Paving the way for those pearly whites
What happens when it's time for your child to head to the dentist and the sights and sounds overwhelm them before entering the office? Are there ways to calm, soothe, and pave the way for a successful dental visit at any age?
The answer is yes, according to Dr. Victoria Ursitti, an Arlington Heights-based board-certified pediatric dentist and owner of All About Kids Dentistry. "The earlier you begin, the better chance your child has to prevent problems. First tooth or first visit by the first birthday is the rule of thumb for parents wondering when to plan an initial dental visit for their child."
Her advice is on target, according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), which recommends establishing a dental home for your young child early.
The first visit
In addition to a thorough oral exam by gently checking gums and teeth for decay or other problems, Ursitti explains to parents that they should expect their child's initial dental visit to also include questions about their own medical and dental health history.
In addition to checking for decay and other dental problems, dental practitioners will help parents learn to properly clean their child's teeth daily and will evaluate supplemental fluoride needs to help ensure a lifetime of good dental hygiene. Your child's dentist may also clean, polish, apply topical fluoride, provide oral hygiene instructions and if needed, take X-rays to check for normal development and hidden decay.
They will perform a caries risk assessment, provide information about early childhood caries -- which can be due to inappropriate nursing habits or inappropriate use of sippy cups -- offer the latest facts about finger, thumb and pacifier habits, provide information on preventing injuries to the mouth and teeth and guidance on growth and development.
"Counseling," Ursitti says, "is a big part of the first visit. Getting an early start in regular dental care is an important step on the road to teaching your child healthy lifetime habits."
Later, she says, toddler wellness visits are all about preventing cavities and educating parents about good oral health. As children age, regular dental care not only helps prevent cavities, but helps ensure the health of those pearly whites.
Tips to pave the way to success
Ursitti says there are more things parents and dental professionals can do to help ensure successful dental visits for kids of all ages.
"We send parents an introductory package with brochures on visiting the dentist and recommend parents go online to visit our website for more information and to view our child-friendly videos to help their child visualize the visit," Ursitti says. Office visits are recommended for any child and especially for children with special needs.
"We encourage these visits because with years of training and continuing education on comprehensively caring for all children including those with physical, behavioral, emotional and medical challenges, pediatric dentists are a fantastic resource providing great care," she said.
Even the environment can affect how a child experiences a dental visit. Ursitti recently remodeled her office to achieve a more soothing neutral palette, with pops of color supplied by fun lighting.
"The open concept front office and reception area includes a chalkboard nook and Lego area, books, small seats, and popular TV viewing area where the 'Frozen' DVD seems to always be in use," she notes.
Fear, disruptions to normal routines, strange lights, noises, textures, and schedule changes can be particularly daunting for some children, according to Ursitti, who recommends preparing for the visit with videos from the AAPD, American Dental Association, the Ad Council's 2min2x.org website, Sesame Street and child-friendly books such as the long-time childhood favorite, "Berenstain Bears Visit The Dentist" by Stan and Jan Berenstain. She also incorporates the use of laminated story boards for children with special needs and puppets for school-age presentations.
"We've found small steps and the tell-show-do method works best when children are having difficulty getting through an appointment or when we're treating children who have difficulty with appointments because they may have special needs," says Ursitti, who has been caring for children's teeth for 20 years and has a 10-year-old son. "Lots of breaks, keeping appointment times shorter and moving the visit along, as well as helping children feel empowered by offering limited choices also helps. Sometimes it's the simple things like offering a choice between birthday cake and cookie dough flavored toothpaste which can lead to a successful visit."
Because oral health plays a major role in overall health, Ursitti says the focus on early preventive care, dental education, daily oral care, and regular, ongoing dental care is vital.
Special needs & special challenges
Tooth fairy emergencies, and even routine trips to the dentist can be traumatic for many, but for some it can be nearly impossible, according to Debbi Viger, a dental hygienist who sees clients in offices on the 56-acre Little City campus in Palatine.
"Due to medications, communication problems, sensory issues, and specific behavior traits, some children and even young adults with special needs including obsessive routines, grinding, clenching, self-injurious behaviors and unpredictable body movements, dental care can be extremely complicated and maintaining good oral health challenging."
Viger, who says many children with autism need consistency and can be especially sensitive to changes in their environment. Providing a stress-free experience, desensitization training and visual picture explanations often are the key to establishing trust and better transitions involving new sounds, lighting, and, textures and other unfamiliar dental office features.
"Historically, children with autism have greater difficulty accessing dental care due to sensitivity around the face and mouth which can make brushing and dental check-ups more challenging," says Viger, who advocates desensitization training to help young patients become more familiar with the dental office setting, staff and equipment.
"Patients should be encouraged to explore, sit in the dental chair and adjust at their own comfort level," she explains.
Viger also recommends parents check out "My Visit To The Dentist," a book produced by Little City directed toward helping children, especially those with special needs, understand dental care.
To improve access to specialized oral care for the entire community, Viger says, the Little City Foundation also teams with Aunt Martha's to offer additional on-site oral care/dental services with a focus on preventive care and treatment.
Lorri Lott, the Glen Ellyn mom of a 12-year-old son facing medical and visual impairment challenges, says a special dental clinic right at her child's outpatient pediatric rehabilitation center has been a blessing.
"Luke has cerebral palsy, is non-ambulatory and non-verbal, and his visual challenges mean new sounds and environments can be especially frightening," she states. "High tone and clenched muscles mean it is very difficult finding a dentist who can work with Luke for routine cleanings. The dentists providing dental clinic care at Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley have made dental cleanings and care possible and the difficult, do-able."
According to Judy Lytle, dental clinic coordinator at the Villa Park facility, Dr. Tom Wodniak, of Bloomingdale-based Associates for Family Dentistry Chicago, Ltd, gets the credit for providing creative and comprehensive on-site dental care free of charge for even the most challenging of the children receiving therapy services at Easter Seals locations in Villa Park, Naperville and Elgin.
"Offered twice a year, Dr. Wodniak brings his hygienist, a dental colleague, his dental chair, tools and backpack battery pack to offer free cleanings and exams," Lytle explains. "He'll meet the children at their level, often simply sitting on the floor to play and talk. His winning rapport, calm and gentle demeanor and friendly, inviting manner make him an easily approachable friend and someone the children grow to trust."
For InformationDr. Victoria A. Ursitti, D.M.D., is a board-certified pediatric dentist and owner of All About Kids Dentistry, 1845 E. Rand Road, Suite 208, Arlington Heights, IL 60004. PH: 847-870-0475.
Little City engages and supports individuals, families and communities to ensure that children and adults with autism and other intellectual and developmental disabilities can realize their unique potential to live safely, learn continuously, explore creatively and work productively throughout their lifetimes. For information visit online at www.littlecity.org.
Easter Seals DuPage and Fox Valley is one of the largest pediatric outpatient rehabilitation centers in the Midwest serving more than 3,200 infants, children, and young adults with developmental delays disabilities each year. In addition to providing traditional physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language therapy, services also include assistive technology, nutritional therapy, evaluations, audiology, family services, community outreach programs, specialty clinics, a child care center and a continuing education program for professionals. For information visit online at dfvr.easterseals.com.