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Dental exams for children should be scheduled at least every six months. During the exams, a pediatric dentist or dental hygienist will clean your child’s teeth and take x-rays of their mouth. Then, after the teeth cleaning, they apply fluoride and/or sealants to protect their teeth from decay. For younger children, proper brushing and flossing techniques are also typically discussed.
As children get older, oral care needs change. Dental exams for older children and teenagers include the same services mentioned above. In addition, pediatric dentists usually discuss the oral health risks associated with tobacco and substance abuse.
Preventive dentistry focuses on preventing oral diseases and keeping the teeth strong throughout life. These treatments protect children from developing cavities, gum disease, and other oral health conditions.
During a dental exam, a pediatric dentist may use a combination of preventive treatments, including:
Brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash regularly helps remove plaque buildup, but not all of the bacteria can be removed with a normal toothbrush. During in-office teeth cleanings, a pediatric dentist removes any plaque and tartar on the surfaces of teeth and between teeth.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in rocks and soil that helps prevent tooth decay and strengthens tooth enamel. Because of these decay fighting properties, small amounts of fluoride have been added to tap water, certain types of toothpaste, mouth rinses, and dental materials.
There are two types of professional fluoride treatments available today, including topical and systemic. The first is topical fluoride, which includes gels and varnishes that dental hygienists apply during teeth cleanings. Systemic fluoride, on the other hand, comes in a pill form and is usually prescribed to children who are fluoride-deficient.
Sealants are applied to newly erupted primary or permanent teeth to protect them against cavities. In essence, the thin-coating helps keep acid, bacteria, and food particles out of teeth surfaces. Treatment is painless and completed during one office visit.
Pediatric dental exams should begin within six months after a baby’s first tooth eruption, typically between 6 months and one year of age.
The earlier a baby starts visiting a dentist, the better their oral health will be in the long run. As babies reach childhood, they will have healthy oral care habits ingrained into their lifestyle and are less likely to develop gingivitis, deep cavities, and other oral health conditions. A pediatric dental exam for babies between 6 months and 1 year of age consists of:
Between 6 and 13 years of age, primary teeth fall out and permanent teeth begin to grow in. During this stage, it is essential for children to have established oral hygiene practices. They should also visit a dentist at least every six months for exams and routine teeth cleanings. A pediatric dental exam for children between 6 and 13 years of age consists of:
Pediatric dentists use X-rays to aid in the diagnosis of disease or damage that is not visible during a normal dental exam. X-rays help catch oral conditions and diseases early, such as cavities and gum disease. They aren’t usually taken every six months unless a child has a high risk of disease.
If a child has a cavity, a pediatric dentist will set up another appointment to restore the tooth. Depending on the severity of the decay, restorative treatment options include amalgam fillings, composite fillings, and stainless steel crowns.
Once all permanent teeth grow in completely, orthodontic treatment may be needed if an adolescent has misaligned or crooked teeth. Treatment options include clear aligners, such as Invisalign, and braces.
There are many times when orthodontists will intervene before all permanent teeth erupt. General and/or pediatric dentists may recommend an orthodontic consultation by age 7—which is 5 to 7 years before all permanent teeth erupt.
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Fluoridation Facts. American Dental Association, 2018.
Koch Göran, et al. Pediatric Dentistry: a Clinical Approach. John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2017.
Nowak, Arthur J. Pediatric Dentistry: Infancy through Adolescence. Elsevier, 2019.