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.”
Since boxers first began using them a century ago, athletic mouthguards are now standard safety equipment for most contact sports. Without them, dental injuries would skyrocket.
But a recent study in the peer-reviewed journal, General Dentistry, indicates there’s another important reason to wear a mouthguard for contact sports or exercise: you may be able to significantly reduce your risk for a mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI), better known as a concussion. It’s believed the mouthguard absorbs some of the force generated during contact, resulting in less pressure to the brain. That reduction is even more significant if your mouth-guard has been custom-made by a dentist.
That last finding is important, because not all mouthguards on the market are equal. There are three basic categories of mouthguards — stock, “boil and bite,” and custom. Stock mouthguards come in limited sizes; they’re relatively inexpensive, but they provide the least level of protection. “Boil and bite” can be customized after purchase to the wearer’s bite, but they don’t always provide complete coverage of back teeth. Custom mouthguards are designed and fashioned by a dentist; they’re relatively expensive (running in the hundreds of dollars), but there’s ample evidence they provide the highest level of protection from mouth injuries.
The General Dentistry study also corroborates custom mouthguards’ effectiveness in preventing concussions. The study followed approximately 400 football players from six different high school teams. While all the players wore the same type of helmet, half of them wore custom-made mouthguards and the other half wore stock guards. 8.3% of the athletes wearing stock guards experienced a concussion injury; by contrast only 3.6% of those with custom guards sustained an injury — greater than half fewer occurrences.
The study also highlights the need not to rely solely on helmets or other protective headgear for concussion prevention. It’s important to include mouthguards along with other athletic protective gear to lower injury risk as much as possible.
So when considering how you can provide the optimum injury protection for you or your child, be sure to include an athletic mouthguard, preferably one that’s custom-made. We’ll be happy to advise you further on what you need to know to prevent traumatic dental injuries, as well as concussions.
If you would like more information on custom-fit mouthguards, 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 “Mouthguards.”
It’s true — thumb sucking beyond age 4 can cause bite problems for permanent teeth. But prolonged thumb sucking is just one of a number of possible contributing factors for a bad bite (malocclusion). A dentist must identify all the factors involved when a bad bite is present — their involvement is essential for a successful treatment outcome.
A fairly benign habit for infants and toddlers, thumb sucking is related to an “infantile swallowing pattern” young children use by thrusting their tongues forward between the upper and lower teeth when they swallow. Around age 4, though, they usually transition to an adult swallowing pattern in which the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. Thumb sucking stops for most children around the same time.
Thumb sucking beyond this age, though, can put increased pressure on incoming permanent teeth pushing them forward. This could lead to an “open bite” in which the upper and lower teeth don’t meet when the jaws are closed. The tongue may also continue to thrust forward when swallowing to seal the resulting gap, which further reinforces the open bite.
Before treating the bite with braces, we must first address the thumb sucking and improper tongue placement when swallowing — if either isn’t corrected the teeth could gradually revert to their previous positions after the braces come off. Besides behavioral incentives, we can also employ a thin metal appliance called a “tongue crib” placed behind the upper and lower incisors. A tongue crib discourages thumb sucking and makes it more difficult for the tongue to rest within the open bite gap when swallowing, which helps retrain it to a more normal position.
An open bite can also occur if the jaws develop with too much vertical growth. Like thumb sucking and improper tongue placement, abnormal jaw growth could ultimately cause orthodontic treatment to fail. In this case, though, surgery may be necessary to correct the jaw structure.
With all these possible variables, our first step needs to be a thorough orthodontic exam that identifies all the cause factors for your child’s specific malocclusion. Knowing if and how thumb sucking may have contributed to the poor bite will help us design a treatment strategy that’s successful.
If you would like more information on the causes of poor tooth position, 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 “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
It’s often best health-wise to preserve even the most troubled tooth—including a child’s primary (“baby”) tooth. If that sounds like too much effort for a tooth that lasts only a few years, there’s a big reason why—if it’s lost prematurely, the incoming permanent tooth above it could erupt out of position.
Preserving a decayed primary tooth could include procedures similar to a root canal treatment, commonly used in adult permanent teeth with inner decay. However, we may need to modify this approach to protect the primary tooth’s pulp. This innermost layer plays a critical role in early dental development.
Because an adult tooth has reached maturity, removing diseased pulp tissue has little effect on its permanent health. But the pulp contributes to dentin growth (the layer between it and the outer enamel) in primary and young permanent teeth, so removing it could ultimately compromise the tooth’s long-term health.
Our goal then with a child’s tooth is to remove as much diseased tissue as possible while involving the pulp as little as possible. What techniques we use will depend on how much of the pulp has become infected.
For example, if decay has advanced to but hasn’t yet penetrated the pulp, we may remove all but a small amount of the decayed structure just next to the pulp to avoid its exposure. We may then apply an antibacterial agent to this remaining portion and seal the tooth to curb further infection.
If on the other hand the pulp has become infected, we may try to remove only the infected portion and leave the remaining pulp intact. We’ll only be able to do this, however, if we deem the remaining pulp healthy enough to remain infection-free after the procedure. If not, we may need to remove the entire pulp as with a traditional root canal. This option, though, is a last resort due to the possible effect on dentin growth and the tooth’s long-term health.
As you can see attempts to preserve a primary tooth can be quite involved. But if we can help it reach its full life span, it could mean better dental health for a lifetime.
If you would like more information on caring for primary 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 “Root Canal Treatment for Children’s Teeth.”
A child's formative years have an immense impact on their physical, mental and emotional well-being. As a parent you want them to have every advantage possible.
That should include a healthy mouth — actions you take now could determine the long-term soundness of their teeth and gums. Here are 5 things you can do to ensure your child's present and future oral health.
Begin oral hygiene habits early. By early, we mean even before their first teeth appear. Wipe their gums after every feeding with a water-soaked cloth or gauze pad; when teeth appear switch to brushing with just a smear of toothpaste on the end of the brush.
Start dental visits around their first birthday. Early dental visits increase the chances of detecting and treating developing problems before they become worse. And starting may also help your child become comfortable with visiting the dentist — waiting until later increases the chances of anxiety and an aversion to dental visits that might carry over into adulthood.
Adopt dental-friendly home and lifestyle habits.Â Don't allow your child to sleep with a pacifier or bottle filled with sugary fluids, including breast milk or formula: fill them with water instead. Limit their sugar consumption to small amounts and only at meal times. And be sure to “childproof” your home against hazards, especially sharp-edged furniture that could damage teeth if they make hard contact with it.
Teach them to care for their own teeth. Although you'll need to brush their teeth for them in the beginning, be sure you eventually teach them to perform this vital habit for themselves. To ease the transition try modeling the behavior or make it into an activity you can do together.
Partner with your family dentist. Your dental office can do more than prevent or treat dental disease — they're an important resource in helping you manage your child's dental needs at home. They can coach you on brushing and flossing techniques, and provide information to set your mind at ease about concerns like teething or thumb sucking.
If you would like more information on complete oral 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 articles “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children” and “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
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