When did your child last go to the dentist? Given this year’s restrictions, the answer is probably quite a while ago now! So my next question would be – are you confident you’re looking after your children’s teeth well?

I have to admit that I’m not. I rely on my children’s dentist to check, correct me when I’ve missed things, and obviously to reassure me that I’ve got things right. So given that it’s now been over a year… I was feeling worried!

About a year ago, Thomas had a problem with two of his teeth and at that point I started following Dr Libi’s Toothfairy Tips on Facebook. I found her advice practical but still absolutely grounded in dentistry knowledge. So I decided to reach out to her for advice.

I was delighted when she offered to Zoom with the kids and I to answer some of our questions, but also to ensure that we were all working to do the best we could to look after the kids teeth!

Concerns about teeth

Dr Libi quickly struck up a rapport with Katie, asking about her favourite Disney films and finding out about her likes and dislikes. She warned Katie that she might as some ‘nosey questions’ but it was only because she LOVED teeth.

Katie shared with Dr Libi that she didn’t like how her teeth looked big in her mouth and were larger than her other teeth. Dr Libi pointed out that firstly, her teeth looked great but secondly, it would actually be weirder if they were small as one day her face would be big (like mine!) and how strange would I look with tiny teeth?! It was just a simple thing to point out but it would have never occurred to me to say – lets measure and compare our teeth! They are exactly the same!!

Dr Libi went to tell Katie her sugar bug story and to fully explain, in an age appropriate way, why cleaning her teeth is so important. This message seems to have really hit home with Katie. Since our call she’s become far more aware about sugars in food, not to avoid them, but rather to have them at appropriate times and to work out tooth brushing round them i.e. we no longer have fruit juice in the morning before brushing our teeth! In fact, we’ve stopped buying it and have opted to just have it on the occasions we’re out to brunch… and it hasn’t been missed! I thought it was such a major thing but in reality, the change hasn’t been the big deal I thought it would be.

We were also delighted to learn that Dr Libi will soon be opening the Sunrise Dental Clinic here in Edinburgh and hope to be first through the doors in March. So we couldn’t resist asking her a few of our own ‘nosey questions’…

Tell us why you went into paediatric dentistry…

I actually loved orthodontics, but my husband is a very successful one and I didn’t want to be compared to him constantly!

So when I was looking at progressing my career and I thought about what I love, I love talking to children and I remembered my own experience with a paediatric dentist for my daughter. I just loved the way she interacted with my daughter and also how empathetic she was towards me. I already had a degree in dental public health because I feel strongly about empowering people to take charge of their oral health, so paediatric dentistry seemed like it would be the best fit for me, but I could not have predicted just how great it has been for me!

What inspires your day to day work?

I love changing people’s perceptions when it comes to visiting the dentist. Being able to change a child’s experience of the dentist from something they dread or find boring, to something that excites them and makes them look forward to coming is such an amazing feeling. 
I love supporting families with challenges they feel overwhelmed by, such as special needs, anxiety or caries. Helping these families reach a point where they feel they are confident going to the dentist, and have all their treatment needs met, is amazing!

Are your own children allowed sugary snacks? What would you suggest giving to children?

YES they absolutely are allowed sugars, but we try to avoid them at snack time. I have lots of tips, which as part of my role as a paediatric dentist, I try to tailor to each individual family. No two families are the same so I give advice individually, but there are some general tips which work for many families including mine.

We don’t buy sugary things (sweets, snacks, juices) into the house, if they want a sugary thing, we have to purposely go out and get it! This way the frequency we’re having them is much less, usually they have a choice of a sweet or juice when we go out shopping and I buy them each one piece, no multipacks, I’ve found when they know there’s more than one piece available they just keep nagging at me until I give in and let them eat it! 

Then if we’re going out as a family they’re allowed to choose a dessert like an ice cream or sweets or a sugary drink. They love bubble tea but we limit that to once a month.

It’s a bit harder as they grow older to limit the sugars when they are able to get access to it themselves without you, so educating them as to WHY they need to limit them and then giving them control is a key element. 

My three girls all know how to read a nutrition label when it comes to sugar and this helps them make a decision. This is something I teach my patients too!

Obviously, dentists in Scotland can’t currently see children for routine checkups. What can parents do to ensure their children’s teeth are in good health? Are there any ‘danger signs’ we should be aware of?

A good brush in the morning and before bedtime with a fluoride toothpaste is key to keeping their teeth strong, but also flossing! Children’s teeth sit close to one another and most of the cavities we see in children start in between their teeth were the toothbrush can’t reach. So flossing once a day is really important, you can start from any age, it will get them into the habit. There are children’s flossers which are easy to hold and use.

Another issue I’m seeing is that parents feel pressured to have their children become independent with life skills, but it’s important to know that children don’t have the dexterity to brush their teeth well until they can tie shoelaces! Even then, their teeth need to be checked well, this can be done using disclosing tablets which I find are a great tool to show your child why and where they need to brush. I use disclosing tablets to check my own teeth after brushing and my daughter’s teeth after I have brushed them!

The first signs of a tooth getting a cavity is actually a white spot, this will start to discolour and become a caramel colour. If you see these signs on their teeth try to brush an extra time each day, or if they are old enough to rinse, use a fluoride mouthwash at a separate time from their two daily brushes. 

If your child is complaining of toothache, look out for any swelling or spots on the gums next to that tooth, as this is a sign of infection. 

In all cases if you have any concerns you can call your dentist who can advise you what to do. At the moment I am seeing children for check-ups and all treatment needs.

My youngest really hates me brushing the side of his teeth (the side closest to his teeth) – do you have any tips for brushing well?

My sugar bug story helps children to understand WHY they need to brush and this seems to be a game changer for most families brushing battles!

But using disclosing tablets helps to show them the sugar bugs and their poop! This helps them to visually see what they need to brush away and they cooperate better.

Things like choosing a toothbrush with a small head can help, there are also options like a three sided toothbrush which “hugs” the tooth from the three surfaces at once and isn’t as bulky. There are so many different options and it’s a case of trial and error to see which one works for your child.

Brushing can become a battle with toddlers and this is a normal stage of their development when they try to push the boundaries, but the consequences of not brushing mean that it’s a non-negotiable boundary! So, as a parent you have to be strong and get through it! My tips for those phases are to make sure you’re always talking about brushing like it’s a fun activity (yay! Brushing time!), incorporating music helps a lot, model brushing behaviour using cartoons, siblings or even yourself! If it’s really a struggle cut down the brushing time to a shorter one and make it really good and positive then build on that, increasing the brushing time as they become more cooperative over the weeks/months. Also something as simple as changing the time you brush, so instead of doing it very last thing before bed when they are tired, you can do it a little earlier, once they have had their last meal/drink of the day.

I know you have a clinic in Glasgow, and are opening one soon in Edinburgh – what makes your clinic different?

What makes coming to see me different is the time and energy I invest in each and every patient. 

Before they step into my clinic, I already know them! I do video calls and find out their likes, dislikes, introduce myself and give them a breakdown of all the fun things we will do when I see them. Once they know what is going to happen and they feel my excitement, they feel at ease and excited to come!

I spend as much time as each child needs and ensure we are going at a pace that suits them. I make a treatment plan tailored to each individual patient, but I’m flexible with the plans, which might change as the child progresses through treatment. If a child needs extra encouragement, I message them, I send them videos and I support them in every way I can, inside and outside the clinic! They know I care about them and they trust me, this makes all the difference when it comes to a child having a great experience at the hands of a dentist.

I am also trained to look at many aspects of a child’s health (mental, medical etc) alongside their oral health which means they are getting a more comprehensive type of care. Especially in terms of any developmental problems with their teeth, any dental traumas and how their bite is developing.

But one of the things they seem to enjoy the most is my singing! I know the words to all the Disney songs and I always find a way to incorporate them into my treatment plans!

Thank you so much to Dr Libi for giving us her time and knowledge for this post. This was not a sponsored post although Dr Libi did subsequently send Katie some disclosing tablets, tooth paste, and floss – along with a wee Hot Wheels Car for Thomas and a ruler set for Katie!

Please follow Dr Libi for more Toothfairy tips on Facebook or follow the progress of her new Edinburgh Clinic on Instagram.

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