The WCHD dental clinic starts seeing children at 6 months of age or whenever the first teeth start coming in. Pregnant patients are told about the risk assessment program to let parents prepare before the baby arrives.
Van Story said good oral health starts by keeping a child on a schedule of seeing the dentist every six months. This helps, she said, to get the child in practice of going to the dentist while still young.
And in times where every penny is pinched, Van Story said cost shouldn't keep parents away. The clinic's services are based on a sliding scale.
If mom or dad has a fear of dentists, Van Story said that can affect how children feel about dentists.
"Leave all your fears at home, because if you have a fearful parent, you have a fearful child," she said. "Children are like sponges. They come into the world pure and they take in anything we put on them."
At the WCHD dental clinic, parents aren't allowed to accompany their children back to the dentists or dental hygienists, because Van Story said the children often are responding to the parent's reactions, not his or her actual experience.
Good oral health, Van Story said, can help children throughout his or her life. Not properly maintaining good teeth can lead to such things as poor nutrition, periodontal disease and even heart disease. In mothers, it can lead to low-birth weight babies and miscarriages.
"Doing nothing can just perpetuate the problems," she said.
When looking for mouthwash, Dr. Patricia Van Story said to be careful. Many mouthwashes contain alcohol. She doesn't think mouthwash is necessary for children. She suggests fluoride rinses for those who have a high decay index. New fluoride rinses show the child the plaque left on teeth after brushing by tinting the plaque blue. This can be helpful to train your child to brush better.
It doesn't matter if your brush is hard or soft, Van Story said, it's about the actual mechanics of brushing. She said you don't need a hard toothbrush. For younger children there are stage toothbrushes that help kids get used to having a toothbrush in his or her mouth. By the time a child can write his or her name, or about 6 or 7, then he or she has the motor skills to control a toothbrush, she said. But Van Story said for young babies, a toothbrush isn't even needed. A parent can use a soft cloth and gently wipe the baby's teeth. Brushing should take about 2 minutes or how long it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice.
For young children, the dental hygienist can show them how to floss with special flossers to help them with their small fingers. Van Story said the trick to flossing is how to do it. "You're not sawing it back and forth like you're cutting meat or bread," she said. Instead, glide the floss up and down between spaces.
Children, especially, should not use a lot of toothpaste. Because kids like the taste of the toothpaste, it's also important to limit the amount you give them. Van Story said the benefit of toothpaste is fluoride, but swallowing fluoride is not good. So don't give kids too much toothpaste, because most kids will swallow it. She said for ages 3 and younger, there should only be a thin smear of toothpaste on the brush. "You should just see a tint of the toothpaste on the brush," she said. By 3 or 4, Van Story said children should only have a pea-sized drop of toothpaste. Look for ones that contain fluoride. Crest Pro-Health and Colgate Total, Van Story's personal favorite, are two good choices because of the advancements science has made in fighting plaque, cavity and gingivitis prevention. "Toothpastes are more sophisticated today than just flavorings and just fluoride," she said.