Put children back in dental chairs

The following Q&A arose from a discussion of pediatric dentistry with Dr. Katherine Fleming, faculty member at UConn’s School of Dentistry.

What has been the impact of the pandemic on pediatric dentistry here in UConn and across the country?

Flemish:

The negative effects on oral health, especially in children, have been significant – not just here, but across the country and around the world. Unfortunately, many families were unable to access the dental care they needed during the pandemic.

We have good research that supports the role of regular dental care in keeping children’s mouths healthy. Preventive pediatric dental visits give us the opportunity to build trusting relationships with our patients and educate families on how to care for their children’s teeth. We also use these visits to identify and treat dental problems before they cause pain or infection. It is therefore unfortunate that the pandemic has interfered with the dental care of so many children.

Many families also told us that oral health habits changed during the stressful time of the pandemic: adults and children snacked more, ate more sugary foods, and did not always remember to follow their daily routines. oral hygiene at home. Between the fear of contracting COVID-19, limited access to dental care, and the anxiety of going to the dentist in general, it was a perfect storm.

Have UConn clinics been occupied since they reopened last year?

Flemish: We have been constantly busy and see a lot of children whose care has been delayed due to the pandemic. We have seen a number of cavities that progressed rapidly during this time, requiring more treatment than if we had had the opportunity to treat them earlier. We take every precaution possible to ensure the safety of our providers, staff and patients. For example, we follow improved infection control guidelines, requiring masks, and our suppliers wear additional personal protective equipment. Hopefully the availability of vaccines will continue to bring young and older patients “back to the dentist’s chair.”

Obviously, parents play an important role in the dental care of their children. What message can you send to parents?

Flemish: Preventive care is essential – without regular visits, small problems can often turn into big problems. If bigger problems arise, treatment can be more difficult for the child, which fuels their fear of going to the dentist as they get older.

At this time of year, we always like to remind families to maintain their oral hygiene routine of brushing their children’s teeth twice a day with fluoridated toothpaste and flossing every night. Frequently our schedules change during the holidays with school vacations and family events, so these routines become even more important.

Also, I think it’s important that we get to enjoy some goodies. It’s all about moderation and the treats we choose! Hard or sticky candies like caramels stay on the teeth for a long time and have a higher risk of causing cavities. In addition, it is best to enjoy a treat or dessert with a meal and then brush their teeth 30 minutes after your child has finished eating.

How do you approach the problem of the “fear” of children who visit our dental clinics?

Flemish: Fighting against “fear” is at the heart of our profession as pediatric dentist. Our goal is always to make things easy, safe and less frightening for our pediatric patients. We are doing everything we can clinically, of course. We strive to treat conservatively and perform minimally invasive procedures where possible. However, our main tool for minimizing fear is to develop trust through empathy, active listening, and clear communication. We take the time to get to know our patients and their families as partners in care.

We also strive to engage children with age-appropriate language and techniques to let them know what to expect. For example, we present our dental instruments and let the children practice with the mirror so that they can see every step of the process. We also try to keep it as fun as possible! We play music, tell stories and jokes, and always end with a prize. Ultimately, our goal is to create positive relationships with the families of our patients and to lay the foundation that will last into adulthood.

What trends are helping to make going to the dentist easier and less frightening?

Flemish:

We maintain a strong focus on the practice of evidence-based dentistry. It is an exciting time for advancements in dental care and technology, especially in the area of ​​minimally invasive dentistry. We now have more options to treat cavities quickly, efficiently and painlessly. For example, we frequently use Silver Diamine Fluoride, which is a liquid that stops rot without a piercing or needle. With a few applications, treatments like this prevent or delay more invasive care, sometimes for years. We also use other materials that require less invasive treatment to restore or treat cavities, such as stainless steel crowns that can be placed without drilling. Again, prevention is always the best medicine, which is why our focus on patient and parent education helps us ensure our patients have the knowledge and tools to take better care of their mouths every day. .

Why do dental students choose pediatric dentistry as a vocation?

Flemish: Everyone who is new to pediatric dentistry enjoys working with children. Pediatric dentistry is changing rapidly and every day in our clinic is different. It is challenging work that is also incredibly rewarding. The biggest challenge, beyond technical ability, is learning to make children comfortable in the dental chair, to build confidence so that they know that you care and that you are there. listening to their concerns.

Our job goes far beyond providing the care the kids need and sending them home with a sticker. Children carry their dental and medical experiences with them throughout their lives. If parents have been traumatized by their personal dental history, they will be reluctant to bring their children. If children have had bad experiences, it can haunt them into adulthood. We must therefore work closely with the child and his parents to ensure that they receive the care they need in a safe and comfortable environment. Education is a big part of our job because many of the dental problems we see in children are preventable. We spend time with families teaching parents and children how to take the best care of their teeth.

I was a fourth grade teacher before deciding to change careers and become a dentist. Pediatric dentistry was a natural fit for me because education is so central to the job. I am very proud to have joined UConn Dental School – we have an amazing team and a great clinic.

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Katherine Fleming is Assistant Professor in the UConn School of Dental Medicine, Division of Pediatric Dentistry. She has her DDS from Columbia University College of Dental Medicine and completed her residency in pediatric dentistry at Columbia University Medical Center / New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

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