Dental disease doesn’t discriminate by age. Although certain types of disease are more common in adults, children are just as susceptible, particularly to tooth decay.
Unfortunately, the early signs of disease in a child’s teeth can be quite subtle—that’s why you as a parent should keep alert for any signs of a problem. Here are 3 things you might notice that definitely need your dentist’s attention.
Cavities. Tooth decay occurs when mouth acid erodes tooth enamel and forms holes or cavities. The infection can continue to grow and affect deeper parts of the tooth like the pulp and root canals, eventually endangering the tooth’s survival. If you notice tiny brown spots on their teeth, this may indicate the presence of cavities—you should see your dentist as soon as possible. To account for what you don’t see, have your child visit your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups.
Toothache. Tooth pain can range from a sensitive twinge of pain when eating or drinking hot or cold foods to a throbbing sharp pain. Whatever its form, a child’s toothache might indicate advancing decay in which the infection has entered the tooth pulp and is attacking the nerves. If your child experiences any form of toothache, see your dentist the next day if possible. Even if the pain goes away, don’t cancel the appointment—it’s probable the infection is still there and growing.
Bleeding gums. Gums don’t normally bleed during teeth brushing—the gums are much more resilient unless they’ve been weakened by periodontal (gum) disease (although over-aggressive brushing could also be a cause). If you notice your child’s gums bleeding after brushing, see your dentist as soon as possible—the sooner they receive treatment for any gum problems the less damage they’ll experience, and the better chance of preserving any affected teeth.
Taking care of your child’s teeth is a high priority, not only for their health now but for the future too. And that means dealing with their teeth’s most common and formidable enemy, tooth decay.
Your focus, of course, should be on preventing decay through good oral hygiene practices, a healthy diet low in foods with added sugar and regular office visits for cleaning and checkups. But some children at higher risk or who’ve already encountered tooth decay may also need a little extra help in the form of dental sealants.
The most common use of sealants addresses a weakness in young teeth that disease-causing bacteria exploit. Deep grooves known as pits and fissures form within the biting surfaces of developing back teeth and in the rear of front teeth.Â It’s very difficult to reach these areas with daily brushing, so some plaque may be left behind (hence the importance of semi-annual office cleanings).
Inside the mouth, these pits and fissures are in a warm and moist environment and are a haven for bacteria that feed on plaque and produce high levels of acid as a by-product. The acid softens enamel to eventually create a hole, or a “cavity” in the tooth. Children’s young enamel is highly susceptible to this process — it hasn’t developed enough strength to resist the adverse effects of acid.
A “pit and fissure” sealant made of resin fills in the grooves in the teeth to inhibit the buildup of plaque — a kind of “mini” filling. It’s an added layer of protection that complements other prevention efforts. But applying them isn’t an automatic practice — we only recommend it for children at high risk, especially where decay is beginning or it appears the conditions are conducive for it. When needed, though, it can be quite effective in preventing decay or minimizing its effects.
The best way to know if your child could benefit from a sealant is to have them undergo a complete dental exam. From there we can advise you on whether a sealant application is an important investment in their current and future health.
If you would like more information on dental disease prevention for children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sealants for Children.”
When does dental care begin for a child? In the truest sense, before they're born. Although the first teeth won't erupt until months after birth, they're already forming in the baby's jaw while still in the womb.
During the prenatal period a baby's dental health depends on the mother's health and diet, especially consuming foods rich in calcium and other minerals and nutrients. Once the baby is born, the next dental milestone is the first appearance of primary teeth in the mouth. That's when you can begin brushing with just a smear of toothpaste on a toothbrush.
Perhaps, though, the most important step occurs around their first birthday. This is the recommended time for you to bring them to visit our office for the first time.
By then, many of their primary teeth have already come in. Even though they'll eventually lose these to make way for their permanent set, it's still important to take care of them. A primary tooth lost prematurely could cause the permanent tooth to come in improperly. Saving it by preventing and treating tooth decay with fluoride applications and sealants, fillings or even a modified root canal treatment could stop a bad bite and costly orthodontic treatment down the road.
Regular trips to the dentist benefit you as a caregiver as much as they do your child. We're your best source for information about dental health and development, including concerns like teething and thumb sucking. We'll also keep you informed on your child's growth process as their teeth, jaws and facial structure develop.
Beginning regular dental visits at age one will also help make your child comfortable with seeing the dentist, more readily than if you wait until they're older. It's an unfortunate fact that many people don't seek out the clinical dental care they need because of anxiety over visiting the dentist. Starting early, not only will your child be getting the best in dental care, they'll be developing a habit that can continue to benefit their oral health the rest of their lives.
If you would like more information on your child's dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Age One Dental Visit.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
There’s a potential threat lurking in your young child’s mouth—tooth decay. This destructive disease can not only rob them of teeth now, it could also impact their dental health long into their adult years.
That’s why we focus heavily on decay prevention measures even in primary (“baby”) teeth, as well as early treatment should it still occur. It’s a straightforward treatment strategy: minimize the factors that contribute to disease and maximize those that protect against it.
We can represent the disease-causing factors with the acronym BAD. Bad bacteria top the list: they produce oral acid that erodes tooth enamel. Couple that with an Absence of healthy saliva function, necessary for acid neutralization, and you have the potential opening for tooth decay. Poor Dietary habits that include too much added sugar (a prime food source for bacteria) and acidic foods help fuel the decay process.
But there are also SAFE factors that can help counteract the BAD. Promoting better Saliva function helps control acid levels, while Sealants applied to chewing surfaces strengthen these vulnerable areas against decay. We can prescribe Antimicrobials in the form of mouth rinses that reduce abnormally high bacterial concentrations. Fluoride applied directly to the enamel bolsters its mineral content. And an Effective diet high in nutrition and low in sugar or acidic foods rounds out our protective measures.
Promoting SAFE factors greatly reduces the risk of childhood tooth decay. To keep on track it’s important to start regular, six-month dental visits beginning around your child’s first birthday. These visits are the most important way to take advantage of prevention measures like sealants or topical fluoride, as well as keeping an eye out for any signs of decay.
And what you do at home is just as important. Besides providing a teeth-friendly diet, you should also brush and floss your child’s teeth every day, teaching them to do it for themselves when they’re old enough. Playing it “SAFE” with your child’s dental health will help ensure your child’s teeth stay decay-free.
If you would like more information on dental care for your child, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Taking the Stress out of Dentistry for Kids.”
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