Just the thought of visiting a dentist is enough to send shivers up my spine. Memories of the drill in my tooth and the painful injections in the gums will inevitably fill my mind. I am determined to ensure that my two-year-old daughter never experience that in her childhood.
So from the day she was born, Hubby and I have used a clean washcloth to wipe her gums. We switched to a soft toothbrush when her teeth started erupting all in an attempt to keep tooth decay at bay.
Dr Catherine Hong, Consultant, Discipline of Orthodontics and Paediatric Dentistry, National University Hospital (NUH), says, “Decay in the baby teeth of young children and toddlers if untreated, will progressively get bigger and may cause pain before the baby teeth are due to fall out. If this is not taken care of, some children may develop facial swelling from the bad tooth requiring immediate medical/ dental attention (for example, hospitalisation requiring administration of antibiotics through the veins and dental surgery to remove the bad tooth and pus).”
Now at two and a half years old, it was time for Caitlyn’s second visit to the dentist. While it may seem a little early to take her to the dentist, we are actually late starters. According to the NUH Dental Centre, parents should take their child to see a dentist when the teeth first erupt. This can happen anytime between 3 months to a year old. While it is unlikely that dental treatment will be carried out during this first visit, the check-up will help acclimatise the child to regular dental visits and also for the parents to pick up tips on proper oral hygiene.
We arrived for our appointment at the NUH Dental Centre bright and early on a Wednesday morning. We barely had time to make ourselves comfortable in the waiting room when a nurse arrived to escort us to the treatment room. I was grateful for that as it meant Caitlyn was still full of enthusiasm for the visit. Two-year-olds are not exactly known for their patience!
Dentist Dr Tang KS and Dental Surgery Assistant Eileen Ong greeted us cheerfully while Caitlyn held on to my hand and clutched a “The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist” DVD in her other hand. We had borrowed the DVD from the library as part of preparations for the visit. She had been so fascinated by the show it was practically on repeat the whole week.
Dr Tang and Nurse Ong proceeded to chat with Caitlyn who had became a little apprehensive at the sight of the dentist chair which took up a good part of the room. As it was Caitlyn’s second visit, it was time for her to tryout the chair. She had seen the chair previously on her first visit but never gone near it, much less sit in it! Dr Tang and Nurse Ong kept up a light-hearted conversation with Caitlyn and managed to get her to agree to sit on my lap with me in the dentist chair.
The little girl was initially a little tense and sat up ramrod straight. They gave her a pair of kiddy sunglasses and also a mirror with colourful stickers stuck around the edges. That distracted Caitlyn and she was soon playing with the sunglasses and talking about the stickers. It was a big turning point as up until now, she had been quiet as a mouse, just quietly taking it all in.
Dr Tang slowly coaxed Caitlyn to open her mouth and was able to count the number of teeth she has so far. She proceeded to introduce Caitlyn to an electric polishing tool. She allowed Caitlyn to feel the soft tip and showed how it worked on Caitlyn’s fingernail. Amazingly, the little girl allowed Dr Tang to polish a few of her teeth. She even managed to rinse and spit in the little sink.
While checking Caitlyn’s teeth, Dr Tang pointed out some issues, which might crop up when her adult teeth come in. Caitlyn might need braces, as her baby teeth are crowded together.
Dr Hong explains, “Baby teeth are important for eating, speech development and aesthetics. They also help to maintain the space for the permanent teeth to erupt into the oral cavity.” So if Caitlyn’s teeth are crooked now, chances are the adult teeth will be too. This is because children have 20 teeth and adults, 32.
On the bright side, Caitlyn does not have any cavities. Upon hearing that, I gave a silent thanks to Elmo. It was because of the furry, red monster and his “Brushy Brush Your Teeth” music video, that helped Caitlyn developed a habit of brushing her teeth. Dr Tang also recommended we switch to a low fluoride toothpaste now that most of her teeth have made an appearance. For being so cooperative, Dr Tang rewarded Caitlyn with her choice of stickers.
By all accounts, Caitlyn’s visit was a success and till today whenever she watches a Berenstain Bears video she will mention how she visited the dentist like the Bears and that she has “shiny teeth”!
Here are some tips from the Health Promotion Board on Keeping Your Child’s Teeth Healthy:
- For babies, take a clean washcloth and gently wipe your child’s gums after every feed. This will remove any bacteria-containing plaque and excess sugar that may have built up.
- As soon as the first tooth erupts, you can begin to brush the baby’s tooth. It is not necessary to use toothpaste at this age.
- Once all the baby teeth have erupted (usually by age two) and the child is able to spit, use a pea-sized amount of children low-fluoride toothpaste.
- Do not allow your child to fall asleep with a milk bottle or any other sweetened beverage like juice.
- Do not give your baby a pacifier dipped in honey or any sweet substance.
- Limit sweet snacks and drinks.
- Make sure your child brushes his teeth and gums at least twice a day.
- Arrange regular dental check ups for your child. You may start as early as your child’s first birthday.