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Bright and Early

by Matt Cosentino; Photography by Alison Dunlap

As any parent knows, the health and well-being of our children is always a priority, especially when they are young. The tiniest medical issue can lead to a frantic call to the pediatrician, and we are constantly worrying about their eating habits and whether they are getting enough rest.

Yet even the most attentive parents sometimes overlook or delay proper dental care for their little ones. Finding an informed pediatric dentist with a soothing demeanor can do wonders for their development, and provide useful tips for mom and dad at the same time.

“Barring any obvious issues, we typically advise parents to bring their children in by their first birthday,” says Dr. Sonny Sekhon, who has more than 10 years of experience in pediatric dentistry. “They al- ready have a few teeth at that point and their diet is expanding beyond breast milk or formula, so that’s a good time for us to get involved.”

Dr. Sekhon and his staff treat children of all ages at his burgeoning practice, Growing Smiles Pediatric and Family Dentistry. See- ing children early can get them on track for a healthier mouth later on, and can also nip problems in the bud, perhaps if the child is tongue tied or lip tied.

Another benefit is the possible detection of more serious issues. “As pediatric dentists we can catch a lot of things early, not only related to dental care but systemic diseases as well,” Dr. Sekhon says. “For example, we’ve treated infants who have developed multiple ulcers in their mouth at a very young age and we can track that to a disturbance of their GI tract. We just diagnosed a child not too long ago with Crohn’s Disease, and it all started with ulcers in his mouth.”

Dr. Sekhon also notes that cavities can start as soon as children get teeth. That’s why education about proper diet is such an important topic to him and one he constantly reinforces with parents.

The introduction of juice, in particular, can have a negative effect and lead children to get addicted to sugar.

“I repeat that as a mantra all day long: Don’t give your child juice,” he says. “Sugar has no place in a young, growing body. It doesn’t contribute to anything, and can be quite detrimental. Counseling parents on diet and things like that will hopefully stave off more serious problems in their young children.”

Another area of concern is the extended use of pacifiers or thumb sucking, which can ultimately affect the way the child speaks, swallows and breathes.

“Thumb sucking or pacifiers have their place in the early stages of a child’s life, but at a certain point we see them start to do more harm than good,” Dr. Sekhon says. “Our advice to parents is that once a child turns 18 months old, start the weaning process and try to limit the pacifier use to nap times. By the child’s second birthday, you want to make the pacifier disappear.”

Thumb sucking can obviously be a little trickier to stop, but there are various products, such as mitts for nap time, that can help deter the habit. If it persists, Dr. Sekhon can fit the child with a habit-breaking appliance, which is similar to a retainer.

Growing Smiles has a relaxed office setting that includes complimentary beverages and video games, and Dr. Sekhon’s easy-going manner also makes kids feel comfortable. He avoids certain trigger words like “scary” or “hurt,” and emphasizes that parents should do the same thing.

“Oftentimes, parents will inadvertently create fear in their child by saying things like, ‘We’re going to the dentist but it’s not going to hurt.’ By saying that, they’re implying that there might be pain somewhere along the way,” Dr. Sekhon explains.

“Parents who put in a lot of effort to prep their child for dental visits end up building anxiety in the child, and when it’s game time, they tend to lose it. The kids who do best are the kids who don’t know where they’re going and what’s about to happen. We as dentists show them what we’re about to do and explain it in our terms, and kids don’t get scared of that.”

Even if a child starts to cry for a few minutes, Dr. Sekhon says not to panic. His own children have done the same thing in his office, but every child soon realizes that a trip to the dentist doesn’t have to be feared.

“The reality is that we can do dental work painlessly,” he says. “The challenge often with pediatric dentistry is overcoming the fear that parents and their children have. So your demeanor goes a long way, and so does explaining things the right way. I think it’s important for the dentist to work with the parents to keep the anxiety level down.”

Growing Smiles Pediatric and Family Dentistry
2140 Voorhees Town Center, Voorhees
(856) 770-1770

Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Family Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 12 (February, 2017).
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