Definition and Overview
Based on the recommendations of the American Academy of Paediatric Dentistry, children should be brought to a paediatric dentist for their first dental check-up around their first birthday. This is then followed by periodic dental visits and cleaning to ensure optimum oral and dental health.
The first set of teeth begins to erupt when the child is about 1.5 months old and the rest continue to develop between six and seven years old. All throughout the critical stages of development, the teeth are prone to a variety of conditions, such as deformities, diseases and premature decay. While some of the conditions can’t be prevented due to their genetic nature, others can be avoided by simply taking good care of the teeth.
It’s imperative that teeth are cleaned on a daily basis to avoid plaque buildup that can eventually destroy a tooth or prevent it from fully developing. Unfortunately, plaque can be stubborn, mostly because home dental hygiene methods, like brushing or flossing, almost always don’t reach the entire tooth surface. For instance, areas between the teeth and below the gumline usually don’t get cleaned enough to prevent the build-up of plaque.
This is the reason why bringing the child to a paediatric dentist for a dental cleaning procedure is highly recommended.
It’s important to take children to a paediatric dentist instead of a family dentist. While the latter will certainly be able to perform the task, they may lack the necessary expertise to effectively handle younger patients. Paediatric dentists, who are required to study child psychology, have the needed skills to gain the confidence of their patients quickly. This allows them to encourage children to cooperate and put them at ease as they undergo dental procedures such as dental cleaning.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
Paediatric dental cleaning is recommended for all children, teenagers and adolescents.
Ideally, a child’s teeth must be inspected by a dentist upon reaching his or her first year. By this time, the dentist can already provide an accurate assessment of the child's teeth development.
If by this time, there's already plaque buildup, the dentist will perform a regular dental cleaning procedure and this can be performed once or twice a year.
Additionally, the dentist may opt to apply dental sealant and fluoride to protect the child's teeth from decay.
How Does the Procedure Work
The procedure for paediatric dental cleaning depends on the age of the child and the amount of plaque build up. In some cases, the procedure is performed alongside other dental treatment, such as the application of a dental filling if the teeth have already been damaged.
Most initial consultations with a paediatric dentist will begin with a short interview. During this time, the dentist will not only obtain information about the oral and medical health of the child but will also assess the child’s behaviour. It’s imperative that the dentist earns the child’s trust so the patient will cooperate throughout the visit.
After inspecting the child’s teeth, the dentist will perform a dental prophylaxis procedure, which is typically composed of three parts:
- Removal of plaque
- Fluoride application
Removing plaque and tartar is usually performed using hand tools, such as scalers and curettes. However, if there is a heavy buildup of plaque, ultrasonic equipment will be used to gently remove large deposits before using hand tools to remove the rest. Once the teeth have been fully cleaned, the dentist will proceed to polish them using a small electrical polisher and paste.
In most cases, applying fluoride to ensure that the teeth remain healthy and strong is the final step. The fluoride, which is in gel form, will be allowed to set on the teeth for around 30 seconds, after which the patient will be asked to spit out the excess fluoride. It’s best not to rinse the mouth or drink anything for at least 30 minutes after the application of fluoride.
The entire procedure usually takes less than 45 minutes, but may take a bit longer if other procedures are also performed.
Possible Risks and Complications
The risks of a paediatric dental cleaning are minimal as most dentists are thorough when performing the procedure. The dentist will first obtain all the necessary information about the child’s health, including his medical and dental history.
Paediatric dentists are trained to handle special needs, such as children with a history of diseases. Dental cleaning may seem simple enough, but things can get complicated if the child has other medical problems, such as asthma.
If the child is displaying signs of anxiety during the procedure, the dentist may opt to use mild sedation. The child will still be awake, but the sedative will help him or her relax so that the dentist can perform the dental cleaning procedure without risking the child’s health.
Dental sedatives are provided in safe dosages and only after reviewing the medical history of the child to reduce any associated risks and possible complications. The effects of the sedative should wear off after a short while following the dental cleaning procedure.
- Chou R, Cantor A, Zakher B, et al. Preventing dental caries in children <5 years: systematic review updating USPSTF recommendation. Pediatrics. 2013;132(2):332-50. PMID: 23858419 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23858419.