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Tooth Talk: How To Get Kids To Brush, Floss, Rinse and More

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To her patients, she’s Dr. Annie, pediatric dentist and owner of Kidsteeth in Swarthmore. To her kids, Dr. Annie is Mom, but they know that dental home hygiene is a priority. “My kids won’t go to bed without brushing their teeth,” Dr. Annie says. “My older son will actually remind us that he needs to brush. I love it.”

Dental decay is the number one disease of childhood, topping asthma and other illness. But many parents struggle with getting their kids to brush, floss and rinse. How did Dr. Annie and her husband Anthony get their young sons to be diligent with their dental care? “Brushing twice a day happens every day no matter what,” she explains. “Make it a habit when they are kids so it’s part of their routine as adults.”

Want more tips on dental care for kids? Here’s Dr. Annie’s best advice.

Q: What dental care routine should kids do at home?
Dr. Annie: Brush twice a day, floss and rinse with a fluoride protectant before bed. They may need parents’ help flossing, but teach them how to brush and rinse on their own. Make sure the brushing is for two whole minutes. I tell my kids to sing a whole song in their heads while they brush. When the song is done, so is the brushing.

Q: What toothbrush is best for kids?
Dr. Annie: Oral-B electric toothbrushes fit well in kids’ mouths and have timers. Philips Sonicare also has good brushes. And have fun with it. Let kids pick their favorite colors and designs so they feel like the toothbrush is theirs.

Q: What toothpaste and fluoride rinse are best for kids?
Dr. Annie: We use Oral-B. But the most important thing is for kids to like the flavors. Some of my patients prefer watermelon or bubblegum. My older son likes minty breeze flavor, but my younger son says it’s too spicy. Find flavors they like best so kids want to use the toothpaste and rinse.

Q: Any advice for parents on coping with kids’ anxiety about dental office visits?
Dr. Annie: At Kidsteeth, we make it a positive experience. We do a lot of talking with our patients to create trusting relationships. We educate kids about their teeth so they understand what we’re doing and why. Also, our office is pretty great. Each patient has a private room with its own chair, plus one chair for a parent or caregiver. We have eight individual rooms – and two rooms with two dental chairs so siblings can be treated together at the same time. We put monitors on the ceilings over the chairs so kids can watch TV during their visit. We have Netflix, so kids can choose what they want to watch.

Q: What COVID-19 safety protocols did you institute?
Dr. Annie: While COVID-19 is serious, dentists have a lot of experience dealing with respiratory viruses. We wear N95 masks, face shields, gloves, protective gowns and everything that OSHA recommends. We do a pre-appointment screening over the phone. Patients come with only one caregiver and without any siblings. When they arrive, they call us from their car. Then, they enter the office and sit for only a few moments in the waiting room. After temperature screenings, we take them to the private rooms. When the appointment is finished, kids get a token to use in our toy vending machine. All of the toys are individually wrapped so kids get a clean toy to take home. We think it’s important that they still get a prize, even with COVID-19.

Q: What kinds of fillings do you use?
Dr. Annie: We have different options and use the material that’s best for each kid, and each cavity. Resin – the white, tooth-colored fillings – works for small to mid-size cavities that need to withstand moderate pressure. Amalgam – the silver fillings – often works better for areas where moisture control is an issue. We also have sodium diamine fluoride, a paint-on agent we can use if kids can’t get fillings done. It can’t be used in every instance, but it can prevent cavities from progressing.

Q: What kind of anesthesia do you use?
Dr. Annie:We have several options, including general anesthesia performed in a hospital setting, nitrous oxide analgesia, better known as laughing gas, which we can administer in the office, and local anesthetic agents. What we use depends on the patient and procedure, and we review all of the information with parents.  All anesthetics are given directly by the dentist.

Q: Do you treat serious dental conditions that require surgery?
Dr. Annie: Yes. We have privileges at a local hospital and perform dental procedures in the operating room. Whatever our patients need, we provide.


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