Got Teeth? Get checked!
This is the adage followed at Open Door Family Medical Center when it comes to a child’s first visit to the dentist.
“If you see a tooth, it’s time to bring your child to the dentist,” said Dr. Ben Geisler, site director for Open Door’s dental services in Ossining. “The American Dental Association recommends children have their first dental visit by their first birthday. That first visit establishes the child’s dental home and is the first step in affirming comfort in a dental setting.”
Visits usually last under five minutes and typically include a cleaning of the teeth, a fluoride application and a quick discussion with the parent. Dr. Geisler and his team will make immediate, same day appointments for young children because of the importance they place on these early visits. Future visits are then scheduled every three months until the age of six, when insurance covers a visit every six months.
Multiple studies have shown that fluoride – which exists in the drinking water of some towns – reduces cavities significantly. Fluoride attacks the bacteria itself, restores enamel and inhibits active decay.
“A lot of one-year-olds cry during their visit, but a crying one-year-old is much preferred to a crying three-year-old who in their first visit is found to have cavities and requires restorations or extractions,” said Dr. Geisler.
Despite the fact that children will eventually lose their teeth, to be replaced by adult teeth, oral problems in young children have far-reaching implications, according to Dr. Geisler. “Caries (cavities) can cause pain and dental abscesses, which in turn cause mental anguish and school time missed,” he said. “Caries affect our smile, how we eat and how we communicate. Most importantly, the best predictor of caries risk in permanent teeth is a history of caries in baby teeth.”
Unfortunately, getting children in for these early visits is not always easy. Dr. Geisler said that he and his colleagues are fortunate to work in a comprehensive health center that offers care in multiple disciplines. As such, early dental visits are encouraged by Open Door’s pediatricians.
The state Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, however, finds that less than half of New York children (0 to 18 years old) annually receive dental care and more than 90 percent of Medicaid-eligible children in the state under the age of three have not received dental care in the last year.
Mobile Dental Van
To support the needs of young children getting early dental care, Dr. Geisler and his team go to where the children are – via the Open Door Dental mobile van that visits the Park and Brookside schools in Ossining several times weekly. As many as 20 four-and five-year-olds at the Park School, for example, can be seen by the dentist each day in the van. The mobile unit, which has two exam chairs, offers an inviting setting – walls decorated in a child-friendly manner, a television set on the ceiling for easy viewing while sitting in a reclining chair – and allows the dental team to dispense fluoride vitamins, take x-rays, and/or prep the young patients for cleanings.
“Pretty much anything that is done in the office can be done for children in the van,” said Dr. Geisler. “With the mobile van, they miss 20 minutes of school instead of half a day, and their parents don’t miss work. The kids also tend to be better patients when they are with friends, rather than their parents.”
Prevention at Home
Dental care, according to Dr. Geisler, starts at home. He offers parents of young children these tips:
- Wipe the child’s gums and teeth after they drink milk.
- Only give children water – not milk or juice – between meals.
- Get them used to brushing when they are young – even if the toothbrush is primarily used as a chew toy.
- Show them how to brush and start using a drop of toothpaste with fluoride at 18 months of age.
Those early visits to the dentist are key.
“If I see your children as soon as they have teeth and you continue with regular visits, they will never have cavities or if they do they will be easy to fix,” said Dr. Geisler. “Even if your child is destined to get cavities, I’m seeing them early enough to treat them in a less invasive way by doing a small filling rather than an extraction.”