By Shurna Decou
Dentists face an uphill battle in educating new and expecting parents in two key areas in a child’s oral hygiene. Namely, the best age for the first dental visit and brushing with fluoride toothpaste.
“I can’t tell you how many times a parent has come in with a three or four-year-old child with deep cavities, and the child is in pain,” said Dr. James Di Marino, Unum Dental Director. “But at this point, it’s gone well beyond prevention and into damage control. And when I talk to the parents about it, they say they were just going by how they were raised—that baby teeth don’t matter because they are just going to fall out, and infant-toddlers are too young to brush with a fluoride toothpaste.”
The ideal time for dentists to educate parents would be during their regular dental visit. But in the day-to-day reality of running a practice, some dentists may not find out about a new baby in the family. This is where the all-important conversation about good baby oral hygiene could easily fall through the cracks.
ADA oral health guidelines for educating new parents on baby brushing
Five years ago, the American Dental Academy published its new oral care guidelines for children ages 0-6. But today a significant part of the population is still following outdated information. According to a recent poll by Unum Dental and Vision Insurance, 56 percent of parents believe a child should visit the dentist after age 2, a stark contrast to dental and pediatric association guidelines for when the baby’s first tooth emerges or by age 1.
Moreover, many parents aren’t aware of the current guidelines about brushing with fluoride toothpaste—from the first tooth until age 3, a child should be using a smear of toothpaste, and from 3-6 using a pea-size amount.
“Many advertisements show a nurdle, which is this large wave of toothpaste displayed on a brush,” Dr. Di Marino said. “But this is far too much fluoride toothpaste for young children and could cause fluorosis in their permanent teeth.”
Why some new parents fall through the cracks
There are a range of reasons why dentists may not find out about a patients’ new baby.
“For the dentist, the new parent may have a root canal or cavity that needs to be taken care of, so that’s where the focus goes. And, unfortunately, because there is no reimbursement in spending extra time educating patients, sometimes these conversations go by the wayside in a busy practice,“ Dr. Di Marino said.
Solution: Flyer aimed at new parents
One easy solution is placing a flyer on the current guidelines for young children in the waiting room where parents can find it, prompting conversations with the dentist. Grandparents, relatives and other loved ones may also spot the flyer and share it with the new parents in their lives.
Solution: Community outreach
Where feasible, Dr. Brynn Leroux of Associates in Pediatric Dentistry in southeast Louisiana, suggests reaching out through community education. This includes providing information about infant oral health care in packets for new babies, breastfeeding and newborn classes at women’s hospitals and birthing centers. Dental professionals participating in community events and promoting infant oral healthcare on social media are other influential ways to increase awareness on the establishment of a dental home by age 1.
Solution: Connecting with pediatricians
Also, connecting with pediatricians such as hosting lunch-and-learns, sending new patient reports and other health professional interactions can be effective in reminding them about including the most recent infant oral health guidelines, as part of a routine visit with the new parent.
“New parents feel overwhelmed and pediatricians have so much they have to cover with parents at a well-child visit. Dental health is just one tiny part of their exam and overall recommendations for the child,” says Dr. Leroux. “Many general and family dentists are either not aware of or feel uncomfortable implementing the age 1 dental visit. So it has to start at the top with all dental professionals and pediatricians being on the same page to get the word out to new parents.”
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