Dental problems are one of the biggest health issues facing kids in Los Angeles. Mouth pain from tooth decay is the number one reason L.A. kids miss school, and children with poor dental health end up with lower grades than kids with healthy smiles, according to research from the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.
Many of these serious problems can be avoided if parents start setting good dental habits for the whole family early, even before kids are born, says USC pediatric dentist Dr. Gardner Beale.
Pregnant women have a higher risk for certain dental problems including gingivitis, an infection that causes gums to swell and bleed. As soon as she finds out she's pregnant, a mom-to-be should visit a dentist for a checkup. If there is any dental surgery needed, such as having a tooth pulled, the dentist may delay it until after the first trimester if possible, since anesthesia may pose a risk to the unborn baby, Dr. Beale says.
Pregnant women, as well as their partners, should also have good dental hygiene at home, brushing and flossing their teeth at least twice a day after eating. This not only reduces the risk of dental problems for the mom-to-be but also helps maintain good habits after the baby comes, Dr. Beale says.
"When you kiss a baby or share eating utensils, you can transfer bacteria that causes tooth decay, so having good hygiene for yourself is important," he says.
Parents can start helping their kids have good dental habits right away, even before their teeth come in, Dr. Beale adds. Washing a baby's gums with a soft, wet washcloth or gauze helps them get used to cleaning their mouth after meals. Parents should begin brushing their child's teeth as soon as the first tooth erupts and should take their child to their first dental appointment sometime during the first year.
"Helping kids clean their mouths at home also helps them not be afraid to have a dentist look at their teeth," Dr. Beale says.
Kids having a "dental home" ÔÇô a clinic where they will go for regular dental checkups ÔÇô is important for preventing and treating tooth decay and other dental problems before they become serious and painful. Dentists and dental hygienists can not only teach good hygiene habits and clean teeth but also can give nutrition advice and provide protective fluoride treatment and tooth sealants.
Parents should have dental homes, good dental hygiene habits, and good nutrition as well, not just for their health but also because their growing kids will watch and eventually imitate them, Dr. Beale adds.
The Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC offers low-cost dental care to children and adults. To learn more, please visit dentistry.usc.edu/patient-care or call (213) 740-2805.