Seattle Mama Doc

A blog by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson.

A mom, a pediatrician, and her insights about keeping your kids healthy.

What To Know About Baby Teeth

Image courtesy: American Dental Association

Image courtesy: American Dental Association

Things have changed over the past couple of years regarding how to care for baby teeth. Official recommendations for fluoridated toothpaste begin with the very first sighting of the very first tooth. This is news to many.

What we do early in our child’s life can have lasting consequences. Some quick reminders for new parents, grandparents and anyone out there lucky enough to be hanging out with an infant. Keep their mouth delicious!

5 Things Every Parent Needs To Know About Baby Teeth

  1. Use fluoridated toothpaste at tooth eruption. The minute those baby teeth come in consider it the start of the lifelong brushing habit for your baby. Brushing and rinsing the teeth after breastfeeding or formula, solid meals or snacks will always be recommended.  In minimum, build brushing into everyday, ideally morning and night, with a tiny amount of fluoridated child toothpaste (see image above). This may be most important after the last evening feeding.
  2. Tap water! Brush with tap water twice a day and provide tap water for your infants and children when serving water. After you brush teeth DON’T RINSE with water. Let the tiny amount of fluoride from the brushing sit on the teeth as long as possible to prevent decay.
  3. Use the right amount of toothpaste (image above). This provides protection from bacteria and acid but also avoids concern for too much toothpaste.
    1. < 3 years of age – rice sized smear of toothpaste on the brush.
    2. > 3 years (including adults) pea sized amount of toothpaste is all you need on your brush once you know how to spit.
    3. Don’t rinse after brushing.
  4. Timing: Most infants and toddlers, preschoolers and young children can brush their teeth and tongue in about 1 minute — goal really is to brush at the gumline on all sides of each tooth, paying special attention to back teeth, molars, and lower teeth where bacteria love to reside. For older children, teens and adults the rule of thumb is typically 2 minutes of brush time to brush teeth, tongue and rid mouth of dragon breath!
  5. Bacteria: Baby teeth enamel is thinner than adult (secondary) teeth so the mix of sugar and bacteria in the mouth must be deterred. We unfortunately transfer oral bacteria to babies when we share utensils, kiss them, clean their pacifiers with our mouths (don’t do it!), and drink from shared cups. If you have a history of lots of cavities the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new policy says, “Parents/caregivers, especially those with significant history of dental decay, should be cautioned to avoid sharing with their child items that have been in their own mouths.” I’m all for smooching babies so I say this: get to the dentist yourself to make sure your mouth is in tip-top shape to avoid some bad transfers…

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E-Cigarette Use Up, One Dead In New York

WAPC e cigaretteE-cigarette use is growing among teenagers. Vaping is on the rise among high-school students in particular, with rates increasing steadily each year. I still think of e-cigs as the gateway to the gateway drug. In my experience, teens remain confused. They hear about health benefits (harm reduction) in adults and they may think that confers safety. In addition, some teens have reported to me they have heard it will improve their sports and school performance.

Nope. No data to show e-cigs are good for anything in teens, in fact we know nicotine increases HR and BP which in the end could decrease sport skills. Just a teaspoon of liquid nicotine can be lethal to a young child and we know nicotine can have lasting adverse consequences on teen brain development. Becoming addicted to nicotine (the big worry with teen use) could have secondary health effects leading athletes to cigarettes which we know won’t improve their talent on the field.

Rates of e-cig use rose from 4.7% in 2011 to 10% in 2012, now a recent Pediatrics study of 1900 high-schoolers in Hawaii shows 29% have tried e-cigarettes. Only 15% of the same group reported trying a cigarette. These e-cigs are getting around.

It’s not just use among teenagers that’s cause for concern. Young children living with or near nicotine may be at highest risk from e-cigs due to their curiosity and lagging judgment and ultimate exposure. The first child death related to exposure of liquid nicotine was reported last week. A child in NY has died from exposure to liquid nicotine after officials have been warning of the risks from sales lacking regulation. The risks are being felt everywhere as the rates of calls to poison control rose from 1 report in September of 2010 to 215 calls in February of 2014.  This NY death represents an enormous tragedy for this family but also for our ability to prioritize safety over sales. We can’t forget that the flavored nicotine used in e-cigs appeals to many senses in a toddler exploring their environment. Dr Alexander Garrard, Clinical Managing Director of the Washington Poison Center said, “The products smell very sweet, akin to a jolly rancher so they’re enticing to a number of different senses in kids. The packaging is very colorful as well.” All these things draw a child to experiment and possibly ingest.

Protecting children from this toxin, I would say, is a true failure of pediatric public health.

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Speaking Up At School

CS Mott graphicIs it partly our responsibility, as parents, to ensure our kids are in an immunized, safe environment? Maybe so.

Unsurprisingly, most parents want to make sure their children attend a school or daycare with children up-to-date on immunizations. This week is National Influenza Vaccination Week and provides a hearty reminder. Established by the CDC in 2005, it began as a way to raise vaccination rates during the month of December. Vaccinations historically tend to drop at the end of November (we get busy, we don’t go to the doctor), but this is only the beginning of flu season and it’s not too late to get yourself and your family protected. Influenza peaks in February and March so December is still a great time to get immunized for anything, including flu.

Although many daycare facilities are mandated to check immunization status at entry, not all keep up on the records as children age. New data finds many preschoolers are late to get their shot leaving about 1/4 of them in daycare/preschool not fully protected at any given time.

In a scenario where 1 in 4 children in their daycare center were not up-to-date with vaccinations, 74% of parents would consider removing their own children from that childcare center; another 11% would consider removal of their children only if an outbreak occurred.  ~National Poll on Children’s Health

Enter parent-to-parent healthcare… Read full post »

H3N2 And An Update on Flu

Lots of information floating around this past week about influenza. Of anything, remember this: it’s easiest to predict that influenza can be unpredictable and it’s also still true that a flu shot is the best way to protect your family from flu. I’ll explain why, along with a recap of what you should know about new data, here.

Flu season is just getting started in the United States (circulating infections in nearly all states) and this past week the CDC announced new information about a strain of Influenza A, H3N2. This is exactly what the CDC is supposed to do: keep us informed and help us prepare for an influenza season. This year the information standing out is risks surrounding the strain of H3N2 that has “drifted” and the reality that when H3N2 is the most common strain of flu going around it tends to cause more serious infections.
Did you know? Every year an estimated 20,000 children younger than 5 years old are hospitalized for flu complications. Like pneumonia. Everyone in your family who is 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine. This year, Next year, Every year. #getafluvax

When Influenza Virus “Drifts”

  • Vaccines for each year’s flu are formulated months in advance to allow time for vaccine manufacturing and distribution.
    • 100 centers around the world provide influenza surveillance and predict which strains will circulate to the US and North America. Decisions are made in February each year for the next year’s vaccine. Researchers look at trends to determine which viruses may be more prevalent.
    • The vaccine protects against three (trivalent vaccine) or four flu viruses (quadrivalent vaccine), based on the world’s predictions. Typically each flu vaccine has at least two strains of Influenza A and one or two strains of Influenza B. Of anything that is consistent it’s that flu seasons are unpredictable.
  • H3N2 is one strain of Influenza A in this year’s vaccine. The “drifted” vaccine is just another form of H3N2 that has different characteristics.
    • Flu viruses often “drift,” this happens every few years. The drifted H3N2 virus is one specific type selected for the 2015 southern hemisphere influenza vaccine (point being: this isn’t an unknown virus, it was just unknown how much it would spread in the US).

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When A Child First Dreams At Night

boy sleeping My youngest had a dream a few months ago. In it he was a giant marshmallow (or maybe it was just about a giant marshmallow). Not necessarily clairvoyance or genius coming out here, but a monumental dream nonetheless. The reason: it was the first dream he remembered and reported to us at the breakfast table unprompted. It stuck with me (can you imagine dreaming about marshmallows and balloons and robots –these are things I hear about from my boys). I mean, do you remember the first thing you dreamed about that stuck through until morning? Some think of nighttime dreams as telling subtle stories of those we enjoy, facilitating memories we cherish or unleashing and un-roofing things we worry about it. I’ve also heard people opine that dreams are threads of life we need “to process” more. Reality is, we may know very little, scientifically speaking, about dreams, especially for our children.

The definition of dreaming is: “a universal human experience occurring during sleep in which fictive events follow one another in an organized, story-like manner and into which are woven hallucinatory, primarily visual, images that are largely congruent with an ongoing confabulated plot.” It’s been proven that those images tend to become more bizarre the longer we sleep, but does the actual act of dreaming have a link to child development? When and why do children dream and what do we know about it? I have been wondering…

Thankfully, sleep expert, the lovely Dr. Maida Chen weighs in. Here’s a quick back and forth we had about dreams. Stunning stuff she shares so well here… Read full post »

Power Of A Kiss And Family Oral Health

Image courtesy: American Dental Association

Image courtesy: American Dental Association

Oral health doesn’t start and end with the dentist. Times are changing as the Washington Dental Service Foundation has trained 1,600 pediatricians and family physicians throughout the state on the importance of oral hygiene in young children. Pediatricians are now applying fluoride during well-child check-ups and counseling families more comprehensively on how to prevent dental decay while also referring to dentists for prevention and acute dental problems. Just last month I attended the 1-1/2 hour oral health training with a pediatric dentist. That learning coupled with a new policy statement from The American Academy of Pediatrics highlighting the importance of oral health inspired me to get the word out. I suspect we can all do a bit better protecting our children’s mouths. Recommendations for fluoridated toothpaste have recently changed (use it with the very first baby tooth!) as has knowledge and reminders about how we share our bacteria with our children. What we do for our mouth may have direct effects on our children’s.

The Most Common Chronic Childhood Disease

  • The facts about oral health in children are a little surprising. By their first birthday 8% of toddlers have cavities in their mouth and the Pediatrics policy detailed 24% 2-4 year-olds, 53% 6-8 year-olds and 56% 15 year-olds also have dental disease. Since oral health (even in babies and toddlers) is an integral part of overall health of children this is problematic. Dental disease has strong links between diabetes, respiratory infections and heart disease. The numbers for children with dental disease are high (!!) which makes dental disease the most common infection of childhood.
  • Good news is much of this disease can be prevented (or corrected) and because infants and young children see the pediatrician more frequently than the dentist, it’s becoming clear that pediatricians need to hone skills on oral health, the disease process, prevention and dentist interventions when necessary.

4 Things I Learned About Oral Health

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Boring, Bare, Basic: Keep The Crib Safe

bare, boring,  basicWe’ve known for several years that a crowded bed and a decorated crib (pillows, quilts, stuffed animals, bumpers) can put babies at risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and unintentional sleep-related suffocation. Boring, bare and basic beds are still best for babies. Tell every mother, father and grandparent to an infant you know. A Pediatrics study out today shows hazardous, soft bedding is still being used by as many as 50% of US parents despite years of public health messages urging the opposite. I see where these numbers come from– we parents love to dote on our babies. We instinctively provide warmth and coziness to our babies all day so images of abundant bedding at nighttime can look divine. Further, our families (mothers or mothers-in-law!), coworkers and neighbors may encourage soft bedding because of old habits; many feel warmer bedding is better. However when it comes to the crib, our instincts may deter us from providing the safest sleep. As friends, parents, relatives and co-workers we have to support new parents in creating a basic, boring, and bare crib. Our responsibility extends from our own home to the workplace and to our neighborhood — what we buy and hand-down for that baby showers matters! The study out today reminds us we have lots of work to do, especially as data finds some groups of parents may be at more risk for using the soft stuff…

Soft Bedding Increases Risk

Several studies around the world dating back to the 1990’s have found SIDS risk increases with soft, loose bedding. This includes blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, quilts and similar materials either covering/on top of or underneath the infant. Read more about risk modes for SIDS, and why I hate sleep positioners. What we know: data in the early 1990’s was so compelling that in 1996 the AAP began recommending that infants sleep in firm, stark bedding environments on their back. The great news is that parents took notice of the “back to sleep” campaign and there was a sharp decline in the use of bedding in the 1990’s. Between 200-2010 the progress slowed. More from the study about moms and babies at risk: Read full post »

5 Things You Should Know About Concussions

This is a post authored by J. Forrest Bennett, ARNP who works in the rehabilitation department and on the concussion team led by Dr Samuel Browd (@DrBrowd), medical director of Seattle Children’s Sports Concussion Program. Forrest has had the unique experience to care for children after concussions in the immediate time after injury and in weeks to months thereafter when symptoms are prolonged. His wisdom can help us all understand the opportunity we have to improve children’s recovery after a head injury. In this post he explains what happens to the brain cells during a concussion, what constitutes risk for concussions, and the 5 things all of us need to know about concussions. I certainly know more after reading this and suspect you will too. Please leave comments or questions if you have them.


Soccer is the highest risk sport for school-age girls.

Soccer is the highest risk sport for school-age girls.

What Happens During A Concussion?

A concussion is a complex process affecting the brain, brought on by biomechanical forces (like a blow to the head, car crash, etc.) The force is transmitted to the head and can result in usually short-lived symptoms such as headaches, brief loss of consciousness, nausea, and/or dizziness. These symptoms are believed to be due to a temporary shift in the neurotransmitters (chemicals that allow cells to communicate) in the brain, resulting in a mismatch where the brain needs more energy but receives decreased blood flow to the brain temporarily. This mismatch in blood flow is believed to last up to 10 days following an injury and helps explain the symptoms associated with a time-limited injury such as a concussion.

Unfortunately this also explains why diagnosing and managing concussions can be vexing. Unlike a broken bone, we do not have validated imagining or blood tests that enable definitive diagnosis. The best practice of diagnosing concussion currently relies on obtaining a detailed history and physical following an injury. Depending on the severity of the injury and initial presentation, a sideline assessment should performed to look for common post-concussive symptoms. If the initial injury is more severe one may need to be evaluated in the emergency department and imaging may be obtained to help rule out a more severe injury. Each traumatic brain injury is unique, and should be treated with respect. There is nothing more heart breaking than a traumatic injury being improperly respected and identified, leading to a delay in care and permanent deficits.

 It can be challenging to determine which concussions are mild, severe and which may progress. Ultimately the goal is to prevent injuries, screen for potential head injuries when appropriate and diagnose and treat injuries in a timely fashion to limit their severity.

How To Prevent Head Injuries

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The Seriousness Of Concussions

J. Forrest Bennett, ARNP, Rehabilitation

J. Forrest Bennett, ARNP, Rehabilitation

This is a guest post from J. Forrest Bennett, an ARNP at Seattle Children’s and Dr Samuel Browd (@DrBrowd) a neurosurgeon who, together with their team, care for children after concussions. Clearly, we’ve all heard more about concussion these past few years. Not just because of pro-football tragedies and lawsuits but also because of the increasing expertise the medical community is acquiring around how to care for children and young adults after getting hit in the head. We’re also learning how to prevent head injuries in the first place. Forrest and I first started discussing this last spring when I began to see his passion in getting great information out to families. He’s convinced the more we parents (and community physicians) know about what to do with head injuries the less children suffer. In some cases what we do in minute 1 or day 1 after an injury can really change how a child recovers. Take a peek at this awesome post and please post comments/questions if you have them. More content will also be published later this week.


There is an ongoing debate about how we should best assess, manage and prevent head injuries in sports. Given the complexity of the injury and the effects that a concussion can have on an individual there is no room for the outdated and dismissive terms such as “getting your bell rung” or a “ding to the head.” Being dismissive of head injuries can lead to premature return to play and can end tragically. These injuries really matter.

This isn’t to say that kids shouldn’t play sports of course. Sports promote cardiovascular health and play a crucial role in the character development of children and adolescents. Parents must balance the risk with the benefits of sports to promote healthy decision-making. I like to talk about an active risk-reduction lifestyle. Through outreach and education we can prevent debilitating injuries, identify concussions early, and provide care plans that stem from evidence to limit the impact injuries have on kids.

What Every Parent Should Know About Concussions

  • Helmets do NOT protect against all concussions
    • Helmets provide crucial protection against skull fractures and more severe brain injuries but you can still suffer a concussion even with all of the proper protective equipment.
  •  There is a right way to play sports
    • Teach your kids safe ways to play sports and adhere to the rules of the game. For example: no tackling in soccer and no head tohead contact in football. HEADS UP trained coaches teach actively safe participation in sports.
    • The majority of sport rules are intended to maintain a level playing field and enjoyable experience. Head to head contact in football is just one example of improper and unsafe play that has recently drawn national attention in increasing ones risk for injury.

Because injuries happen, a group of experts developed the Standardized Concussion Assessment tool- 3rd edition (SCAT 3). This tool can help guide trained coaching staff, athletic trainers and medical providers in the initial assessment, triaging, and monitoring of these injuries. Many concussions can be handled through the expertise of your pediatrician or primary care provider. Concussions with prolonged symptoms (lasting weeks to months) and\or more severe injuries frequently benefit from a team approach. Read full post »

Whoops: Over-The-Counter Dosing Errors Common

OTC revised infoIt’s that time of year again. The season of snot and mucus and colds….if you’re a parent you may even call this “sick season.” Typical cold viruses are getting readily exchanged as recirculated air in crowded malls, classrooms and daycares facilitate exchange of the germs. It’s more than inevitable that one of your kids will come down with something. Those 6-10 colds that children get on average, every year, have arrived which means there’s a good chance you’ll be up late one night with a feverish or coughing child reaching for an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine . Data proves we’re all at risk for making a dosing error. Remarkable how easy it is to do. As a pediatrician I always have to check (and double check) the label when I’m home dosing my kids. The bottles and doses are all so different.

A new study in Pediatrics found that every eight minutes a child under the age of 6 experiences a medication error (outside the doctor’s office or hospital). Over the course of ten years (2002-2012) 696,937 children experienced medication errors. Young children (under age 1) had the highest rate of errors making up more than 25% of the total number. For parents these may be easy mistakes to make as containers and dosing devices aren’t always clear (nor are they consistent) even after FDA rule changes were made a few years back.

It’s important to note that the study referencing dosing errors (above) found dosing errors from cough & cold medicine are thankfully going down while dosing errors around other meds are actually rising. It’s also of import to say that most pediatricians don’t recommend OTC cough and cold meds for children under age 6 anyway as they provide little benefit and put children at risk for side effects and dosing errors. Read full post »