The Changing Face of Pediatric Dentistry in Connecticut
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Prevention and vigilance drive treatment. A risk assessment is done very early on, according to Dr. Steven D. Ureles of Children’s Dental Associates of New London County. “By identifying the bacteria in a child’s mouth, we can categorize his or her risk factors and establish a program for prevention,” says Ureles, who teaches at both at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine and the UConn School of Dental Medicine.
As teeth emerge, they’re cleaned regularly and sealed as a matter of course. “When I started practicing in 1997, sealants were not covered by insurance,” said Bialik. “Today, even Medicaid covers them.” If alignment or spacing is a concern, patients are referred to orthodontists. Most dentists agree that fluoride, which strengthens tooth enamel, is endemic today, so rinses are largely a thing of the past.
Dentists agree that snacking on sugary treats should be kept to a minimum, and brushing and flossing remain the twin mainstays of good oral health. “There is absolutely no substitute for brushing and flossing,” says Bialik. “Parents have to help younger kids, tirelessly, until they learn to do it properly. And they should never, ever let a child go to sleep without brushing— even at naptime—because saliva production slows down when we sleep, and we know that’s what keeps teeth clean.”
With so much “science-based evidence” at their disposal, pediatric dentists are equipped not only to fill cavities, but “to treat the whole person,” suggests Ureles. Yet, despite all the preventive medicine, cavities are five times more common in kids than asthma, he says. The problem is a significant population that is uneducated, uninsured and underserved.
“There are many parents who simply don’t know the consequences of putting a baby to sleep with a bottle in its mouth,” says Bialik. “I have to say that social services is doing a very good job of reaching out to this population. We have a serious language barrier in the greater Danbury area, where many speak Portuguese, but it’s improving. And the advent of social networking is helping. Once the word gets out to one Medicaid patient, it spreads.”
At the end of the day, children’s dentists say they have your kids’ best interests at heart—and by all accounts, they love what they do. “I’ve been doing this six days a week for 25 years and I can honestly say I look forward to coming to work in the morning,” says Ureles. A recent AAPD study shows that more dental students are choosing pediatric dentistry over any other specialty, adds Brill. “When you can treat someone from a very young age and have such a positive impact and watch them grow into healthy adults,” he says, “well, there’s a real level of satisfaction in that.”