This week we are thrilled to be celebrating 1 year since we opened the doors as the new owners of Alaskan Family Dental Center! We have definitely learned a lot since becoming practice owners, but have loved being able to start the journey with an incredible existing staff, a great facility and location, and a truly amazing group of patients that have welcomed us with open arms. Our kids have adapted well to being back in Alaska and have been having a great summer hanging out with their cousins and new friends.
With the beginning of the school year fast approaching, I wanted to to write a bit about the importance of back to school dental exams. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends scheduling children for regular dental checkups, the most common interval being every sixth months, starting at your child’s first birthday. Occasionally dentists will recommend fewer or more frequent exams depending on risk factors, but typically a habit of twice a year is sufficient to maintain a healthy oral cavity. It is best to try and schedule appointments far in advance. Currently we are experiencing a shortage of Registered Dental Hygienists in the Valley, and their appointments typically fill up quickly. It also helps to schedule during a time when life is a little less busy. We all know that when school starts up time gets more limited, so generally we see more kids in the summer months and again around Christmas and Spring Break. Having appointments during these vacation times helps create a habit and gives children a structure that can stay with them the rest of their lives! Visiting the Dentist every six months while children are young helps me to educate them on what they can do for their oral health early and often, and will instill in your children the value of maintaining a healthy mouth.
So what should a back to school dental appointment look like? Basically, as a dentist I try to evaluate and present an accurate big picture assessment of your child’s teeth and gums. I keep an eye out for any developing cavities, assess the stage of dentition (whether or not the baby teeth are going to the Tooth Fairy in a timely manner), and make sure that the teeth are lining up correctly. The hygienist and I assess each child’s home care in a non-judgmental way and spend time educating your child on the most effective ways to brush and floss. We often recommend specific products and techniques based on what we are seeing.
Along with the dental exam, each visit with one of our experienced Dental Hygienists will clean your child’s teeth. This is an important process no matter how well a child brushes and flosses at home. A professional cleaning removes cavity causing bacteria from areas that are difficult to keep clean with a toothbrush and also keeps gums healthy. Many type of staining and discoloration can be removed during these biannual cleanings as well! Personally, I remember the feeling as a child of having my teeth cleaned and how each time it would give me a renewed goal of doing my best at home to keep my oral hygiene up.
Typically we take x-rays on children at least once a year. X-rays allow me to evaluate the stage of tooth development, evaluate the roots and eruption of the teeth, and evaluate the teeth themselves for decay in areas that I can’t see just by looking at them directly. X-rays are particularly useful for catching decay between two teeth and evaluating how deep into the teeth the decay has progressed. Once started, the decay can progress very quickly. If the decay gets large enough it can lead to pain, infection, and possibly the extraction of a tooth. If we can catch the decay earlier, fixing it is easier, cheaper, and much less traumatic of a treatment for the child. Sometimes we can do the treatment without even having to get that area numb!
As adult teeth begin to erupt at around 6-7 years old, I like to consider and recommend protective sealants on teeth with deeper grooves. I can delve into the history and efficacy of sealants in a future blog post, but today I just wanted to briefly explain that sealants on adult molars and pre-molars have been being placed since the 1960s and in combination with fluoride, are one of the best preventative measures we have available to prevent tooth decay. Insurance usually will cover most sealants recommended on children as they have been proven to be a cheap way to prevent more serious problems down the road. They don’t take very long to place onto teeth, are non-invasive, and are a great way for children to get used to a dentist working in their mouth. We strongly believe in sealants in our practice, and at each check up we evaluate existing sealants to make sure they are staying in place and continuing to work for the patient.
Lastly, a back to school check up is a great time for children involved in sports to make arrangements for needed sports guards, or evaluate their existing guards. It is estimated that between 13-39% of dental injuries occur while playing sports. 80 percent of all these injuries affect at least one fo the front teeth! (Not one you want to lose!!!!). Sports guards are a crucial part of participating in these extra-curricular activities, and don’t take long to fabricate. It is also important to have cracked guards repaired prior to continuing to play! The Mat-Su Valley has a strong culture of team sports and we are proud to be a small part of helping our athletes compete safely.
In Summary, I just want to encourage you to get into the habit of scheduling a back to school check up with your dentist in the fall! If you already have a similar habit, Congratulations! If not, we’d love to see you and your children when you feel ready!
In non-dental related news: We had a fun weekend with family, this evening we hiked the Gold Mint Trail up at Hatcher Pass. This week my kids got to help sell Alaskan Veggies by the side of the road with some of their cousins and we all got to pick some very ripe strawberries from the garden! They went great on Saturday’s pancakes and we even found a tooth shaped one!
I recently finished reading two great books that I would recommend: The first is a collection of Russian short stories with commentary by George Saunders called “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain”. I really love classic Russian literature and most of the stories were new to me. I also read a book called “Dedicated” by Pete Davis that I really enjoyed, it’s an argument for long haul commitment to hard things in today’s culture where we are often more inclined to browse novelty. The book reinforced my own commitment to our community here in the Valley, and helped me to think of ways that I can improve my own services as a dental provider to the people I interact with every day.
What other dental topics should we cover on the blog?
Until next time!