Back-to-School Dental Homework
By Bill Kuttler, DDS
August 31, 2015

As I write this article, a new school year is just getting underway. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have been telling me (ever since the 4th of July actually) that the summer is over. I always chuckle at that since for me summer usually lasts well into September, if not October, in terms of beautiful weather, etc. But then I must admit, I don’t have to factor in the back-to-school rush of shopping for school supplies and getting kids ready for those first days back in the classrooms.

To add one more thing to that “to do” list, I want to add getting your children to the dentist. In my experience that is often not the first thing that occurs to parents as they go down their check list. And it isn’t that I think “back to school check-ups” are a big deal–I don’t. What I think is a REALLY big deal is having your children seen regularly by the same dentist. And by regularly, I mean at least once per year and for most children twice a year (and there are some children who would benefit greatly from being seen even more often than that!)

There are two points I’d like to emphasize and explain from that previous paragraph. First, why do I stress the “same” dentist? And second, why do I feel strongly about the frequency of visits?

I believe in prevention. My greatest joy is seeing kids that I’ve watched grow up graduate from high school, and then perhaps college, and never have a cavity. And it doesn’t usually happen by accident. But it can, and often does, happen. In my experience it happens because the children’s parents are committed to good dental health and the dental personnel (dentist, hygienist, dental assistants) get to know the children, learn how to best work with them and motivate them, and serve as their “cheering squad”. In other words they form relationships with those children. And like most of us, children respond positively to that. Beyond what I believe is a HUGE aspect (i.e., building relationships), having the same dentist monitor growth and development and evaluate changes in tooth structure also provides a huge benefit for everyone.

I am often amazed when people transfer their care to a new dentist when that new dentist doesn’t want previous x-ray films. That history contained in those films is something I evaluate every time I see a patient. It helps me determine how often I need to take new films (potentially saving someone money and certainly x-ray exposure) and, even more importantly I believe, whether or not any dental disease present is active, progressing, or simply “old news”. We have patients in our practice that have had “beginning” decay on teeth for ten or more years. If it isn’t progressing, it almost always is “arrested”. That’s a term that dentists use to mean it has stopped and usually once that happens, it doesn’t ever progress. So people with arrested decay don’t need fillings, but without that history, those areas often look suspicious, and we dentists are trained to treat suspicious areas. So that’s another really important aspect of having a dental “home” where, if I can use the line from the TV show “Cheers”, “everyone knows your name” (and your mouth!)

Frequency of dental visits has been a subject of debate both within and outside of dentistry for many years. And the importance of “frequent” visits varies from child to child. Without getting into issues that pertain more to adults, for children the issues relate to susceptibility to decay (that is, do they get lots of cavities), growth and development, and helping them develop healthy dental homecare habits.

With children that have lots of decay, we want to be working with their parents as well as them, and we utilize a variety of strategies to help reduce and ultimately eliminate the number of problems (cavities). While we don’t always succeed, we improve things more often than not. The concerns about growth and development are somewhat more subtle but often have a large impact over the years. By watching how things change in your child’s mouth, we can suggest strategies to minimize problems and time referrals for braces, etc. when it is necessary. Sometimes timing is truly everything!

So what I’m suggesting here is that you use this time to schedule dental appointments for your children with us. We want to develop a long-term relationship with both you and your children, and we want you to feel good about asking us questions about your children’s mouths. We like kids and want to help them… and we hope they like us as well! And if that visit doesn’t happen until mid-September, that will still be OK. Then we can find out how your children like their new teachers!

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