Creating a healthy mouth for kids February is National Children’s Dental Health Month

    UofL dental student provides screening for a child.
    UofL dental student provides screening for a child.

    Regular dental examinations are important to prevent, diagnose and treat oral health problems. During National Children’s Dental Health Month, the University of Louisville School of Dentistry joins with other dental providers to remind parents to take note of their child’s oral health.

    “Tooth decay can be painful if left untreated, and painful teeth will affect a child’s performance in school,” said Hector Martinez, D.D.S., M.Sc., vice-chair, UofL School of Dentistry Department of Orthodontics, Pediatric Dentistry and Special Care.

    A full dental exam includes x-rays, a cleaning, fluoride treatment and a thorough look through the mouth. For children experiencing extreme decay, the school also offers Silver Diamine Flouride, a 58-percent solution that stops decay in its tracks.

    But prevention, Martinez said, is really the key to a healthy smile. Martinez encourages parents to find a dental home for their children beginning at age 1, when teeth begin to erupt.

    He also advises parents to consider sealants for children between ages 6 and 10.

    “Sealants go into the deep grooves of molars, the areas where cavities are likely to form. They can last several years, and are ideal for decay prevention,” Martinez said.

    If more advanced treatment is needed and parents are concerned about their children becoming anxious during treatment, a dentist can administer nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas.

    “Parents should understand that nitrous oxide is very safe – it does not put a child to sleep, but it will relax them so the dental professional can complete the work necessary,” Martinez said. “We place a small mask over the child’s nose, and then administer oxygen into the mask at the end of the dental procedure to help the child quickly come back to a normal state.” 

    The UofL School of Dentistry also offers laser technology that makes many procedures less complicated for patients. As water and light meet, a combustion occurs allowing a laser beam to cut gums or teeth, with minimal bleeding that is immediately cauterized. 

    Unlike the typical scalpel and stitches for many procedures, the laser involves little to no pain so anesthesia is not necessary. The technology can be used to cut soft tissue such as the tissue under the tongue for a child experiencing what is commonly known as tongue-tied. The laser also can be used to remove part of the gum prior to orthodontic treatment in order to place brackets. In addition, the dentist can use a laser to restore a tooth without a drill – this includes a tooth with a cavity.

    “We are one of a few offices in Kentucky with this type of water-laser technology, and it is available to use with any child who becomes a patient of the UofL School of Dentistry,” Martinez said. 

    To schedule an appointment for a child at the School of Dentistry, call 502-852-5642.

    Julie Heflin
    Julie oversees digital content for the Office of Communications and Marketing. She began her UofL career on the Health Sciences Center campus in 2007. Prior to this, Julie was a journalist with WFPL (Louisville Public Media), and occasionally filed reports for National Public Radio.