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Never too young to learn: it's never too early to teach patients about oral health practices.

Have you ever experienced having a toddler in your offices who flashes a carefree, cheerful smile at you only to reveal obviously decayed teeth? You can probably relate to the frustration of reaching parents too late in trying to educate them on dental care for their child. No one, including the parents, child, dentist and team members, looks forward to completing dental restorations on a child whose treatment may have been avoidable by early education on preventive measures. You can either spend your career lamenting this problem and consoling guiltridden parents, or take the opportunity to educate them.

The concept of an Infant Visit Program is an idea initiated out of these frustrations and feelings that nothing could be done effectively to reach parents and caregivers early on in a child's life. The program is a straight forward approach to making it a simple and inviting opportunity for parents to learn basic concepts of caring for their child's teeth.

In setting up this type of program, it's important that you seek the support of other local dentists in your area, because your contacts will be through the pediatricians and child services offices who may not want to "market" an individual practice. A paper that introduces the Infant Visit Program should be written and distributed to these types of offices who will give this information to parents at the visit nearest the time when the child's first tooth erupts, about 6-12 months. Phone numbers for any dental office willing to participate can be included on the information sheet. Development charts and brochures about nursing bottle decay, nutrition, fluoride information and growth can also be included. These are available from the American Dental Association.

The Infant Visit Program is an educational program that trained dental assistants would present to the parent regarding:

* The use of fluoride supplements (if indicated).

* The importance of home care--brushing or at least wiping the teeth after feeding and before bedtime.

* Avoiding bottles at bedtime with anything other than water.

* Nursing and its relationship to primary tooth decay.

* The impact of oral habits, such as pacifiers or fingers.

* Limiting juices to no more than 4-6 ounces per day (American Academy of Pediatrics).

* Stressing the importance of the first dental visit by the first birth day to assess caries risk.

* The need to take care of their own teeth so that cavity-causing bacteria are not easily transmitted to children.

The assistant can also demonstrate home care by using the knee-to-knee technique for holding the infant and having a second person involved in brushing and flossing. Information about fluoride-free toothpaste and the amount to use is also discussed and a sample can be given along with a small toothbrush.

To encourage participation, there is no charge for this visit. The assistant would be blocked for 10-15 minutes to present the information at a time convenient for the office, as it requires no doctor time. This is by design and is emphasized when the appointment is made. When parents ask about the visit, it should be made clear that"

1. This is not an examination--it is educational in nature.

2. The doctor will not be involved in the visit--a trained/licensed assistant will conduct the visit.

3. There is no charge for the visit.

As trained, educated and/or licensed dental assistants, this is just one more way that we can impact our community by providing a service and hopefully changing the direction of a child's health. If even a single case of early childhood caries can be avoided, the Infant Visit Program has been a success!

Editorial Director's Note: This program can be expanded to include saliva swab caries evaluation/index and placement of varnishes.

Cindy L. Gerber, CDA, CDPMA

Cindy L. Gerber, CDA, CDPMA, Fort Wayne, Indiana, is office manager for Dr. Timothy Olinger, a pediatric specialist. She is an advisory board member for the dental assisting program at Indiana University-Purdue University, a Certified Tobacco Cessation Facilitator and an advisor for the Dental Explorer's Program. Ms. Gerber has twice been president of the Isaac Knapp Dental Assisting Society of the ADAA.
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Title Annotation:Clinical
Author:Gerber, Cindy L.
Publication:The Dental Assistant
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2010
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