WINNSBORO — Up and down and side to side. Front to back, now open wide. Rhymes like these might be used to help a young child, from infancy to develop healthy tooth brushing habits.
In February, National Children’s Dental Health Month, Winnsboro Dr. Reid Patrick Warren took time to celebrate the month with Winnsboro Mayor Dr. Roger Gaddy and to share her perspective as a new mother and as a dentist.
She and her husband started early teaching their toddler, Avery, about dental hygiene, starting in infancy before she got her first teeth. Using a soft wash cloth or gauze on their fingers, they gently wiped her gums clean twice a day. Now that she has a few new teeth poking through, they have graduated to a toothbrush and water.
For Warren, she is doing parenting like her parents did for her.
“My parents taught me good hygiene and good oral hygiene from an early age,” Warren said. “It is a simple thing but it is so important. If children do not learn how to care for baby teeth, then they will not know how to care for their adult teeth.”
Warren said that is is important to take children to visit the dentist before teeth problems occur.
“We want to be seen as someone who is there to help as a friend rather than being associated with a painful, traumatic event, such as a tooth problem,” she said.
She noted that a positive experience would help reinforce good health habits. As soon as a child’s teeth come in, parents should show the toddler how to brush the teeth using a toothbrush and water.
The American Dental Association does not recommend children use toothpaste until age 2 because prior to then they cannot spit out toothpaste properly. Reid said if parents wait until children are older that it can be harder to ingrain that toothbrushing and tooth flossing habit. Plus, as soon as a child gets teeth in his or her mouth, the child can develop cavities.
For older children, Warren has some advice, too, and it’s not the typical dentist mantra of avoiding sweets.
Rather, she said that sweets, including sodas and sugary sports drinks, should be consumed in one sitting rather than being available throughout the day. If, for instance, a child carries around a “sippy cup” with juice all day and sips on it, the bacteria in that child’s mouth are dosed with a steady sugar food source.
Warren said that is how cavities begin.
“Parents and caregivers need to be aware of the amount of snacks and when they are served,” she said. “Consuming those foods over a shorter time period is more ideal for oral health.”
Having a child sip on water throughout the day is OK and in fact, following sugary drinks with a glass of water if one cannot brush provides some help in the fight against tooth decay because that rinses some sugar out of the mouth.
Pediatric dental care extends to teenagers, too. Warren hopes to build the type of relationships with youngsters that will lead them to a life of taking care of their teeth and gums. She noted that was the case for her because Winnsboro dentist Dr. Philip Wilkins was her dentist until she joined his practice.
Teens pose a challenge for practitioners, but appealing to their desire to have a pretty smile and have good breath can be a useful technique at times.
Once again, Warren stresses the need to start early to lay that foundation for good oral health.
“Teens think their teeth are invincible, just like the rest of their bodies,” she said.
Warren also said interactive material at the ADA website — www.mouthhealthy.org — can be good for reaching young children. There also is information there about fluoride use and about children making sure they use mouth protectors when they participate in organized sports, which not only helps protect teeth and gums but can lessen the risk of concussions in young athletes.
“The biggest thing that I cannot overemphasize is how helpful it is for children’s oral health for parents to try to bring children to the dentist before problems develop with teeth and/or gums,” she said.
Early trips to the dentist before problems occur can build a trusting doctor-patient relationship that leads to a healthy smile for years to come.