Brushing Up On Oral Heathcare

By Chris Yamada, DDS
Interviewed by Melissa Moniz
Wednesday - February 24, 2010
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Chris Yamada, DDS

February is National Children’s Dental Health month, which was declared more than 60 years ago to raise awareness about the importance of good oral health habits in children. Could you talk about how pediatric dentistry has evolved over the years?

I think the best thing happening right now is the increase in awareness and education about the importance of children’s oral healthcare. Overall, parents are being educated a lot more about the importance of taking care of their children’s teeth starting from a very early age. In Hawaii, a lot of credit for advancement in dental education and awareness has to go to Hawaii Dental Association’s Dental Samaritans. Dr. Russ Masunaga and his operations director Kim Koga worked with City Councilman Todd Apo this month to organize “Give Kids a Smile Day,” where groups of Hawaii dentists closed their offices and volunteered their time to provide screenings and education at different schools on Oahu.

Can you discuss mouth care for infants and why that’s important?

The moment a tooth erupts into a baby’s mouth, it’s susceptible to tooth decay. If the correct precautions aren’t taken regarding diet and oral healthcare, children can have widespread, extensive tooth decay before they even reach their second birthday.

Is that what’s called baby bottle tooth decay?

Exactly. And Hawaii’s rate of baby bottle tooth decay is three times higher than the national average. The biggest risk factor is letting your baby fall asleep nursing or fall asleep with a bottle of milk or juice. As much as possible, your baby’s teeth should be brushed, or at least wiped with a clean washcloth before bedtime.

Chris Yamada and his brother Kevin are all smiles as their patients show them how well they brush their teeth

Are there reasons why the Hawaii rate is so high?

They’ve done studies on it, and one of the many reasons is that our water isn’t fluoridated. But a lot of it is education as well. Parents just need to know how to take care of their children’s teeth and when to take them to the dentist. So with increased education, the rate of children’s tooth decay will decrease.

What age should a parent bring their child in for his/her first checkup?

It’s very, very important to see a dentist early to learn how to take care of your child’s teeth. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry’s recommendation is six months after the eruption of the first tooth, but no later than 1 year old. So generally speaking, when your baby has their first birthday, it’s a good time to start thinking about seeing a dentist. The first visit is pretty low key. It’s mostly just a chance for you to get to know your dentist and ask any questions you may have.

Can you discuss why caring for a child’s baby teeth is so important, even though they will eventually fall out?

What a lot of people don’t realize is that children can have some of their baby teeth until they’re 11 or 12 years old. Also, baby teeth are very important in terms of nutrition, aesthetics, speech and proper development of the face. Decay and/or early loss of baby teeth can definitely affect the health, alignment and spacing (think braces) of the permanent teeth.

When a child’s permanent teeth grow in, why are they jagged?

The “jagged edges” are due to structures called mamelons, which make up the normal initial appearance of the front teeth. Eventually, as children grow older and chew with their teeth, the mamelons will grind down and the edges will smooth themselves out. We do have parents come in asking about that a lot, though.

Can you discuss how mouth care affects a child’s overall health?

If your child’s teeth aren’t healthy (they have work that needs to be done or are in pain) they can miss days of school, and it can affect their overall health and demeanor. Bacteria from tooth decay can even progress into sections of the jaw and mouth. And if they have poor oral health as a child, it can affect the oral health of their adult teeth.

If parents have any questions, they can give us a call at our office (791-1907), and we can try our best to help them over the phone.


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