Dental professionals are looking out for “Generation Z” kids. They’re urging parents to take infants to the dentist and warning of the outcomes of postponing their first visit.

Until recently, a first dental visit traditionally took place at age three or four. That’s because there was little concern over baby teeth that would eventually fall out. However, it’s not uncommon for kids to develop cavities as young as five or six.

Therefore, dentists around the world are now recommending that toddlers visit the dentist when they are only six months to one year old.

Why Generation Z Should Start Seeing the Dentist Early

South Carolina pediatric dentist Dr. Thom Atkins told the Aiken Standard that the earlier a child visits the dentist, the better his or her oral health will be as they age.

Learn more: 5 Positive Oral Health Benefits

young boy concerned about visiting the dentist

“We like to see children earlier than most people anticipate,” he said. “We prefer to see them within six months of the first tooth coming in or by the age of 1, whichever comes first.”

Early dental visits can identify problems before they evolve. In addition, this allows kids to learn to feel comfortable in a dentist’s office.

Kids can become frightened of the dentist if their first visit involves treating cavities or rotting teeth. Professor Nigel Hunt, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at England’s Royal College of Surgeons, says that’s only natural.

“If a first dental visit results in a stressful, traumatic experience, this could have a serious life-long effect on a child’s willingness to engage in the dental process,” he told the Telegraph.

Learn more: Dental Anxiety and Kids: Parents, Caregivers, Dentists All Play a Role

Parents Can Hold Infants

Parents hold their children while the dentist performs an examination and applies fluoride. This, surprisingly, doesn’t cause discomfort in most young patients.

According to the Aiken Standard, studies have proven that children who receive fluoride applications during infancy are less likely to develop oral health problems. Moreover, avoiding cavities can save parents a good deal of money.

Early Visits Help Parent’s as Well

Additionally, much of these early visits are devoted to informing parents about brushing and flossing routines. Parents can also learn about the potentially harmful effects of pacifiers, sippy cups and sugary snacks.

mother teaching her Generation Z daughter how to brush her teeth

Parents of “Generation Z” kids should take infants to the dentist earlier than was previously recommended.

New research from England shows that most parents still believe children shouldn’t visit the dentist until they are three or four. Within the last year, 80% of one to two-year-olds in England did not visit the dentist. This may explain why 9,220 tooth extractions on children aged one to four were performed throughout the same period.  Of these extractions, 48 involved infants who were less than a year old.

Most of the extractions were attributed to tooth decay, the most common reason young British children find themselves in the hospital.

Along with many other widespread dental problems, tooth decay is highly preventable. The key is ensuring patients practice good oral hygiene. These annual figures mark a 24% increase in tooth extractions on British children aged one to four over the past ten years.

Read next: Infant Dental Care: Tips for Caring for Your Infant’s Teeth

Patients who are afraid of the dentist might soon be able to escape to an alternate universe. That’s because dentists can help them leave their fears behind thanks to virtual reality.

According to Science Daily, a recent experiment found that dentists who immersed patients in virtual reality helped lower patients’ stress and pain.

Researchers from Plymouth, Exeter and Birmingham University enlisted 80 participants who needed a filling or a tooth extraction. The researchers split participants into three groups. Two groups wore VR headsets during their procedures. The third acted as the control group and did not wear headsets. The researchers administered pain medication and/or sedation to any patient who required it.

Which Universe to Choose?

Of the two groups that wore headsets, VR transported one to a calm beach environment.  Meanwhile, VR allowed the other group to explore a less calming city environment.

Patients completed a survey immediately after treatment and a second survey a week later.

Those who visited a virtual beach reported less stress and pain than the other groups. A week later, this group also had a far more positive recollection of the treatment.  In addition, they were more likely to return to the dentist.

Patients who visited the virtual reality city reported the same amount of stress and pain as the control group. This indicates that this virtual reality environment had no effect on their experience.

Virtual Reality in Health Care is On the Rise

Lead author Dr. Karin Tanja-Dijkstra said: “The use of virtual reality in health care settings is on the rise.” However, she continued, “…we need more rigorous evidence of whether it actually improves patient experiences. Our research demonstrates that under the right conditions, this technology can be used to help both patients and practitioners.”

The experience of the virtual city group shows that simply distracting patients with any sort of VR might not make dental work more relaxing. It seems that in order for the VR environment to help, the environment must be calm and soothing, like a beach.

The success of the virtual beach is not a surprise. Previous research has shown that the average person is most relaxed in this type of environment.

A 2015 study found that even spending time in an aquarium can improve mood and also reduce heart rate and blood pressure.

Virtual Reality Beaches are Relaxing

The real surprise from the recent study was the stark difference between the two groups’ experiences. Dr. Melissa Auvray, a dentist involved in the study, said feedback the researchers received from the patients who visited a virtual beach was “fantastic.” Adding to the findings’ significance is the current popularity of sedation dentistry.

“The benefit of the VR is that with sedation patients need to have someone with them to help them home afterwards,” Dr. Auvray noted. In addition, Auvray said, “the dentist and dental nurse need further training. However, …any dentist with a dental degree could learn to use the VR kit, and it could benefit patients.”

The research team plans to determine whether a virtual beach could achieve the same results for patients undergoing more serious procedures. Such studies will likely involve improved versions of the beach environment that the researchers designed to make medical treatment as relaxing as humanly possible.

Read next: Dental Anxiety? Sedation Dentistry Could Help

The traditional solution for unhealthy teeth has long been to save the tooth, eliminating pain or the potential for worsening condition as quickly as possible. It might only be a matter of time before the tooth begins to cause trouble again but long-term risks were typically unknown to the patient, regardless of how much money has been put towards saving what could be a lost cause.

Another common situation is a patient spending thousands of dollars to save one side of the mouth only to see the other side fail just a few months later. These days of pouring money down the drain might be over thanks to tremendous advancements in dental implant treatment.

Rather than immediately choosing to save unhealthy teeth, many dentists first show patients panoramic x-rays and a 3D CT scan that displays what all of their teeth will look like in five or ten years. If the future doesn’t look good, your dentist might recommend replacing the teeth with full mouth implants because the newly-updated procedure will greatly outweigh the long-term cost of ongoing, preventative treatment.

Patients are naturally surprised to hear such a drastic suggestion since they were likely under the impression that the only people who received full mouth implants had little if any healthy teeth. But in 2017, the actual procedure is far less time-consuming, reliable and costly than more root canals, crowns  or bridgework.

Dental Implant Trends

For example, today’s dental implants can now require just 5 or 6 actual implants as opposed to treating each individual tooth. This is why some patients need just three appointments to replace every single tooth in their mouths. Patients with more than a few unhealthy teeth might also eventually resort to dentures, which, unlike dental implants, do not provide stimulation for bone health and can potentially worsen the patient’s appearance, creating a permanently sunken expression.

Rochester Hybridge in upstate New York is one of many practices around the US that allows patients to customize their new teeth based on tooth shade, size, and even material in order to look authentic.

According to Science Daily, dental implants have the potential to become even more advanced following the success of a new type of nano coating material. The primary reason dental implants fail is peri-implantitis, an inflammatory process that occurs when biofilm, an evolved form of oral bacteria, develops on implants and destroys the tissue surrounding them.

But in a recent study, a UK research team created a nano coating made of silver, titanium oxide and hydroxyapatite that restricted the development of bacteria and the formation of biofilm on dental implants by 97.5%.

Reduced Risk of Dental Implant Failure

In addition to reducing the risk of peri-implantitis, the nano coating accelerated bone healing and supported integration of the implants into the surrounding bone. Researcher and University of Plymouth Professor Richard Handy told Science Daily that the team now plans on replicating their findings “with animal models and then human volunteers.”

Figures from the American Academy of Implant Dentistry state that three million Americans currently have dental implants, a number that is supposed to rise by at least 500,000 this year. In about five years, the AAID said, the American and European market for dental implants will be worth at least $4.2 billion.

Read next: Oral Health: What Does It Encompass?

A major reason dentists strongly recommend making appointments every 6 months is because many symptoms of oral health problems are hard to spot on your own. It’s not always as simple as, say, ongoing toothaches or teeth shifting out of place. There are other symptoms that do not involve severe pain or a blatant change in appearance that can be seen in the mirror.

Making these symptoms even easier to ignore is the fact that they seem normal, especially for people of a certain age. But as your dentist will tell you, even the slightest problem can be a sign of a potentially serious condition.

The 4 Most Commonly Overlooked Oral Health Problems

Bad Breath

Some people are naturally plagued with particularly bad breath, which becomes increasingly noticeable as you get older, like body odor. Maybe you have a taste for pungent cuisine or tend to drink alcohol a little more than you should, giving your bad breath an excuse.

But bad breath can be an early sign of conditions like liver disease, kidney disease, advanced gum disease or diabetes. It’s difficult, however, to know that your breath is worse than the average person of your age and lifestyle if you don’t brush and floss at least twice a day.

If your breath remains just as bad despite a consistent dental care routine, your dentist might recommend a tongue scraper. Only after brushing, flossing and tongue scraping have failed might you know that you are at risk for one of the aforementioned conditions.

Dry Mouth

Like bad breath, dry mouth is something that is often mistaken as a natural part of getting older or a certain lifestyle. You might have become used to having a dry mouth because you don’t drink that much water throughout the day or are taking a medication that may cause it.

This is why the best way to truly ascertain whether or not your mouth is producing too little saliva is to ask your dentist or go for a check-up. Your dentist will quickly be able to tell if you should increase your consumption of liquids or try a saliva substitute.

A lack of saliva prevents bacteria from being washed away, which could lead to cavities or gum disease. Dry mouth is also a common sign of diabetes, scleroderma or rheumatoid arthritis.

Sensitivity To Hot And Cold Food Or Beverages

Oral health problems are often linked to personal lifestyle choices such as drinking and smoking.

Oral health problems are often linked to personal lifestyle choices such as drinking and smoking.

So you’re eating ice cream and it stings a little. No big deal, right? But then you start to feel pain while eating hot food as well. Increased sensitivity to either type of food or beverage is a sign of cavities or bruxism (teeth grinding), both of which are fairly easy to alleviate.

The combination of a night guard and regular exercise will trim your teeth grinding habit, since it is usually triggered by stress. But if the pain from hot or cold foods or liquids is almost too painful to bear, it could be a symptom of enamel decay.

The nerves at the center of tooth become decayed and therefore more sensitive, making it very painful to eat. So even if you think it’s just a cavity, call your dentist in the event that you develop sensitivity to hot and cold foods.

Snoring

Everybody snores, right? And even if you do, how are you supposed to know unless someone else is sleeping in the same room?

Learn more: Poor Oral Health and Physical Frailty

Much like the three previous symptoms, snoring is only considered completely harmless if it doesn’t reach a level of extremity. Excessive snoring could be an indication of sleep apnea, which causes the airway to close as you sleep deeply. Your dentist could have a mandibular advancement device made for you, allowing your airway to stay open so the snoring stops.

Do you have one of these oral health problems?

If you are affected by one of these problems but aren’t sure about the severity, you’ll get all the answers you need with just a single trip to the dentist. In addition to identifying oral health problems, your dentist can tell if you are at risk of more serious conditions from a simple dental exam.

It’s important to remember that just because you are experiencing these problems doesn’t mean you are inevitably going to face their worst potential outcomes. Chances are, if you bring them to your dentist’s attention as early as possible, you won’t have to worry about facing any of their consequences again!

Read next: Oral Health: What Does It Encompass?

A dental check up is usually pretty quick. Therefore, it may not seem particularly reliable to the average patient. Unless you have gum disease or another oral condition, each exam likely involves the exact same services. This may make you wonder whether it’s really necessary to schedule appointments every six months.

However, aside from the usual cavity check, most patients probably aren’t aware of the numerous types of examinations their dentists perform. This shroud of mystery could very well explain the hesitancy or anxiety many patients experience before each visit.

Here’s a simple breakdown of every exam that takes place each time you go to the dentist for a check-up:

Tooth Decay/Cavity Exam

That metal stick with a thin, curved end your dentist uses to touch the surface of your teeth is a sickle probe, aka an “explorer.” This instrument can detect cavities, but that’s just one of its many functions.

The explorer can also determine how much enamel, plaque and tartar are on your teeth. In addition, it tells your dentist how hard each tooth is.

X-rays are another part of the tooth decay and cavity exam. They allow the dentist to see decay and cavities that have just begun to form. They are especially helpful in areas that are not easy to see, like the tiny gaps in between teeth.

In addition to spotting tooth decay and cavities, this exam can identify the cause of each problem. Moreover, it helps your dentist figure out what kind of treatment to use.

Periodontal Exam

Periodontal probes look much like a sickle probe. However, they have a blunt edge, which is used to assess the state of your gums.  Your dentist will use one to measure pocket depth, or the amount of space between your gum tissue and tooth.

The numbers your hygienist calls out are measurements read off the periodontal probe. Numbers between one and three are generally healthy and normal.  They will then compare the findings with previous measurements. This helps them to determine the presence of gum disease. A loss of connective tissue is a sign of bone loss.

Pocket depth must be measured and recorded twice a year in order to monitor changes in bone and tissue attachment levels. Many patients with gum disease don’t find out they have it until it’s too late. Therefore, it is crucial that you go in for a checkup on a regular basis.

A VELscope is used to examine the mucous membrane (the oral mucosa) lining inside the mouth.

Oral Cancer Exam

That blue light some dentists shine in your mouth comes from a VELscope. This is used to examine the mucous membrane (the oral mucosa) lining inside the mouth.

Any abnormalities in this area could be an early sign of oral cancer. If caught early through an oral cancer exam,  there is a good chance minimal surgery will help prevent the cancer from spreading.

Joint/Bite Exam

A Joint/bit exam is when your dentist puts his or her fingers near your ears and asks you to open and close your mouth. In this exam, your dentist is checking your Temporal Mandibular Joints (TMJ), which connect the jawbone to the skull.

If the dentist detects poor bite alignment, tenderness in the joint and connecting muscles, or any particularly sensitive areas, the patient might have a TMJ disorder. The exam will help the dentist identify the cause of the problem and figure out what type of treatment to use.

Teeth Cleaning

Teeth cleaning removes plaque and biofilm, which is a layer of oral bacteria that can stick to your teeth. The process also removes calculus, a byproduct of hardened biofilm. Having plaque, calculus and biofilm removed at least twice a year dramatically decreases your risk of developing cavities, gum disease, and even bad breath.

Now Does It Seem Worth It?

These exams are purely routine and do not include the services your dentist could provide for any individual problems you might have.

A regular check up with your dentist can save you thousands in additional repair work in the future.

A regular check up with your dentist can save you thousands in additional repair work in the future.

So when you consider everything your dentist does in a single visit, doesn’t it make sense to say that a check-up is most definitely worth your time and money?

Skipping the dentist increases your chances of developing potentially serious oral health problems. Remember, your dentist is trying to address issues before they become a threat to your health. If she succeeds, your two visits per year could be the only days you spend in the dental chair!

Read next: Dental Health Screening: Why Regular Checkups Help Protect More than Just Your Teeth