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7 Un-Fun Health Milestones

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Filling a Cavity

More than one in four children now has a cavity by preschool, and half of kids have one by age 9. Dentists blame the usual (too much exposure to juice and sugary snacks).

The Ouch Factor It's not as bad as you're imagining, since in kids, a much smaller area of the mouth needs to be anesthetized; that limits the awful rubber-lip, exploding-face feeling. And as with adults, most dentists will use a numbing agent before inserting the needle, says Michael J. Hanna, D.M.D., a pediatric dentist in Pittsburgh. Some offices now use a laser instead of a drill to clean out the decay-causing bacteria. The benefit? It's painless.

On-the-Spot Soothers Let him break out his iPod (or borrow yours) and escape into music or an audiobook. And try not to let your own dental dread infect him. If you cower in the corner or ask if it hurts, his fear level may rise. Instead, sit quietly and (fake) calmly, or read a book (okay, the same passage over and over).

Thinking Ahead Ask about the office policy on parents in the treatment room. Not all allow you to accompany your child (even toddlers), so if you know that will never fly with your kid, look for someone else. As the appointment draws near, do a little role-playing: Two days before 4-year-old Grace Graham was to get a small cavity filled, her dad, Brock, lessened her anxiety by having her play dentist herself. The Gilbert, AZ, dad drew a black dot on a piece of wood in their garage. "I told her the wood had a cavity, and we could use my electric rotary grinder to clean it out," he says. Then she filled the hole with wood putty. You can also alleviate anxiety just by giving it a positive spin: "For young children, we say we're going to drip medicine around the tooth to make it fall asleep, and then we're going to power-wash the dark spot away," Dr. Hanna says.

Next: Getting Stitches

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