Before a baby celebrates a second birthday, parents should make their child’s first dentist appointment, said Dr. Melissa Patenio.
“The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends children first come in between the ages of 1 and 2,” said the Lake Zurich dentist.
And before the first set of baby teeth pushes through an infant’s gums, she said, parents should begin a dental hygiene regimen.
“We recommend brushing. We have a pre-toothbrush that infants can use. Certain bacteria starts growing when a child is born,” she said.
Patenio and her colleagues at , 195 S. Rand Road, offer these and other tips for optimum dental health to their patients.
They’ve been sharing dental wisdom with area schoolchildren and day care students through health programs presented at the schools. The practice’s community education program recently helped earn the group a first-place award from the Illinois State Dental Society as part of the society’s Children’s Dental Health Month, celebrated in February. The Illinois State Dental Society named the practice Outstanding Practice in both 2010 and 2011.
Dr. Paul Herer, who completed a pediatric dentistry residency at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, is the Lake Zurich practice’s founder.
“I’ve been practicing in the Lake County area for over 30 years,” he said.
Pediatric dentistry, he said, offers children and special needs patients specialized care delivered by specialists who have extensive experience with children, along with a focused educational background. That kind of care isn’t always available through general dentistry practices, he said.
“Knowledge and experience go hand in hand,” he said.
Herer said educating children in schoolroom and day care settings is important. It’s also important to educate parents.
“Tooth decay is on the rise today,” he said, adding that decay problems seemed to worsen during the 1970s, then dropped off during the 1980s and 1990s.
He attributes the more recent upward trend in tooth decay and cavities to diets rich with processed foods and high fructose corn syrup. Also, he said, the influence of different cultures is a factor influencing the number of tooth decay cases.
“Different cultures around the world have different views of dental health care,” he said. “Our thrust is, we want to educate the kids, we want to send information home to the parents. We’re very active in the community.”
Often, he said, he sees patients who are making their first trip to the dentist when they enter kindergarten. At that point, he said, 75 to 80 percent of first-time patients will have one or more cavities.
After finishing dental school, Patenio completed a pediatric dentistry residency and master's degree in oral sciences at the University of Illinois in Chicago.
“We’re focused on children, infants, adolescents and special needs patients. We (as pediatric dentists) do a few extra years of training,” Patenio said.
Training includes coursework that focuses on behavior management methods.
“A lot of the children are very apprehensive,” she said. “It gives us an opportunity to focus on the child. Every appointment is different because each child is different. We want it to be a positive experience.”
She said she and her colleagues are happy to bring their message of early care and treatment to area students.
“It’s one of the things we take pride in,” she said.