By SEAN ROWLEY
Despite its necessity, dental care requires a diligence some people find difficult to maintain. And whatever troubles adults may have, it can be even more daunting to get children to take care of their teeth.
February is the American Dental Association’s National Children’s Dental Health Month. The annual campaign offers resources and information to dental care professionals, teachers and parents to educate children about the importance of dental health.
“I see a lot of kids with cavities - way too many,” said Dr. Tom McConnell of McConnell Family Dentistry. “There are a lot of kids who need to see a dentist and not enough to see them. A lot of dentists won’t work on kids because it is difficult. The demand is greater than the supply.”
Hence, it is important for children to practice good dental hygiene in the home.
But getting children to brush and floss can be a challenge for parents. Children can be stubbornly uncooperative, and parents may take some short cuts, figuring it isn’t worth an all-out battle to save teeth that will fall out, anyway.
However, children need their baby teeth while they have them, and cavities can be extremely painful. Dentists say parents must be even more obstinate than their kids.
“It can come down to tough love,” said Dr. Errol Allison. “I’ve had to hold them down to brush their teeth. I think it is important to start brushing children’s teeth at an early age and to expect some resistance. It is also important to remember that children will want to brush their teeth themselves, but we rarely see instances where kids do a good job. So parents need to check their children’s teeth after they brush.”
Getting children to floss can be even more difficult, and some professionals suggest parents fight one battle at a time.
“Of course, it is important to start your kids flossing,” Allison said. “But honestly, I’m happy if my young patients are brushing twice a day. It is sugar on top if they floss.”
Sugar is also a problem. Allison and McConnell said it need not be eliminated from children’s diets, but monitored.
Allison said kids love soda pop and other sugary drinks, but the intake needs to be limited. He added that young children should not sleep with bottles or sip cups in their mouths.
“Another big problem is eating sugar too often,” McConnell said. “It has less to do with the amount of sugar consumed. You can eat a cup of sugar all at once and cause less trouble for your teeth than if you chew a stick of gum every half hour.”
Visiting the dentist every six months greatly reduces the incidence of cavities and other problems. McConnell and Allison are among the Tahlequah dentists who welcome children as patients.
“We want the community to know that we can get children with severe problems, such as abscesses, into a hospital setting within a couple of weeks,” McConnell said. “Sometimes the wait to get into Tulsa can be two or three months. We can get them in sooner. If parents have been told it will take a month to see their children in a hospital setting, they should call us.”
Parents can employ a number of tactics to get the kids to brush and floss their teeth. Many dental professionals suggest trying to find ways to make it fun. Allow children to choose their toothbrush and toothpaste, but ensure they are effective. To get children to brush long enough, many parents use timers, but kids might also sing a favorite song in their heads while they brush.
Other suggestions include:
• Imbedding dental care in the daily routine.
• Allowing the children to mimic parents while brushing and flossing.
• Tracking brushing and flossing with stickers or charts.
• Brushing earlier in the evening when children are more alert.
• There are effective non-alcoholic mouth rinses available for children, but they are a useful augmentation to brushing and flossing, not a substitute.
Starting young is also important. Teeth need care as they emerge from the gums, and should be flossed once they touch. Many pediatric dentists suggest parental assistance, either through direct brushing or post-brush inspections, until age 8.
For more information about National Children’s Dental Health Month, visit www.ada.org/5578.aspx.