Back to School? Head to the Dentist First

School will be back in session before we know it, and more and more districts are requiring students to have a dental exam before beginning the year.

“We can help spot and take care of any issues so your child doesn’t have to miss class once schools starts,” American Dental Association (ADA) pediatric dentist, Dr. Mary Hayes recently said in a MouthHealthy.org article. “It’s also a great time to help get back on track if some of your child’s dental habits fell away during summer, when normal routines can go out the window and there are a lot more treats around.”

If you’re one of the many parents getting ready to take their kids to a dental check-up, check out these questions you might want to consider asking at their appointment.

How’s my child’s overall dental health?

Your dentist will be looking for a lot more than just cavities in your child’s mouth. “We will check to make sure teeth are lining up correctly, your child’s bite is in good shape and to keep an eye out for any [orthodontic] issues that may show up later,” Dr. Hayes says. “We’re also making sure baby teeth are going to the Tooth Fairy like they should.”

Will my child get a cleaning?

No matter how well your child brushes, it’s imperative that he/she has a professional cleaning at their regular dental appointment. “Even if your child — or you, for that matter — brushes twice a day, it’s not possible to get rid of all the bacteria that can lead to cavities,” Dr. Hayes added. “And on the other hand, you may have a child who goes off to camp and never opens their toothbrush.”

A professional cleaning goes a long way though. “It removes more of the cavity-causing bacteria and helps to keep gum tissue healthy,” she stated. “It can also remove most or many stains from teeth.”

Does my child need an X-Ray?

Dental X-rays help your dentist see how teeth are developing and allows them to determine if tooth roots are healthy. They also help identify tooth decay between teeth. “The decay process can move very, very fast, so the earlier we can catch it, the better,” said Dr. Hayes. But your child won’t need them at every visit. “We do them only when necessary,” she added.

Can you check my child’s mouthguard?

If your child is active in sports, make sure you bring his or her mouthguard along so your dentist can check for fit and wear and tear. “If your child is having a growth spurt, losing teeth and getting new ones, the mouthguard might need to be redone,” said Dr. Hayes.

What are sealants?

Another way to protect your child’s teeth from getting cavities is with dental sealants. While they are no replacement for brushing and flossing, dental sealants can help keep cavity-causing bacteria and bits of food from creeping into the crevices that your child’s toothbrush can’t reach. They are a thin, protective coating made from plastic or other dental materials that are placed on the chewing surfaces of your child’s permanent back teeth.

Sealants on permanent molars have actually been shown to reduce the risk of cavities by a whopping 80%. It’s best to have them placed as soon as your child’s permanent molars come through the gums (usually at age 6 and again at age 12. “It doesn’t hurt to put on or apply a sealant,” Dr. Hayes said. “When permanent molars start coming in, parents should ask if sealants are recommended.” Most last for years, and your dentist will make sure they’re holding strong at each visit.

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