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The Dental Home

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In 2006, the Council on Clinical Affairs coined the term “dental home” to describe the ongoing relationship between the dentist and the patient, inclusive of all aspects of oral health care delivered in a comprehensive, continuously accessible, coordinated, and family-centered way (AAPD 2015). Many new parents have limited experience and knowledge about how and when to establish a dental home for instilling good oral hygiene habits in their children. This is extremely important in caries prevention and the maintenance of adequate oral health practices from a young age through proper techniques and routine visits to the dentist, building a strong bond between patients and dentists.

There are many common misconceptions about the primary dentition, including the premise that baby teeth are less important because they are not permanent. However, many do not realize the importance of maintaining oral health from a young age. Dental abnormalities can occur, and parents may not see them coming.

Ideally, the dental home should be established as early as possible, and the child should visit the dentist by his or her first birthday for routine exams and follow-ups. This way, abnormalities can be noted and issues can be prevented or fixed in the future. Radiographs should be taken per patient's needs before teeth are restored, and the tooth bud should be protected from any harm.

One reason that it is imperative to maintain oral health in the primary dentition is the incidence of congenitally missing teeth. If the primary dentition is not maintained well, and the permanent tooth is congenitally missing, the dentist should emphasize the importance of oral hygiene maintenance because this tooth cannot be replaced later in life. Therefore, it is important for the patient to put forth their greatest effort to maintain the primary tooth for as long as possible, otherwise the patient may need a prosthetic device in the future.

Another reason to establish a dental home is to make parents more aware of fluoride and the various sources that the child may receive it from. Although fluoride has been strongly marketed, it is important that the parents know that inadequate fluoride intake may cause damage, and that it may be damaging in high concentrations as well. The issue of fluorosis is extremely common in areas where children are overly exposed to fluoride in their food and water, causing craters in the child’s teeth due to hypomineralization when the enamel is forming. These unaesthetic craters may become the source of psychosocial issues in the child’s future, and it is important to maintain parental awareness of their child’s ingestion of fluoridated products to avoid unnecessary cosmetic complications.

New parents have extremely limited access to resources for building a dental home and becoming proactive about instilling good oral health practices in their children. Many new parents inadvertently transmit cariogenic microorganisms to their child by sharing utensils with their child or giving them kisses. This disrupts the balance of the child’s oral microbial flora, and may increase the likelihood that the child will accumulate cariogenic bacteria. Another factor is when babies fall asleep with bottles of milk or sugary drinks, causing rampant caries. This can be prevented by raising parental awareness of these issues.

Establishing a dental home is essential for oral health maintenance and should be an integral part of a child's upbringing in order to prevent future issues. It is imperative to educate new parents about oral health and hygiene maintenance for their child. Establishing a "dental home," in which the child regularly practices proper oral hygiene techniques and visits the dentist for regular check-ups, is the key to prevention of future problems. Offering educational programs to teach new parents how to make their home a “dental home” can have a vastly positive impact on the health and comfort of all members of the family.