Pediatric Dental Exams: What to Expect?
Dental exams for children should be scheduled at least every six months. During the exams, a pediatric dentist or dental hygienist will clean your child’s teeth and take x-rays of their mouth. Then, after the teeth cleaning, they apply fluoride and/or sealants to protect their teeth from decay. For younger children, proper brushing and flossing techniques are also typically discussed.
As children get older, oral care needs change. Dental exams for older children and teenagers include the same services mentioned above. In addition, pediatric dentists usually discuss the oral health risks associated with tobacco and substance abuse.
Preventive Treatment Options for Children and Adolescents
Preventive dentistry focuses on preventing oral diseases and keeping the teeth strong throughout life. These treatments protect children from developing cavities, gum disease, and other oral health conditions.
During a dental exam, a pediatric dentist may use a combination of preventive treatments, including:
Professional Teeth Cleanings
Brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash regularly helps remove plaque buildup, but not all of the bacteria can be removed with a normal toothbrush. During in-office teeth cleanings, a pediatric dentist removes any plaque and tartar on the surfaces of teeth and between teeth.
Professional Fluoride Treatment
Fluoride is a naturally occurring mineral found in rocks and soil that helps prevent tooth decay and strengthens tooth enamel. Because of these decay fighting properties, small amounts of fluoride have been added to tap water, certain types of toothpaste, mouth rinses, and dental materials.
There are two types of professional fluoride treatments available today, including topical and systemic. The first is topical fluoride, which includes gels and varnishes that dental hygienists apply during teeth cleanings. Systemic fluoride, on the other hand, comes in a pill form and is usually prescribed to children who are fluoride-deficient.
Sealants are applied to newly erupted primary or permanent teeth to protect them against cavities. In essence, the thin-coating helps keep acid, bacteria, and food particles out of teeth surfaces. Treatment is painless and completed during one office visit.
Babies (6mo to 1yr)
Pediatric dental exams should begin within six months after a baby’s first tooth eruption, typically between 6 months and one year of age.
The earlier a baby starts visiting a dentist, the better their oral health will be in the long run. As babies reach childhood, they will have healthy oral care habits ingrained into their lifestyle and are less likely to develop gingivitis, deep cavities, and other oral health conditions. A pediatric dental exam for babies between 6 months and 1 year of age consists of:
- Baby bottle tooth decay examination - allowing a baby to drink from a bottle in bed has extreme oral health risks. Even if the liquid in the bottle is not high in sugar, consuming anything other than water in a bottle can cause decay. Milk is not high in sugar but does contain some sugar. It is the frequency of the sugar exposures, not the quantity of sugar consumed that causes decay. The cavity-causing bacteria can also spread to other baby teeth and increase the likelihood of permanent teeth getting cavities when they erupt into the mouth.
- Pacifier use and thumb-sucking habits - it is essential to eliminate pacifier use by 4 years of age. Never dip them in honey or other sugary liquids.
- Basic oral care practices - a pediatric dentist typically demonstrates proper oral care techniques, including how to wash the gums properly. They also discuss drinking and eating habits during the exams.
- Fluoride use - fluoride may help prevent early decay and prevent future decay. This is because the mineral can inhibit bacterial metabolism. It also inhibits the demineralization of enamel and promotes the remineralization of enamel. During dental exams, pediatric dentists assess how much fluoride a baby is getting through their diet.
Toddlers, Children, and Teens
Between 6 and 13 years of age, primary teeth fall out and permanent teeth begin to grow in. During this stage, it is essential for children to have established oral hygiene practices. They should also visit a dentist at least every six months for exams and routine teeth cleanings. A pediatric dental exam for children between 6 and 13 years of age consists of:
Oral Health Screenings & X-rays
Pediatric dentists use X-rays to aid in the diagnosis of disease or damage that is not visible during a normal dental exam. X-rays help catch oral conditions and diseases early, such as cavities and gum disease. They aren’t usually taken every six months unless a child has a high risk of disease.
If a child has a cavity, a pediatric dentist will set up another appointment to restore the tooth. Depending on the severity of the decay, restorative treatment options include amalgam fillings, composite fillings, and stainless steel crowns.
Pre-Orthodontic Treatment Recommendations
Once all permanent teeth grow in completely, orthodontic treatment may be needed if an adolescent has misaligned or crooked teeth. Treatment options include clear aligners, such as Invisalign, and braces.
There are many times when orthodontists will intervene before all permanent teeth erupt. General and/or pediatric dentists may recommend an orthodontic consultation by age 7—which is 5 to 7 years before all permanent teeth erupt.