Too Soon? Dentists Fear Checkups for Babies
Young children may dread going to the dentist – kicking and screaming their way into the chair – but in actuality, the roles are sometimes reversed. Many dentists are less than thrilled, for several reasons, about taking a drill to a tiny mouth. Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend bringing babies for their first dental exam when they get their first tooth – but no later than their first birthday – to get a head start on preventing cavities and tooth decay. The “toothsayers” are the AAPD and the American Academy of Pediatrics, who called for earlier dental visits because of baby-bottle tooth decay. They claim that cavity-causing bacteria can live in babies’ bottles, especially if they’re drinking sugary fruit juice. Babies began getting a disease known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC). One solution comes from public health agencies in San Francisco and Alameda Counties, where they’re launching training seminars to help dentists treat babies. Over the next three years, about 70 dentists will learn sensitivity and social skills to get better cooperation from their infant patients, while guiding parents on how to help guard them against tooth decay. “Communicating directly with children during dental exams can help reduce their stress,” Ray Stewart, a pediatric dental professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), told CNN.
Stewart calms his anxious pediatric patients by involving them in his exam and sometimes even entertaining them. At a recent visit to UCSF’s Pediatric Dentistry Faculty Clinic, he handed an 18-month-old the dental mirror and asked him to show him where his mouth was, and then blew up a blue exam glove into a balloon. The first dentist-treating-babies training session, funded by grants from Medi-Cal, is scheduled for early November in Alameda County. San Francisco will begin its training in January of 2018. Another reason dentists frown upon exams of very young children is the almighty dollar. “Reimbursements are below actual costs for many procedures,” according to Alicia Malaby, the spokeswoman for the California Dental Association.
Ironically, tobacco, which has been known to lead to poor oral health, has been flagged to help very young children of low-income families get the dental care they need. A portion of the revenue from California’s new tobacco tax will be earmarked to give dentists a 40 percent increase on top of the standard reimbursement for services to Denti-Cal patients. The visit will include oral exams of children aged 3 and under, a fluoride varnish if needed, a talk with parents about prevention, and a demonstration of how to brush their baby’s teeth. Here’s what you and your child can expect on your first dental visit.