Dentistry for Kids…What’s all the Fuss?

We, pediatric dentists, have a unique role to play in ensuring optimal overall health for children. If we’re able to motivate children at an early age to develop good dental health habits, this sets the tone for the rest of their life!

When I was growing up in the 80’s-early 90’s, I vividly remember going to the dentist. As a child, I never really found myself “scared” of going to the dentist, I just wasn’t all that fond of it. The dental office we went to was an older house turned into a dental office. I remember mainly some adult magazines on the wall, with a couple of children’s books mixed in. The dentist’s office was a family practice but my dentist didn’t really seem too excited to see children. He definitely wasn’t mean or scary; just not the friendliest guy. I’d heard horror stories from some friends about their dentists, so I was just happy to have someone who didn’t terrify me.

Fast forward to today. I am a Board Certified Pediatric Dentist, and I absolutely LOVE what I do. My blah experience as a child at the dentist is always in the back of my head, and it motivates me to be the exact opposite of how my dentist was. To not only be an amazing clinician, but to create a super fun environment as well! Sadly, one of the most common reactions I get when I tell an adult that I am a pediatric dentist is: “I was so scared as a kid at the dentist!” Or “I hated going to the dentist as a kid!”.

As pediatric dentists, our goal is to create a safe environment for children and their parents that encourages joy, happiness and health. Children have every right to have an awesome time staying healthy, and our goal is to make that happen.

We, pediatric dentists, have a unique role to play in ensuring optimal overall health for children. If we’re able to motivate children at an early age to develop good dental health habits, this sets the tone for the rest of their life!

So what is it, exactly, that I’m so eager to educate them on? Well, it starts out at home. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, we should start cleaning our children’s gums with a soft cloth and water or an infant toothbrush starting at birth. As soon as teeth start to appear, then we recommend using a “smear” of fluoridated toothpaste—parents please make sure to do the brushing! Once your child is able to “spit out” the toothpaste effectively, you can advance to a “pea-size” amount of fluoridated toothpaste. Once again, parents should be monitoring children while they are brushing. It’s quite important that children are not swallowing toothpaste.

Many parents are also surprised to learn, that your child’s first visit to the dentist should be by the age of one! Why so early? Well, we’ve really made great strides in the area of moving from restorative dentistry to preventive dentistry. Preventing cavities and other dental related problems, is a whole lot better than restoring and fixing dental problems. So at the one-year old dental visit, we focus on prevention. We talk about milestones that will occur in your child’s dental development. We talk about oral habits, fluoride administration, trauma prevention, dietary choices, and we develop an oral hygiene regimen that parent’s can follow, so we’re able to set the tone for a lifetime of good oral health.

Finally, we like to educate parents on the importance of baby teeth. Many of the teeth in the back of the mouth will be there until your child is 12 years old. They are important to maintain good nutrition by allowing your children to chew correctly. Sadly, decay in the baby teeth can have deleterious effects on the permanent teeth, so it’s extremely important to repair decay in the baby teeth to avoid problems in the future. Baby teeth are also important for speech development, and finally, they help permanent teeth erupt properly.
Some of the Most Common Questions I Get as a Pediatric Dentist

When should my child have his/her first dental visit?

If your baby has any oral or dental condition that bothers you or appears to be out of the ordinary, then he/she should be seen regardless of age. In rare situations we have seen babies as early as their first week of life. This includes any problems with trauma to the teeth or mouth as well as issues with nursing–problems with the frenum.

Our Gold-Standard guidelines: The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children establish a dental home by 12 months of age. Why so early? Well, the reason for these recommendations is that some infants will develop cavities very soon after the teeth erupt into the mouth. These early cavities are caused primarily by feeding and oral hygiene habits. These early cavities may be prevented if the parents are counseled on these two areas as the first teeth are erupting.

What is a pediatric dentist?

Pediatric dentists are the pediatricians of dentistry. After completing four years of dental school, pediatric dentists go on for an additional two to three years of specialty training. Due to the specialty training, pediatric dental practices are dedicated to treating children from infancy through the teen years. Some of us elected to become board certified, which requires that we undergo a rigorous process by the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry to become Diplomates with American Board of Pediatric Dentistry.

What should I tell my child before the first visit?

When you talk with your child about his/her first dental visit we recommend that you are both honest and show a positive attitude. PLEASE don’t discuss with your child any dental anxieties that you may have. Try to answer all the questions that your child asks without making a “big deal” out of the experience. Parents are usually very good at predicting their child’s behavior for his/her first dental visit. Some children will feel more at ease if they know every detail about the upcoming experience. While others do better if they know nothing at all. Every child is unique. Prepare your child so that he/she has the best chance for a good experience.

My child grinds his/her teeth. What should I do about this?

Bruxism, or grinding the teeth together, is very common in children. Although bruxism has been studied extensively in adults, it’s still unclear as to how to get someone to stop doing it. When an adult bruxes their teeth, we commonly prescribe a night guard to prevent further damage to their teeth and to alleviate any jaw pain. But for children, it’s a bit tricky.

Treatment of bruxism in children who still have baby teeth (which is usually up to around age 12) is difficult. Night guards aren’t typically prescribed for children because children’s bites change often as teeth come in and fall out (which means remaking night guards often), and they can potentially be a choking hazard. Also, night guard appliances are quite costly, and even though the baby teeth may possibly be worn down due to the bruxing habit, they will be replaced by permanent teeth. And finally, although it sounds like the child is wearing their teeth down, in many cases they are not. The dentist will do an evaluation to see if there is any damage, but fortunately, many times the teeth aren’t worn down too much.
There are unique situations; however, where evaluation and treatment is needed when children still have baby teeth. Adolescents who have erupted all their permanent teeth and continue to brux to a degree that they cause significant wearing away of tooth structure will be evaluated for a night guard appliance.

Why does my child get cavities? And what can I do to prevent dental decay?

Dental cavities, or the more technical term: dental caries, is a disease process, not an isolated event. This disease process is constantly ongoing in all people, children as well as adults. A six month old child with a single erupted tooth could potentially develop a cavity if enough disease causing factors are working against the disease protecting factors. The process of developing a cavity is best explained as a balance between the disease causing factors, and the disease protecting factors. Simply put, if the total effect of the disease causing factors outweighs the total effect of the disease protecting factors, then dental cavities will develop.

Some examples of cavity-causing factors: poor oral hygiene, high frequency of eating fermentable carbohydrates, genetics, enamel defects.

Some examples of cavity-preventing factors: early preventive care, fluoride, genetics, parent education in cavity prevention, good oral hygiene, dental sealants, xylitol gum.

So, all-in-all, here are some final recommendations:

-Bring your child as early as age one for their first dental visit
-Ensure great oral hygiene at home: brushing 2x/day at least, flossing daily, and fluoride rinses for children age 6 and up.
-Dental examination visits every 6 months.
-Maintain a healthy diet, reducing or eliminating simple sugars
A child’s smile can light up the room, let’s keep them smiling!
Dr. Angela Austin is a Board Certified Pediatric Dentist and the founder of Alexandria Children’s Dentistry. She earned her dental degree in 2004 from The University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. While in dental school, Dr. Angela served as Vice President of the Student National Dental Association, was co-editor of the Penn Dental Journal, and participated in various community service efforts in local Philadelphia schools. Dr. Angela was selected to be a National Health Service Corps scholar, and she later served two years providing dental care in a dentally underserved community.

Following dental school, Dr. Angela completed an additional two years of training to become a pediatric dental specialist at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC.
It was there, that she gained a great deal of experience in craniofacial anomalies; comprehensive treatment of patients with special needs such as autism and cerebral palsy; interceptive orthodontics; trauma management; sedation dentistry; and dentistry under general anesthesia. As Chief Resident, Dr. Angela completed an externship in Honduras providing dental care in an orphanage. This experience motivated her to be a long-term godparent for a child in the orphanage. Dr. Angela proudly practices as a Diplomate of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry.
To schedule an appointment for your child with Board Certified Pediatric Dentist Dr. Angela at Alexandria Children’s Dentistry call: 703-942-8404 or visit to request an appointment online.
Del Ray Office Location Opening This Spring!

DR. ANGELA AUSTIN is a Board Certified Pediatric Dentist in Alexandria, VA. She specializes in treating patients aged 1-21. She is also specially trained to treat special needs patients as well as patients with high dental anxiety. She is the owner of Alexandria Children’s Dentistry located at 6303 Little River Turnpike, Suite 345, Alexandria, VA 22312. Phone: 703-942-8404