Air Abrasion

Your child won't keep his or her first teeth forever, but that doesn't mean those tiny pearly whites don't need conscientious care. Maintaining your child's dental health now will provide health benefits well into adulthood, as primary (baby) teeth serve some extremely important functions.

Kids developing jaws and teeth.

For one thing, primary teeth serve as guides for the eruption of permanent (adult) teeth, holding the space into which these new teeth will erupt. The crowns (tops) of the permanent teeth actually push against the roots of the baby teeth, causing them to resorb, or melt away. In this way, the adult teeth can take their proper place.

What's more, your child's primary teeth will be there for most of childhood, helping your child to bite, chew and speak. For the first six or so years, he or she will be relying on primary teeth exclusively to perform these important functions. Until around age 12, your child will have a mix of primary and permanent teeth. You will want to make sure those teeth stay healthy and are lost naturally — when it's time.

Your Child's First Teeth

Kids mouth anatomy.

Your child's 20 baby teeth will begin to appear usually between six and nine months, though in some cases it may start as early as three months or as late as twelve months. The two lower front teeth tend to erupt first, followed by the two upper ones, these teeth are called the central incisors. Then the neighboring teeth called lateral incisors will erupt too. The first molars come in next, followed by the canines (eyeteeth). And finally, the last teeth to erupt are the two-year molars. Sometimes your baby can experience teething discomfort during this process. If so, there are courses of action to help make your child more comfortable.

Your infant's gums should be gently wiped after each feeding with a water-soaked gauze pad or damp washcloth. As soon as the first tooth erupts, establish a daily brushing routine with a small, soft-bristled toothbrush and no more than a thin smear of fluoridated toothpaste. Your child may need your help with this important task until about the age of 6.

Your Child's First Dental Appointment

Age one dental visit

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that your child see a dentist by his/her first birthday, or as early as the first tooth erupts. Though this may sound early, learning proper pediatric oral hygiene techniques, checking for cavities, and watching for developmental problems is extremely important.

There are a number of forms of tooth decay that can affect babies and small children. Early Childhood Caries (tooth decay) can develop rapidly, progressing from the hard, outer enamel layer of a tooth into the softer, inner dentin in six months or less.

Most of all, it's important for your child to have a positive experience at the dental office as he/she will be a regular visitor for years to come.

Pediatric Dental Treatments

There are a variety of dental treatments offered to prevent tooth decay in children, or to save or repair teeth when necessary. They include:

Topical Fluoride — Fluoride incorporates into the enamel of teeth, making it harder and more resistant to decay. Although there is a small amount of fluoride in toothpastes and in some drinking water supplies, a higher concentration can be applied professionally to your child's teeth for maximum protection.

Dental Sealants — A plastic coating can be applied at the dental office to prevent cavities by sealing the little grooves on the chewing surfaces of back teeth known as “pits and fissures.” These little crevices become the perfect environments for decay-causing bacteria. Immature tooth enamel is more permeable and therefore less resistant to tooth decay. Dental sealants are easy to apply and provide years of protection (Watch Dental Sealant Video).

Root Canal Treatment — Perhaps you have had a root canal treatment yourself, to save an injured or severely decayed tooth. Well, sometimes children need root canals, too. In children these are called pulpotomies or pulpectomies. As mentioned above, baby teeth are important guides to the permanent teeth that are already forming beneath your child's gums. Therefore, saving them from premature loss can help prevent a malocclusion (“mal” – bad; “occlusion” – bite) that requires orthodontic treatment.

Bonding — Chips and minor fractures to front teeth — common childhood occurrences — can be repaired with tooth-colored bonding materials. These lifelike resins made of plastic and glass can be used on baby teeth as well as permanent teeth and last until the youngster has completed facial growth (Watch Bonding Video).

Orthodontic Concerns

Orthodontic Problems.

By around age 7, most malocclusions have become evident. Interceptive orthodontic treatment around this time can help direct proper tooth positioning and/or jaw growth, eliminating or simplifying the need for later treatment. There are many orthodontic problems that can be detected early and are examples of why a trained professional should evaluate your child during his/her growth and development.

Sports & Your Child's Teeth

If your child is active in sports, a custom-made mouthguard is a highly recommended safeguard. According to the American Dental Association, an athlete is 60 times more likely to suffer dental harm when not wearing one of these protective devices. A custom mouthguard is made specifically for your child using a model of his or her teeth. This will offer greater protection than an off-the-shelf model. It's an investment that pays off highly in the form of reduced pain, suffering — and dental expenses down the road!

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In the future, could small cavities be detected early and filled without anesthesia, and with only the minimum removal of tooth material? Will routine dental procedures be performed with patients noticing no vibration or pressure? Will the piercing whine of a dental drill be a sound that's heard in dental offices no more? The answer may well be yes — in fact, it's happening right now with air abrasion technology.

The air abrasion instrument is a hand-held tool that dentists use for a variety of purposes. A bit like a mini-sandblaster, it uses compressed air (or another gas) to produce a fine stream of abrasive particles that can be precisely aimed. The small, high-speed particles (often silica or aluminum oxide) remove tiny bits of material in the decayed portion of the tooth; the debris is then whisked away through a suction tube.

Sound futuristic? It is, but it's not exactly new: Air abrasion instruments were first developed in the 1940's, but recent advances in high-volume suction and improved dental restoration materials have given the process a renewed appeal. Some of the uses for air abrasion tools include: removing dental caries (cavities) and filling them with composite (tooth-colored) material; preparing teeth for bonding, veneering or other procedures; and removing stains or even repairing small defects in teeth.

How It Works

The tiny abrasive particles (.002” or less in diameter) remove only minute amounts of tooth structure, making a drill seem coarse by comparison. The air pressure, flow rate, nozzle diameter, and other settings on the instrument can be accurately controlled to produce the precise amount of abrasion needed. The result is a minimally-invasive method of removing decayed or unwanted tooth material.

Even though powerful suction is used to remove spent abrasive and debris, it's still necessary for everyone to wear protective eyewear as a precaution. A rubber dam (shield) is also generally used to keep abrasive particles from affecting other teeth or getting into areas of the mouth where they don't belong. Nearby teeth and gums can also be coated with a protective resin if needed.

Advantages of Air Abrasion

Because it doesn't require a whirring drill, air abrasion generates no pressure or vibration, and makes very little noise. It can eliminate the need for anesthesia, especially if the cavity isn't deep. It reduces the chance of damaging the tooth during a procedure, and it leaves more healthy tooth material behind. This makes it ideal for children, or others who are sensitive to dental discomfort. In fact, it's perfect for treating tiny cavities that have been detected by laser diagnosis (cavities that aren't big enough to be seen on an X-ray), and sealing them up before they become bigger problems.

Minimally-invasive procedures are where air abrasion truly shines. Because it's a relatively fine-scale instrument, it isn't suitable for treating deep cavities or removing old metal fillings. However, as a high-tech tool for performing many preventive and restorative dental procedures, it offers some unique benefits to both dentist and patient. And some day, it just might make the dental drill obsolete.

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