Investing early in good dental care for children is an important part of lifelong general health. In honor of National Children’s Dental Health Month in February, Teresa Fong, clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, answers frequently asked questions about children’s oral health.
Q: What is the most important thing parents and families need to know about taking care of little teeth?
Dr. Fang: Although we eventually lose our baby teeth, they are still important for eating, speaking, shaping our face and jaw, saving space for permanent teeth or teeth, and most importantly, sharing the universal language of a smile! When children get their first teeth, it’s important to take good care of their teeth.
Q: When should children visit the dentist for the first time?
Dr. Fang: Try to visit the dentist when the first tooth appears in the mouth, or at least before the child’s first birthday. During the first visit, the child will have the opportunity to get to know the dentist in the presence of a caregiver. The dentist will ask questions, help guide caregivers on dental health habits, demonstrate oral health care at home, and provide tips and tricks for children who don’t brush their teeth. The dentist will also perform dental and oral examinations with the assistance of nursing staff. Best of all, the dentist will talk about what to look out for and answer any questions. Establishing a dental home early in a child’s life can help prevent future dental problems and ensure families have a dentist to call in the event of an emergency.
Q: How can families help their children practice and maintain good oral health?
Dr. Fang: Help children practice and maintain good dental hygiene by setting an example. They can use positive descriptions to let their children know that they are going to the dentist for a check-up and teeth cleaning. Reading age-appropriate books about visiting the dentist can also be helpful. Brightly is an online resource for children’s literature where you can find some great options.
Families can also create a brushing and flossing routine together before bed, which helps establish routines and create healthy habits that will last a lifetime.
Q: Families may face barriers when trying to obtain dental care for their children, particularly related to finances and/or insurance coverage. What advice do you have for families struggling to find care?
Dr. Fang: Families face many different financial situations when seeking dental care. The Minnesota Department of Health has state-funded resources available, and you can talk to your dentist to see if they offer payment plans or other options. People who purchase insurance through their employer can contact their human resources department to learn more about their insurance plans.
Dentists know there are barriers. This inspires events such as the American Dental Association’s annual Give a Child a Smile Day, which provides free dental care to children. A student-led event at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry will be held on Saturday, February 3, 2024. Provides free, one-day dental care including exams, x-rays, cleanings, fluoride varnish applications, sealants, fillings and extractions. Follow-up appointments are also available for children who require additional visits to complete treatment and are paid for by funds raised by our students throughout the year. Please contact the team at 612-625-3586 for more information about planning and making an appointment.
Q: How is your work at the School of Dentistry involved in improving dental care for children and their families?
Dr. Fang: The University of Michigan Children’s Dentistry Clinic provides a home for dental care for children from the time their first tooth erupts to age 15. Children can come to our clinic for regular checkups, cleanings, treatments and, if needed, specialist referrals. Our students and faculty provide individualized evaluations and care designed to help children and their families maintain optimal oral health and prevent dental problems.
Dr. Teresa L. Fong is a board-certified pediatric dentist. Dr. Fong was in private practice with Metropolitan Pediatric Dental Associates, Ltd. for over 30 years, during which time she taught part-time in the predoctoral pediatric dental clinic at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry. Dr. Fong retired from active private practice at the end of 2019 and currently serves as a clinical associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry where he helps coordinate predoctoral clinical rotations in pediatric dentistry. She also teaches part-time as a pediatric dental specialist in the HealthPartners AEGD program.