Early intervention is a phrase we often hear regarding many subjects, especially in matters of health. Dentistry, and especially children’s dentistry, is no different. Saline County Children’s Dentistry opened 13 years ago with Dr. Derek Marks’ desire to serve his surrounding hometown community and provide premium dental care to the youth of Saline County. 

His wife, Dr. Kathleen Marks, joined the practice in 2008,then Dr. Sarah Farmer in 2012. Two associates recently joined the team: Drs. Thomas Jenkins and Chelsea Brashears.

“Our goal is to make dental visits fun and enjoyable for the kids whenever possible,” says Dr. Farmer. “We try and help them build good feelings toward dental visits that will stick for a lifetime.”

Saline County Children’s Dentistry serves about 8,000 children, ages 1-18, per year, averaging 100 patients per day.

The main issue affecting children’s oral health is diet, Dr. Farmer says. “Our kids snack on more carbs and sugar-filled foods than ever before.” In addition to sugar-filled foods, items such as juice and sugary beverages like sports drinks and sodas can be a challenge to maintaining a healthy mouth, she says. 

One way to combat this unhealthy trend is to encourage your child to eat or drink their snack in one sitting. “Snacking frequently or grazing on a few chips or crackers at a time over the course of a few hours is harder on your teeth than eating the same amount in one sitting,” she notes. “Drinking juice or sipping sugary drinks over longer periods is much worse.” 

The silver lining is the positive changes that have been made to dietary recommendations, Dr. Farmer says. “Most recently, the juice recommendation has changed to be limited to, at most, four ounces per day with a meal or snack for toddlers ages 1-3.”

She adds, “One big change we have seen over the past few years is the push for early visits for children under 1. Previously, the recommendation was at 3, but it was realized that many children had lots of cavities by that time.”

Children are now recommended to see the dentist by the age of 1 or the appearance of their first tooth. “This can accomplish a few things,” Dr. Farmer says, “but most importantly, it allows us to help provide information and early intervention regarding habits that can cause decay at a young age. It also allows us to start working early with the kids so they become more comfortable over time and the new things associated with dental visits like X-rays, cleanings and a new environment can be more easily tolerated.”  

Another positive change is a shift toward more parental involvement. One parent can accompany each child through their dental visit at Saline County Children’s Dentistry, Dr. Farmer says.

The evolution of dentistry tools also helps improve how the clinic is best able to treat children. “Silver diamine fluoride is a new liquid that can be placed on a cavity to help slow the growth of a cavity,” Dr. Farmer says. “We also offer sedation and even general anesthesia in certain cases to help kids who are very anxious and have more extensive dental needs. Certainly, there are many factors that come into play when making these decisions and Mom or Dad are part of that discussion.” 

Just like with most things, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach in dentistry. Dr. Farmer points out that every child is different and it’s important to keep an open mind and consider trying new things when helping your child stay on top of their dental hygiene. 

“Making dental hygiene fun is always a good approach,” she says. “We have seen people have success with sticker charts and even new apps that turn brushing teeth into a game.”

Whatever you do, staying consistent is key. “We always recommend brushing twice daily and flossing at night,” Dr. Farmer says, adding, it’s helpful for parents of smaller children to follow close behind and assist to ensure no areas are missed. “This might be a good idea for older kids, too.” 

One other tip the dentistry crew always reiterates, Dr. Farmer says, is to cut off snacks and certain drinks at night after children complete their teeth-brushing routine. “Having snacks, sugary drinks or milk after nighttime brushing can be a big cause of cavities for some people and avoiding this habit is very helpful for preventing early decay.”

Decay can happen at an early age and lead to infection, abscess and pain. Dr. Farmer says the clinic tries to save decaying baby teeth when possible as early tooth loss can lead to spacing problems later. Children eventually lose their baby teeth naturally, but starting healthy oral hygiene habits as early as possible is vital to ensuring a child has the best oral health possible. Saline County Children’s Dentistry strives to bring that point home and set children up for a lifetime of healthy oral hygiene practices. νJillian Jacuzzi