Editor’s note: This is part four of a five-part back to school health and safety series.
With the first day of school in area districts just weeks away, parents should make sure they get their kindergartners and ninth-graders in to see the dentist.
‘”It is Iowa law that every kid enrolled in public school entering kindergarten and ninth-grade have a dental exam,” said Matthew Wettach, a dentist with the Family Dental Health Service in Mt. Pleasant.
According to the Iowa Department of Public Health website, the purpose of the dental screening requirement is to improve the oral health of Iowa’s children. Dental screenings help with early detection and treatment of dental disease, promote the importance of oral health for school readiness and learning, and contribute to statewide surveillance of oral health.
A dentist or a physician can perform the mandatory exam for a kindergartner, but a ninth-grader is required to be seen by someone in the dental field, Wettach explained.
Wettach said that although a child has to have a dental exam when they are 5 or 6 years old and entering kindergarten, it is actually recommended a child see a dentist earlier.
“It is recommended they be seen during their first year or at the first sign of baby teeth coming in,” he said. “A lot of people think kids only have baby teeth, so it isn’t important, but it is.”
A dentist can check earlier for concerns and catch them before a child is in discomfort and pain, explained Wettach. At those early appointments, a dentist checks to see how many teeth the child has and if they are developing on a typical timeline. A dentist checks the shape of the teeth because abnormally shaped teeth could indicate other health concerns that need to be addressed. The soft tissue around teeth also is checked to be sure there are no infections or concerns.
Wettach said the most common concern found during a child’s exam is early childhood cavities.
“This is due to high sugar drinks in diets and not cleaning teeth after,” he said. “Many juices are labeled as healthy, but they have lots of sugar. Parents put juice in a bottle at night. The sugar sits on their teeth all night and it results in severe consequences to baby teeth.”
Wettach said those consequences could led to children losing their baby teeth earlier, and during the long wait for their adult teeth to come in, they could have a poor diet and be less healthy because it is difficult to chew with no teeth.
“It is recommended that child care providers put water or milk in bottles, milk with calcium because it will strengthen teeth,” said Wettach.
Wettach added that early childhood dental visits also allows children to get accustomed to visiting the dentist.
“A visit to the dentist doesn’t have to be associated with pain and anxiety,” he said. “A kid can remember coming to the dentist and having his teeth counted and that it didn’t hurt.”
The visits also allow a dentist to talk to parents about any issues that are found and educate them about their child’s dental care.
Wettach feels finding a permanent dental home for children is better than switching from provider to provider.
“It’s easier for older people to switch providers, but for younger kids, they are more comfortable when they can see the same person and build a trust,” he said. “They like seeing a familiar face and they are less scared and anxious.”
Wettach said the process to finding a dental home has changed. In the past, people would look in the telephone book yellow pages under ‘dentist,” but now they can use Google or other internet search engines to seek out dentists.
“It’s easier, but it’s complicated because where do you choose to go?” he continued. “But parents will find that those in the dental field are very compassionate and want to see kids at a younger age, keep them out of pain and happy.”
“Look on the internet. Ask family and friends about the dentists they visit, and start the process,” Wettach said.