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Rush to brush: Teach kids about oral hygiene early, dentists say

Posted by on Mar. 26, 2012 at 6:45 AM
  • 7 Replies

Rush to brush: Teach kids about oral hygiene early, dentists say

When it comes to oral health, even the youngest members of society are not exempt from the necessity of good dental hygiene.

Every February, the American Dental Association sponsors National Children's Dental Health Month in an attempt to generate awareness of the critical importance of pediatric oral health — and the importance cannot be understated.

Dental hygiene is literally a cradle-to-grave endeavor. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that parents begin cleaning their child's gums from birth with a soft toothbrush or cloth.

The AAPD also advises parents to take their child to the dentist when the first tooth appears and before the child's first birthday at the latest. A dental checkup is suggested every six months thereafter.

Good foundation

Abilene pediatric dentist Dr. Norm Poorman said many parents are waiting until their child can talk to bring them to the dentist, with some parents waiting until the child is 4 years old. Poorman said recommendations from the AAPD were echoed by the American Medical Association 12 years ago.

"Pediatric dental health is the foundation for your teeth for the rest of your life," Poorman said. "You have to develop good habits early on. The hygiene and patterns you develop as a child stay with you all of your life; it's important to start off on the right foot."

Poorman said most of the children he sees on their first visit have healthy teeth, but 30 percent do not. He believes that number is too high.

"It's a combination of poor diet and bad hygiene habits. Parents need to teach their children how to brush and do it twice a day," he said. "We live in a fast-paced society and sometimes our teeth get neglected."

Poorman said ignoring pediatric dental care could have physical and emotional consequences. Unhealthy baby teeth can affect the growth of permanent teeth, hinder nutrition and increase the likelihood of cavities.

He also noted that poor dental care could give children crooked, discolored teeth and bad breath — and fellow kids at school will be quick to notice.

"Good teeth are just as important as looking good with your hair and clothing," Poorman said. "Children pick up on that at an early age. Good dental hygiene allows you to feel good about yourself as a child."


Dr. Seth Ardoin, a dentist with Abilene Pediatric Dental Associates, believes many children aren't receiving sufficient pediatric dental care because the of the pervasive mindset that dental care isn't important.

"Just 15 to 20 years ago oral hygiene was thought of as secondary," Ardoin said. "But now with research we've attained, it's just as important as a checkup. A lot of early diseases start with bad oral hygiene."

Ardoin said many parents fail to recognize the immense importance of baby teeth. He noted AAPD numbers showing 65 percent of children have a cavity before age 5 and 80 percent develop a cavity before age 17.

Many parents assume that their child will just lose his or her baby teeth anyway and so taking care of them isn't important. In reality, baby teeth are paramount for the growth of permanent teeth and good nutrition.

On average, a child's first baby tooth appears at 6 to 8 months old, and children lose their last baby tooth at age 12 or 13.

"Once parents start realizing the importance of baby teeth, people start to jump on board," he said. "Accessibility is an issue. For a long time there was no one advocating for pediatric oral health. The times have changed."

Make it fun

Poorman and Ardoin attended extra years of schooling to gain knowledge and skills to work in pediatric dentistry. The two believe a positive first trip to the dentist is important for any child.

"In the past, if a kid had a toothache the first time they come to dentist is to have a tooth pulled," Ardoin said. "We want their first time they visit to be good. They get their teeth brushed, get a sticker and have fun. We want them to have a positive attitude about dentistry."

For Poorman, a positive first trip to the dentist can change the way children perceive dentists and doctors for the rest of their lives.

"Your initial experiences lay a foundation for how you view any doctor. Too often children equate going to the doctor with having to have an injection for a vaccination to fix a problem," Poorman said. "Oftentimes preventive checkups are simple, fun appointments."

Both dentists have worked to make a trip to their offices fun by incorporating fun decorations, games, televisions, stickers and toys — both believe they are on a mission to change perceptions about pediatric dentistry.

"I'd wanted to be a pediatric dentist since dental school. I was a camp counselor for many years, and I taught swimming for eight years and enjoyed being around children," Poorman said. "I feel like God called me to work with children. I think I can have a better impact in people's lives working with children."

by on Mar. 26, 2012 at 6:45 AM
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Replies (1-7):
by Meghan on Mar. 26, 2012 at 7:11 AM
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by on Mar. 26, 2012 at 5:39 PM

Not a problem. I've been doing this and my kids love brushing and taking care of their teeth. 

by on Mar. 26, 2012 at 9:20 PM
Good advice!
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by on Mar. 26, 2012 at 11:37 PM

Great article. I wish someone had told me a long time ago to start brushing my daughters teeth sooner. It took going to the hospital to get cavities filled while my daughter was in a drugged sleep around 2 for me to really realize the importance

by on May. 26, 2012 at 10:22 PM

Great Post. Parents really need to be educated on this. I also advocate well check dental visits for children at first tooth eruption. This way parents can get some education that way regarding timelines for eruption and treatment. I also think parents need to do more of the brushing for their kids. Have seen too many who let their kids brush their own teeth without ever checking what kind of job they are doing.


Also highly recommend using a plaque disclosing solution for kids. Gives them(and their parents) a colored visual to see the areas they are missing and to keep going cleaning their tetth

Marielaina Perrone DDS, Henderson, Nevada
by Betty on May. 27, 2012 at 12:46 AM


by Sarah on May. 28, 2012 at 11:07 PM

I really try to get DS to not freak out when I brush his teeth.  He hasn't seen a dentist yet though.

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