Little teeth, big ideas: Dental clinic offering new service to at-risk children

Little teeth, big ideas: Dental clinic offering new service to at-risk children

Staff Sgt. Abigale Barnes, 412th Medical Group dental assistant (center), trains Maj. Jacob Sheff, 412th MDG Pediatrics Flight commander, and Capt. Kara Garcia, 412th MDG pediatrician, on how to apply fluoride varnish. (Courtesy photo)


Cavities are the most common form of chronic dental disease in children. Cavity progression has many undesired outcomes such as pain, difficulty concentrating in school, and if left untreated, can result in a localized and/or systemic infection. According to the Center for Disease Control, 20 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 11 have a cavity that goes untreated. 


A common misconception is that it is okay to have dental decay on primary baby teeth because they will fall out anyway. Such logic is flawed because primary teeth set the stage for permanent/adult teeth.  Healthy primary teeth are the best space maintainers within the dental arch. Premature loss of primary teeth may cause crowding and increases the potential need for future orthodontic treatment such as braces. Additionally, unhealthy primary teeth may lead to the transfer of cavity-producing bacteria to other healthy teeth, including permanent teeth.


Here’s a few tips on how to prevent dental decay.


First, it is very important to take children in for routine dental visits. The benchmark for the first dental visit is any time after the first tooth erupts to the age of one. The goal of early intervention is to build a rapport with the dentist. If an oral health problem prompts the first visit to the dentist, a child is more likely to view the dental experience negatively. Going to the dentist can be a fun experience and less scary for a child if they go early and go routinely.


Second, home care is paramount in the prevention of dental cavities. Proper brushing and flossing techniques make a significant difference in the removal of bacteria that cause decay. Hard to reach areas are often missed by children; it is important for parents to assist children with oral hygiene until age 10 — sooner if the child demonstrates proficiency.


Third, maintaining a heathy diet also plays a critical role in reducing cavities. Avoid excessive intake of sugary foods or beverages and reduce the frequency of snacking. A diet rich in vegetables and fruits will make it a lot more difficult for bacteria to thrive in the oral cavity.      


Last, fluoride plays a key role in cavity prevention due to its ability to strengthen enamel, the outer surface of teeth.  Fluoridated toothpaste is recommended for children.  For children under 3, brush with a smear of fluoridated toothpaste, which is the size of a grain of rice. For ages 3-6 use a pea-sized amount of fluoridated toothpaste. Additionally, for kids 6 and older, a fluoridated mouth rinse may be considered when the child is able to rinse and spit. 


Due to a lack of fluoridated water on base and in the surrounding community, the 412th MDG saw the need for an innovative new service. The 412th MDG Dental and Pediatric Clinics teamed up to offer a new service — the Pediatric Clinic is now offering fluoride varnish applications to at-risk patients ages 6 and below during exams. This varnish application does not replace the need for annual exams and cleanings, but is a beneficial adjunct to dental care. 


Following these simple aforementioned steps will lead to happier, healthier smiles, less dental visits and stronger teeth. Remember that dental care is not expensive, but dental neglect is. If you have any questions, or need to make an appointment for your child please visit www.tricare.com. If you have any questions about new fluoride varnish services, please contact the Edwards AFB Pediatric Clinic at 661-277-7118.


Contributors to this article are Capt. Pang Ko, 412th MDG general dentist, Tech. Sgt Terina Parham, 412th MDG registered dental hygienist, and  Maj. Tonya Barry, 412th MDG Dental Flight commander.

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