Your child could hit a speed bump on their road to dental maturity—tooth decay. In fact, children are susceptible to an aggressive form of decay known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC) that can lead to tooth loss and possible bite issues for other teeth.
But dentists have a few weapons in their arsenal for helping children avoid tooth decay. One of these used for many years now is the application of sealants to the biting surfaces of both primary and permanent teeth. Now, two major research studies have produced evidence that sealant applications help reduce children's tooth decay.
Applying sealant is a quick and painless procedure that doesn't require drilling or anesthesia. A dentist brushes the sealant in liquid form to the nooks and crannies of a tooth's biting surfaces, which tend to accumulate decay-causing bacterial plaque. They then use a curing light to harden the sealant.
The studies previously mentioned that involved thousands of patients over a number of years, found that pediatric patients without dental sealants were more than three times likely to get cavities compared to those who had sealants applied to their teeth. The studies also found the beneficial effect of a sealant could last four years or more after its application.
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend sealants for children, especially those at high risk for decay. It's common practice now for children to first get sealants when their first permanent molars erupt (teeth that are highly susceptible to decay), usually between the ages of 5 and 7, and then later as additional molars come in.
There is a modest cost for sealant applications, but far less than the potential costs for decay treatment and later bite issues. Having your child undergo sealant treatment is a worthwhile investment: It could prevent decay and tooth loss in the near-term, and also help your child avoid more extensive dental problems in the future.
Half of all children will injure at least one tooth before adulthood. That's why we're joining with other health professionals this June to promote National Safety Month. As dentists, we want to call particular attention to potential dental injuries and what parents and caregivers can do to help their child avoid them.
The source for a dental injury usually depends on a child's age and development level. Younger children learning to walk and run are more apt to fall, and may hit their mouth on hard or sharp surfaces. Later on, most dental injuries tend to come from contact during sports play or other physical activities.
Your prevention strategy should therefore adjust to your child's age and activity level. If you have an infant starting to walk, for example, don't allow them to move around carrying a bottle, cup or other hard object that could be a source of injury if they fall. Also, keep an eye out for hard furniture or sharp-edged surfaces as they toddle around.
If you have a highly mobile toddler, discourage them from climbing and jumping on furniture, tables or other hard surfaces. If feasible, pad these surfaces and sharp edges to minimize the force of impact from a collision.
To prevent sports-related mouth injuries in older children and teens, your primary defense is an athletic mouthguard. Mouthguards cushion and absorb much of the force generated during hard sports contact. They should be worn for any physical activity with a potential risk for mouth injury, including practice sessions and informal play like a pick-up basketball game.
A type of athletic mouthguard known as “boil and bite” is readily available in retail sporting goods stores. After purchase, it is softened in very hot water; the wearer then places it in their mouth and bites down to form a permanent impression. Boil and bite mouthguards offer protection, but they can be bulky and uncomfortable to wear.
For a higher level of protection along with a more accurate and comfortable fit, a custom mouthguard created by a dentist is a more desirable option. These are based on a detailed impression of the wearer's bite, so the fit can't be beat. Both types of mouthguard need upgrading periodically in young wearers to accommodate dental development as they age.
Accidents can happen, but there's much you can do to reduce the likelihood of injury to your child's teeth. Protective measures and equipment—as well as a watchful eye—can go far to help them emerge from these active, early years dentally unscathed.
If you would like more information about dental safety, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
The amount of sugar your child consumes has a huge bearing on their tooth decay risk: The more they take in, the higher it is for this destructive disease. That's why you should moderate their intake of the usual suspects: sodas, candies and other sugar-laden foods. But you should also put the brakes on something considered wholesome and nutritious: fruit juices. And that includes all natural juice with no sugar added.
Sugar in any form is a prime food source for decay-causing bacteria. As bacteria consume leftover sugar in the mouth, they produce acid as a byproduct. With an ample source of sugar, they also multiply—and this in turn increases their acid production. Acid at these high levels can soften and erode tooth enamel, which leads to tooth decay and cavities.
Limiting or even excluding sugar-added foods and snacks can help minimize your children's risk for tooth decay. For designated snack times, substitute items like carrot sticks or even popcorn with a dash of spice rather than sweet snacks and candies. If you do allow occasional sweet foods, limit those to mealtimes when saliva, which neutralizes acid, is most active in the mouth.
As you manage sugary items your children may eat or drink, the American Academy of Pediatrics also advises you to moderate their consumption of fruit juices, including all-natural brands with no added sugar. Their recommended limits on daily juice drinking depend on a child's age and overall health:
- Infants (less than one year) or any children with abnormal weight gain: no juice at all;
- Toddlers (ages 1-3): 4 ounces or less per day;
- Younger children (4-6): 6 ounces or less per day; and
- Older children (7-18): 8 ounces (1 cup) or less per day.
As for the rest of your children's daily hydration needs, the most dental-friendly liquid for any of us is plain water. For older school-age children, low- or non-fat milk is also a sound choice.
Preventing tooth decay in your children is a continuous task that requires all of us, parents and dental providers, to do our part. Besides daily hygiene (brushing and flossing) and regular dental visits, keeping sugar at bay—including with juices—is an important part of that effort.
If you have tooth pain, we want to know about it. No, really—we want to know all about it. Is the pain sharp or dull? Is it emanating from one tooth or more generally? Is it constant, intermittent or only when you bite down?
Dentists ask questions like these because there are multiple causes for tooth pain with different treatment requirements. The more accurate the diagnosis, the quicker and more successful your treatment will be.
Here are 3 different examples of tooth pain, along with their possible causes and treatments.
Tooth sensitivity. If you feel a quick jolt of pain when you eat or drink something hot or cold, it may mean your gums have drawn back (receded) from your teeth to leave more sensitive areas exposed. Gum recession is most often caused by gum disease, which we can treat by removing dental plaque, the main cause for the infection. In mild cases the gums may recover after treatment, but more advanced recession may require grafting surgery.
Dull ache around upper teeth. This type of pain might actually be a sinus problem, not a dental one. The upper back teeth share some of the same nerves as the sinus cavity just above them. See your dentist first to rule out deep decay or a tooth grinding habit putting too much pressure on the teeth. If your dentist rules out an oral cause, you may need to see your family physician to check for a sinus infection.
Constant sharp pain. A throbbing pain seeming to come from one tooth may be a sign the tooth's central pulp layer has become decayed. The resulting infection is attacking the pulp's nerves, which is causing the excruciating pain. Advanced decay of this sort requires a root canal treatment to remove the diseased tissue and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals to prevent further infection. See your dentist even if the pain stops—the infection may have only killed the nerves, but is still present and advancing.
Pain is the body's warning system—so heed the tooth pain alert and see your dentist as soon as possible. The sooner the problem is identified and treated, the better your chances of returning to full dental health.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and what it means, 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 “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!”
You already know the basics for healthy and attractive teeth and gums: brush and floss every day; and have your teeth cleaned and checked by a dentist every six months. But there are also some lesser known things you can do to improve what you're already doing—and some of them may go against popular wisdom.
Here then are 3 counter-intuitive tips for turbo-boosting your teeth and gum health.
Avoid brushing too hard and too often. While it may not seem like it, “The more, the better” isn't necessarily a good thing when it comes to brushing your teeth. Vigorous brushing several times a day could actually damage both your teeth enamel and your gums, eventually leading to problems like sensitive teeth. So, easy does it on the brushing pressure—let the mild abrasives in your toothpaste do the work removing disease-causing dental plaque. Likewise, avoid brushing more than twice a day.
Wait on brushing right after eating. If your first instinct right after a meal is to head to the sink to brush your teeth, curb your enthusiasm. Your enamel is actually in a slightly softened state right after eating and drinking because of an increase in mouth acid (especially if you've consumed sodas, sports drinks or juices). Saliva restores the mouth's pH balance and helps remineralize enamel in about an hour. If you brush before then, you could be sloughing off microscopic bits of enamel—an eventual problem if this is a regular habit.
Stop snack “grazing.” If you're one of those that likes to munch on food throughout the day, you could be thwarting your overall efforts to maintain good dental health. Remember saliva? As mentioned, it effectively neutralizes acid in a few minutes. But continuous snacking maintains a constant high level of acid in the mouth—saliva has little chance to catch up. As a result, your mouth stays acidic, which can lead to higher risk of dental disease. If possible, limit your snacking to mealtimes.
These tips might be surprising, but they're based on sound science and research. Incorporating them into your regular, ongoing dental care, could increase your chances of healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on how best to clean and care for your teeth, 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 “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
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