• Dharma Nemani

Meet my mom friend: Nora Kahenasa

When we moved to LA a year ago, I sadly had to leave behind my community of mom friends in Chicago. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have built a small but wonderful community of LA mom friends since. And Nora is one of them. I met Nora and her daughter at the library and asked for her number (making mom friends is like dating all over again!) Our daughters have since become besties and I’m so thankful. Nora is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and part-time faculty at UCLA School of Dentistry. She answered all my pressing questions about toddler dental care, her secret to keeping her daughter’s curly locks so lustrous and more…

Can you share a little more about yourself?

I was born in Iran and my family and I traveled through many countries to escape the revolution to move to Los Angeles in 1982. My parents opened up shop in the garment district of downtown, LA and worked their tushies off. I basically spent my childhood there: pretending to be a mannequin in their store window, boxing clothes to be shipped (UPS ain’t got nothin’ on me) and rummaging the streets in search of candy with my sister. Of course, it was a different time; imagining nine and 11 year-old-girls running around downtown LA these days would certainly bring along images of a surprise child protective services interrogation. I grew up, got street smart, and was fortunate to have parents who gave me the confidence to be myself and not feel the pressure to conform to societal standards for women my age (stay in LA, find a [rich] husband, get married, have kids, etc)...

After obtaining my Bio degree at UCI (go, Anteaters!), I decided to leave good ol’ LA and go to sunny Florida for school, which was one of the best decisions I ever made. I graduated Dental school with honors and continued to Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery residency, where I worked very hard and fought many battles, in a time when there were very few women in my field. Following graduation, I was on top of the world! I accomplished this amazing feat and had the strength and energy to work and work and work until... I met an amazing man. We decided to take the plunge and I finally stopped working in my 38th week of pregnancy, after my patient reported that my baby was kicking him in the head during surgery.

After 31 hours (and a crappy epidural that decided to wear off), our bundle of joy entered this world. Motherhood immediately changed my priorities, and, though I love my work and am grateful to be able to practice what I love, my world now revolves around her. She is my most amazing accomplishment, though I have to say, that even the most difficult surgery I have ever performed (a 28-hour facial trauma case) is a cake walk when compared to the negotiating/arguing necessary when this little firecracker sets her mind to something! Up next in our joyous parenthood journey, is the search for a kindergarten that admits five-year-old firecrackers with a penchant for aggressive negotiation :)

What age should toddlers start brushing? It’s best to start as soon as the first tooth erupts. Even prior to our babe erupting her first tooth, we started with the “banana brush.” Once we saw a tooth, we made brushing a part of our routine, morning and night. It’s very important during the toddler years to make brushing part of the routine, particularly if a child falls asleep with milk in a bottle (there is some conflicting evidence that says breast milk does not cause tooth decay, but, personally, I would still clean after nursing). Cleaning the teeth soon after drinking milk, even with a clean cloth, helps fight tooth decay that can develop quite quickly due to the milk pooling in the mouth. Once she began brushing on her own, we started the routine of singing two (long) songs while she brushes, then we take over and brush to make sure the sugar bugs are all gone.

What age and how often should toddlers be seeing a dentist? In order to make the child as comfortable as possible going to the dentist, it’s a good idea to start early with easy appointments, such as a cleaning. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) recommends that a child go to the dentist by age one or within six months after the first tooth erupts. Primary teeth typically begin growing in around 6 months of age.

Should toddlers be brushing twice a day or after each meal? Twice a day is great though there is no harm in brushing more if the toddler just can’t get enough (and is being gentle with the toothbrush). I have even found it helpful to keep a toothbrush kit in the car in case we are rushing out the door and forget to brush.

According to the AAPD, the sooner you start brushing the better! Starting at birth, clean your child’s gums with a soft infant toothbrush or cloth and water. Parents should use a tiny smear of fluoride toothpaste to brush baby teeth twice daily as soon as they erupt and a soft, age-appropriate sized toothbrush. Once children are three to six-years-old, then the amount should be increased to a pea-size dollop. Young children do not have the ability to brush their teeth effectively. Children should spit out and not swallow excess toothpaste after brushing.

Should toddlers be flossing? Flossing is life! We follow the old adage that says you should only floss the teeth you want to keep ;) We like using the kid’s flossers so she can hold it and try herself. Once she’s done, I take over and get flossy.

How often should we be changing toothbrushes? I will typically change the brush every 3-4 weeks depending on how beat up it gets and what surfaces it encounters on its toddler toothbrush adventure. Editor’s note: We also change our toothbrush every time Mishka gets over a cold! Seems to help keep germs at bay.

Thumb-sucking and paci-sucking can push front teeth and cause misalignment. Any tools or tricks for moms with kids who currently have these habits? The AAPD states that thumb and pacifier sucking habits will generally only become a problem if they go on for a very long period of time. Most children stop these habits on their own, but if they are still sucking their thumbs or fingers past the age of three, a mouth appliance may be recommended by your pediatric dentist. Thumb and pacifier sucking can cause a narrow palate that may result in improper tooth positions, difficulty eating due to an open bite (front teeth don’t meet), and airway problems. Expanding the palate back to its original shape as soon as possible is important and can be achieved by consulting with a pediatric dentist about the proper treatment for each individual child.

As you know, I’m a huge fan of your little one’s curls… what products do you guys use / what’s your routine? Ahhh the curls! I am a big fan too and hopefully she will continue to love them. I keep it as simple as possible since her hair can tangle very easily. We shampoo twice a week and condition every day in the bath. While wet with conditioner, I brush her hair with the “wet brush” (the inventor deserves a medal!). We love Shea Moisture products since they allow for easy brushing.

Between oral surgery practice, home and the family… how do you manage to make time for yourself? What are some of your fav self-care products / indulgences? Travel (even staycations), hanging with great friends (like Dharma), and indulging in some chocolate and a nice glass of red wine (with immediate brushing so I don’t stain my pearly whites). Also, don’t forget to sprinkle in some online shopping, which can be very dangerous!

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