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Preventative Dental and Vision Care

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Preventative Dental Care

Parents should make every effort to take their young children to the dentist twice a year (or as recommended by the family's Dentist). The goal of these dental visits is to identify and address oral health problems before they become serious, and to provide preventative care to lessen the chance that oral health problems will occur. During these visits, children's teeth will be professionally cleaned by a dental hygienist, and their teeth will be inspected for cavities or other signs of tooth decay. Dental fillings or other treatments may be offered should cavities or similar problems be detected.

dentistRegular professional dental cleanings are essential for maintaining children's oral health. However, they are not a substitute for children's daily dental home care, the core of which is children's regular and habitual tooth brushing and flossing. It is essential that parents teach children to brush and floss daily from an early age, so that the habit will become deeply ingrained in them and remain a part of their daily routine well into adulthood. Please see our section on Children's Dental Hygiene for more information on this important topic.

The dentist may recommend that sealants be applied to children's teeth to provide them with additional protection against cavities and tooth decay. Sealants are made of molded plastic and are applied over the groovy parts of the teeth (especially the back teeth) so as to provide a barrier between the teeth and food particles that might otherwise become stuck inside crevices in the teeth despite regular brushing and flossing.

The dentist may also refer children to consult with an Orthodontist (a dentist specialized in the correction of misaligned teeth with braces and related treatments) if the natural alignment of children's teeth is causing speech problems or discomfort, or if children (or their parents) are distressed due to the cosmetic appearance of children's teeth. Orthodontic treatment is expensive and often not covered by insurance (or only partially covered). As well, the braces that are typically used to correct alignment problems are difficult to clean and require additional effort on the part of children with regard to their daily tooth brushing and flossing routines. Braces can also be chronically painful. For all of these reasons, it is important that parents think carefully before signing their children up for Orthodontic care. Parents should be confident that their children are mature enough to endure and maintain braces before committing to such a costly and painful intervention.

Vision and Hearing Screenings

Children should have their vision and hearing checked regularly so as to identify and address as quickly as possible any vision or hearing problems which, if left untreated, might lead to disability or otherwise interfere with children's functioning. Most schools offer vision and hearing screening opportunities at regular intervals throughout the year. Problems noted during these routine screenings should be further investigated during visit to the doctor who can provide definitive diagnose and treatment.

In addition to formal screenings, parents should watch children for signs children may display indicating that they may be experiencing a vision or hearing problem. For example, children may complain that they cannot see the white board/screen/chalkboard at the front of the classroom. Alternatively, children may start sitting closer to the television than they used to sit, or squint while reading a book when this was not previously the case. Parents noting these or similar signs should have their children professionally evaluated by a doctor so that any vision or hearing problems can be identified and corrected.

It is very important to identify and correct vision or hearing problems as soon as possible. Such problems can interfere with children's ability to learn and continue to develop normally. Children with uncorrected vision or hearing problems may not be able to take in information as easily and as efficiently as their peers, and they may fall behind in school as a result.

Please see our section on Vision Problems in Middle Childhood for further information about childhood vision problems.