Open Wide: Advice from a Pediatric Dentist by Jean M. McLean

source: Forrest August

Pediatric dentists serve an important role in a child’s life, monitoring multiple long-term threats to a child’s oral health, says Jonathan D. Shenkin, DDS, pediatric dentist in Augusta, Maine. Shenkin is an American Dental Association spokesperson for pediatric care.

“One of the things we do is to monitor not just decay, but the growth and development of children.” If a dentist suspects an emerging jaw or tooth alignment problem, he or she might make an early referral to an orthodontist. Although a first grader might not need braces, an orthodontist can monitor and aid healthy jaw growth and provide room for emerging teeth.

Another dental concern is trauma to the mouth. Shenkin advises young athletes to wear mouth guards when participating in sports. But accidents can (and usually, will) happen. A broken or knocked-out permanent tooth should be treated as an emergency, says Shenkin. Place the tooth in milk (which has similar mineral components as saliva) and contact your dentist immediately. It’s possible that the tooth can be saved. “The life expectancy of a tooth diminishes if you see a dentist more than an hour after the event.”

An emergency or annual dental visit is made easier when parents and children have established a relationship with a trusted pediatric professional. Those relationships are built from an early age, as parents express confidence, treat visits as a happy routine, and refrain from passing on any of their own childhood fears. Pediatric dentists and their staff members know how to make children’s visits as fast and fun as possible.

If your child hasn’t been to the dentist or needs encouragement to care for his or her teeth, consult the American Dental Association’s Website. Its kids-oriented page includes videos, books, and games.

Jean M. McLean also wrote the article “Your Child and the Dentist” in the October 2012 issue of ParentLife (p. 41). 


OK. I (Jessie) have to confess my kids are almost 2 and 4 and they’ve not been to the dentist yet. After reading “Your Child and the Dentist” and this article … I think I better call one up and make an appointment. For me, too! When did you children start going to the dentist?