Today I’m excited to talk with my friend Dr. Lindsay Essenmacher about caring for my kiddos’ teeth.
I met Lindsay when we were both pre-dental students at UNM. Lindsay later moved to San Francisco to attend University of the Pacific and earn her DDS. A few years later I moved out to the San Francisco Area (not for dental school though). Apparently I like following Lindsay around, since after completing her DDS, she moved back to Albuquerque to attend the Advanced General Dentistry Residency at UNM… and now I’m back in Albuquerque too! Lindsay currently owns her own practice here in Albuquerque, Essenmacher Family Dental.
R: I know you are both a mom and a general dentist. Do you think wearing both of those hats changes either the way you care for your children’s teeth, or the way you treat children in your dental practice?
L: Definitely! Because I have young children, I know firsthand the struggles that parents go through to care for their children’s teeth. I know how difficult it is to limit snacks and juice, to wrestle a two-year-old to brush his teeth, or to endure the pains of teething babies. I also know what techniques have or haven’t worked for my kids, so I am able to share those experiences with my patients.
R: What are your thoughts regarding whether kids should see a special pediatric dentist or their family’s general dentist?
L: I think it is a very personal decision that needs to be made based on the preferences of the parents and the personality of the child. If your child is relatively cooperative in the dental chair and needs minimal dental work, then taking them to your family’s general dentist may be a great choice. If you would like to gauge your dentist’s skill level with kids, here are some questions you could ask:
- What age do you see kids? (If your dentist says they won’t see children under 5, they probably aren’t a very kid-oriented office.)
- What percentage of your patients are children?
- Do you perform all pediatric procedures in the office, or do you refer some things out?
If you decide you’d rather take your children to a pediatric dentist, I would recommend getting referrals from your general dentist and other parents that can share their experiences and help you make the right decision. In general, the biggest advantages of pediatric offices are the kid-friendly environments, and the creative techniques used to help kids get through their appointment.
R: How do you recommend caring for children’s teeth at home? Fluoride toothpaste, or training toothpaste? When is it important to start flossing?
L: The ADA recently revised their recommendation regarding fluoridated toothpaste for young children. The new 2014 guidelines recommend using a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste as soon as the teeth erupt. I follow this guideline for my own children, although it’s important to remember to store the fluoride toothpaste out of reach of young children! In terms of flossing, I begin introducing it as part of the routine as soon as the child has several teeth touching, usually around a year. We start with the small handheld flossers, since it is nearly impossible to fit an adult’s hands inside a tiny mouth. I begin to pay particular attention to flossing once all the baby teeth have come in, because I want to make sure I remove the food that gets stuck between the back teeth.
R: Especially in the early toddler stage, my children have never been very compliant when it comes to tooth brushing and I’ve been known to strong arm a screaming child to get their teeth brushed (and admittedly it’s actually pretty easy to brush when they’re screaming, since they’re mouths are wide open!). Do you have any tips on how to peacefully get the job done?
L: I talk to parents about this quite frequently, as it is a very common frustration! There are two important points to make here. First, even if your little one hates it, we want our kids to learn at a young age that cleaning our teeth is important and needs to get done, and they aren’t going to get out of it. Secondly, we should do our best as parents to make it a fun and positive experience. We need to avoid negativity around it by saying things like “if you don’t brush, you’ll have to go to the dentist and get your teeth drilled!” One suggestion is to give them something they only get to play with during tooth brushing. If a cell phone is that special item, play a short video that can distract them while you’re cleaning their teeth. At our house, we sing a silly version of the ABCs. Another great tip is to satisfy their need for autonomy by letting them be involved in picking out their own toothbrush and toothpaste flavor, or letting them rinse the brush with water when you’re done!