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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 40 percent of children in the US have tooth decay by the time they reach kindergarten. Dr. Harvey Wu, assistant dental director of the ICHS Holly Park Dental Clinic, stresses the importance of pediatric dental care and what parents can do to keep their children’s teeth healthy.
ICHS launched “Together We Rise: A Wellness Podcast” in 2022 to empower, educate, and care for the diverse communities we serve. Our topics have ranged from fighting the mental health stigma to cultural sensitivity in diabetes care to the importance of pediatric dental health.
Scott Webb: Besides the obvious dental health benefits to taking our kids, to see the dentist, there can also be mental health benefits to our kids. Having a smile that they’re proud of and joining me today to help us prepare our kids, to see a dentist and discuss the many benefits to good oral hygiene is Dr. Harvey Wu. He’s a dentist with ICHS. Welcome to Together We Rise Wellness Podcast from International Community Health Services. I’m Scott Webb. Doctor, thanks so much for your time today.
I have a couple of kids and of course they went to the dentist the first time and maybe there was some uncertainty, some anxiety and so on. So it’s great to have you on today and kind of talk through this for parents and they can share your words of wisdom with their kids. As we get rolling here, when and how often should a parent take their child to the dentist?
Dr. Harvey Wu: Generally, we recommend taking your child to their first dental visit maybe no later than their first birthday. Maybe even by the time their first baby tube erupts that’s a good time. So, maybe anywhere between six months to a year I think that’s a good time to bring your baby in for a first dental checkup. And then how often? I would say every six months, so every six months we would like to have the kid come back for a checkup.
However, if some kids have more risk factors they are more prone to getting, for example cavities, we might want to bring them back more often, maybe every three months or so. And then maybe we want to give them supplemental fluoride, for example.
Scott Webb: And obviously if parents have concerns, as you say, if maybe they just know that there’s a, genetic history or a genetic predisposition to cavities and things, we can just bring them back more often. Of course. And when parents are trying to explain to their kids exactly what goes on once they get in that chair and they put on the cool sunglasses, what can they tell them about the oral exams?
Dr. Harvey Wu: We routinely look for cavities of course, we look for a teething pattern. We may. Want to look for habits that the child might have such as thumb sucking. And more importantly, I think I wanna look at oral hygiene. Of the trial patient because a lot of it I do want to emphasize is on prevention. I want to instill good home care. And then instill good dietary habits for the kid. Because it just goes a long way. If they have that down every day, they do it for the child patient. And then it just goes a long way. So a lot of prevention and education.
Scott Webb: Yeah, you’re so right. Much easier to hopefully prevent cavities and other types of issues than it is to treat them after the fact. And you mentioned thumb sucking there. And I was just thinking back to my son, hopefully he won’t be embarrassed by this, but it was a real challenge that his dentist set for him to try to get him to stop the thumb sucking because she could see what it was doing to his teeth and it became this challenge for him. And I’m sure maybe you do that as well, where you want kids to know that, Hey, Dr. Wu is rooting for you. You can do this, right?
Dr. Harvey Wu: Yeah. So I just told him it’s a no. Because the thumb, the finger is always coming in the way between the teeth, you couldn’t imagine there’s always like an open bite. The teeth just won’t come incorrectly. So we need to identify and address these problems as early as possible.
Scott Webb: When we think about how parents sort of prepare for that first visit what they can expect. I’m sure. It helps you, if they have a little bit of a list. Things that they’re concerned about questions they may have, but what would be your general advice about preparing for that first visit?
Dr. Harvey Wu: we wanna make it like somewhat informal. First of all, it’s just like information gathering. We want to gather some health history. Like I alluded to previously, I wanna know what the parents do in terms of home care for the child. Do you brush your teeth, twice, today? Do you floss? Things like that because it goes back to education and prevention again. And of course the first visit we would do a visual exam, just to check on the oral health. How brushing, flossing, any habits. And then we would go onto checking the gums, all the jaws, the bite and then the oral tissues.
We might even perform a little cleaning. And then when they’re a little older by, for example maybe three or four, we might even want to take some x-rays and see if they have any cavities in between the teeth and such. So we just wanna make it friendly and comfortable. So, they do come back because this is their dental home at ICHS.
Scott Webb: Yeah. Kind of friendly and fun and. Even some toys. I remember my kids’ dentist had the toy box, so they could go and they could pick.
Dr. Harvey Wu: Yeah, we do need to bribe them a little bit.
Scott Webb: Yeah. little bribery does go a long way. And I can remember because you know, when your kids are little and you’re a parent, you kind of have to brush for them where you certainly have to help them brush. And so I felt this pressure as a parent, that if they came in and there was a signs of a cavity, I almost felt like it was my fault. But at some point it’s about teaching the kids, obviously good brushing habits and so on. And when parents are trying to choose a dentist for their child.
For me, I know that a lot of it had to do with their dentist personality. She was just friendly and fun and welcoming. But what would be your advice when parents are trying to choose that first dentist for their children? what sort of due diligence should they do? What should they be on the lookout for red flags? And why would you like them to choose you maybe?
Dr. Harvey Wu: Personally I’ve had some patients my own, I have worked at ICHS for many years. I had patients that went on to have children of their own, and then they asked me, do you see any kids here? I say, of course we do. We have been seeing kids for so many years I myself have, and then that comforted them. And then, because I feel like they have some trust in me and our clinic already. And then they went on to bring the kids and then, we kind of connected and I feel there’s that trust factor that has to be present to bring the kid in, we make the clinic kid friendly, our dentists and staff. We like to work with kids. I think it’s just the trust factor.
Scott Webb: Have a little bit more of a serious question for you. Do you believe, or is there evidence that dental health really affects children’s mental health? Is there a connection there?
Dr. Harvey Wu: I I feel so because maybe for example, if a child has like cavities has missing teeth, They might not have as much self confidence and that would have impact on their emotional and social wellbeing. Of course. So naturally I feel there is Relationship. Conversely, I also feel like a child’s mental health may also have an effect on their dental health too. Because naturally, if, for example, if you’re not feeling your best, maybe you’re a little stressed out, from school and everything, what is our propensity to do is that maybe we don’t want to take care of our teeth well.
I do feel like, they are interlinked. With that said it’s probably important to prioritize your child’s oral health and healthy mouth, healthy body. I believe in that. Yeah.
Scott Webb: I think you’re so right. And it didn’t affect my mental health per se, as far as I know, but I broke my front two teeth when I was 11 years old and I had crowns put on and they’re very nice crowns. They’ve been replaced a couple of times and they look great. They look like normal teeth, but it definitely affected my willingness to smile.
Right. Like, I was a smiler up till age 11, and then after that I became very self-conscious. And so I really can understand what you’re saying, that there is a connection between how we feel about our teeth and whether we smile, like on the inside and the outside. I know we’re getting deep for a dental conversation, but I think you’re right, there is a connection there isn’t there?
Dr. Harvey Wu: I have to think a little deeper too. It’s like sometimes we may be doing a lot of, for example, general dentistry fillings, and some patients want to have better looking teeth. They want, be able to smile more and be able to interact with people a little better among other factors too. So definitely I feel like yes, that has an effect on one another, between the dental health and one’s mental health.
Scott Webb: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think they really are interlinked and I’m glad we covered that. And I know you serve a very diverse population, diverse communities at ICHS. And as you said, you’ve been there a long time interested in knowing what barriers do the immigrant and refugee families you serve face as they try to access dental services?
Dr. Harvey Wu: CHS do serve a very diverse communities. The first one that comes to my mind is probably a language barrier. Because for a lot of them, English is not their first language. In order to provide effective communication and care, we need to be on the same page. So at ICHS we do provide interpretation, either whether that be in person interpretation or a video based interpretation. So that has helped a lot in terms of helping the patient, getting the correct interpretation.
Second one I believe is cultural differences because everyone comes from different backgrounds. Maybe I can give an example where there have been more than a couple times, I’m just doing a checkup on this kid and the kid unfortunately has a lot of cavities and the mom’s like, well, I mean, these are all baby teeth anyways, so they aren’t gonna fall out eventually. So why do we even have to fix them? Kind of goes back to like that’s their beliefs.
I understand that, but we also need to be able to educate them on prevention and also provide treatment as needed. That’s on the cultural differences between the care team and then the family. And then the last one, if you talk about dental services would be the high cost of dental care because I think the perception of that is, people in general, just feel like dental care is not very accessible.
It’s expensive. So a lot of them, they may not come to the doctor or the dentist until it’s hurting. And they’re afraid that it might be really expensive, so they might just want to avoid it altogether. A lot of them for the immigrant and refugee families do have state funded insurance. We do help a lot of them at our locations at ICHS. We are able to help a lot of the families over the years. Yes.
Scott Webb: And you can see obviously that there are these barriers, and good to know that ICHS is. Doing everything you can to try to make this accessible and affordable. This has been really educational and fun today. I told you how I chose my kids’ dentist, because she was friendly and fun. And Dr. Wu you’re friendly and fun. This was great. Thank you so much. You stay well.
Dr. Harvey Wu: Thank you so much for having me again.
Scott Webb: And for more information, go to ichs.com. This has been the Together We Rise Wellness podcast from International Community Health Services. If you enjoyed what you heard, please be sure to share in your social media channels and check out our entire podcast library for additional topics of interest. I’m Scott Webb, stay well, and we’ll talk again next time.