatment due to an injured tooth or cut lip through sports, a bike mishap, or other accident. In many of these instances, our gentle treatment often results in an even stronger bond between our dental team and young patient.

What is surprising to many parents are those things that can occur that were preventable, or could have been greatly minimized, with early dental care. For example, children should be seen by a dentist around the time the first tooth emerges. This helps us to assess the child’s oral condition and advise the parent(s) on daily at-home care to maintain good oral health during development.

YES, even children with just one or two teeth should develop a relationship with trusted dental caregivers.

Yet, a misconception still exists that, because “baby” teeth will fall out anyway, it doesn’t matter if they develop cavities. While these teeth, indeed, are meant to be replaced as the child grows into adolescence, they serve an important role in the mouth for an average of six years.

Not only do teeth enable biting, chewing, and speaking, they are important “place holders” for the teeth that will come later. These teeth offer a guide, of sorts, for the emergence of “permanent” teeth that will take their place. Just as “adult” teeth, they are vulnerable to decay caused by oral bacteria.

Of course, a concerning part of a child developing a cavity is the ache and/or pain it can cause. As adults, many of us know the gnawing and even excruciating discomfort that can result from a tooth with a cavity. A child is less likely to know how to express the problem in its early stages, which can enable it to progress to a more severe level. A child in intense pain is so sad, especially when the problem could have been avoided.

At Smile Your Best Dental, we pride ourselves on our gentle touch with ALL patients. Yet, we know that children can have even greater anxiety than adults. For them, it is the fear of the unknown. While adults generally understand that numbing will keep them comfortable throughout treatment, a child is less aware of this assurance.

Factor in the sounds and processes taking place as the child is relined in a vulnerable posture — you have a recipe for a very worried patient! (When you add to this a parent that states, “It won’t hurt much,” the odds for a very frightened child are pretty high! This is one of the worst things a parent can say to a child.)

We understand that children have unique fears and concerns. This is why we work carefully to communicate thoroughly with the parents and the young patient before anything takes place. We want the end result to be a smiling patient who understands their dental caregivers are truly that – CARE givers!

Another reason – and benefit – for early involvement is to monitor the position of teeth as they emerge. “Adult” (or “permanent”) teeth emerging into a growing child’s mouth can appear to be very big and awkward. In some situations, they may seem to be too much for a balanced smile. With periodic assessments, we can determine if, or when, alignment support is advised.

It was determined many years ago that an adolescent’s mouth was actually at an advantage when “first” molars were removed. While removal is not a need for every individual, extracting the very back teeth tends to provide more space for less risk for future crowding. Cave men no more, the need for these large, gnashing teeth are less vital to modern diets that are now more processed.

However, it’s not just those large molars that can create problems with alignment. Some teeth can tilt or turn as they are emerging. These can create a domino effect, of sorts. When one tooth is turned, it causes neighboring teeth to turn. These areas of crowding are not only distracting to the appearance of a smile, they become havens for oral bacteria accumulation.

It is more difficult for the bristles of a tooth brush to reach into these tight angles. When oral bacteria is not removed thoroughly and regularly, the risks for developing cavities increases. As the bacteria accumulate, they can also attack gum tissues. This can lead to tender gums that become inflamed and can eventually develop into periodontal (gum) disease.

Another problem of crowded, crooked teeth has to do with long term problems associated with bite misalignment. In biting and chewing, the upper teeth are designed to move harmoniously with lower teeth. When a tooth or teeth are imbalanced with those they meet, the result can be chips, fractures, breaks, and even clenching or grinding during sleep.

The jaws that support teeth work together through the TMJ, or jaw joints. These joints are located on each side of the head just in front of the ears. When teeth are out of alignment, it can cause the joints to become strained. This strain can worsen over time, leading to a number of seemingly unrelated problems.

TMJ disorders can cause frequent headaches, migraines, dizziness, ear ringing, jaw popping, and soreness in facial or neck muscles. Many adults spend years seeking a solution to these problems, seeing specialist after specialist, only to find the problem had to do with their bite alignment all along.

A misaligned bite is not always apparent. An “open” bite, an “under” bite, or protruding jaw can all be rather subtle visually, especially when teeth appear to be straight. This is why a dentist should be involved in your child’s dental development as they grow and change.

Having the involvement of a caring, skilled dental office can protect the health and development of your child’s smile. It can also help you avoid more costly treatment measures required later on for problems that could have been prevented.

Begin by ensuring that good oral health is a regular part of your at-home routine. Brush and floss together in the morning and at night. Carefully monitor your child’s diet, especially sugar intake. Sipping colas and frequent snacking make cavity and gum disease development more likely.

Also, be an example of a committed dental adult. Schedule your 6-month dental cleanings and exams as a family, if possible. Let your child know that YOU are committed to good oral health and share a desire for your child to have this same commitment.

If your child is ready to enjoy a positive relationship where he or she achieves a healthy, confident smile, call us at 219-987-5733 to schedule an appointment. If desired, begin with a visit to our office for a firsthand view of an environment that attends to all ages, all smiles, and optimal oral health!