Cracked Teeth

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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Tooth Bonding - Step by Step.Firmly anchored in your jaw and protected by an outer coating of tough enamel, your teeth are remarkably strong — yet it's still possible for them to chip, crack, or even break. In fact, there is some evidence that today, our teeth are developing cracks at a record rate. This may be due to the fact that people are living longer (giving teeth more time to accumulate damage), or that our stress levels are increasing (which may cause teeth clenching and grinding).

Biting on hard objects, receiving a blow to the mouth, or having large cavities (or old amalgam fillings) that weaken the tooth's structure are also common causes of tooth fractures. But no matter of the cause, there are a number of symptoms that indicate a tooth may be cracked, and several treatments we can offer, depending on the severity of the injury.

Small chips on the edges or cusps of teeth often cause no symptoms, and can be treated by cosmetic bonding or other methods. Deeply fractured teeth, on the other hand, may be a serious problem. The sooner they are treated, the more likely it is that the affected tooth can be saved. Let's take a look closer look at the types of fractures teeth can develop, and the symptoms they may produce.

Minor Cracks (craze lines)
These tiny fissures in the outer enamel of the tooth often cause few or no symptoms; in fact, most don't require treatment. If you are having tooth pain, however, these cracks will need to be evaluated and possibly treated. That's because without a careful examination, there is no way to know for sure whether these cracks go into only the enamel, or if they penetrate into the dentin (inner body) of the tooth. While the tiniest craze lines don't show up on X-rays, they can often be detected by feel (using a small instrument called an explorer), by having you close down on a “bite stick,” or by using special dye stains or high-magnification instruments.

Vertical Cracks
Cracked tooth.This type of crack often starts at the chewing surface and extends toward the roots — but may it also begin in the root and continue toward the crown. Either way, it doesn't completely separate the tooth into two parts. Depending on the extent of the fracture, you may feel only minor discomfort that occurs in response to temperature changes (with hot or cold beverages, for example); or, it may produce sharp pain when you chew. In any case, you shouldn't ignore the symptoms, because cracked teeth require dental treatment quickly to keep them from progressing further. If the cracks continue to progress, tooth extraction may become necessary.

Deep Fractures or Split Teeth
When serious fractures occur, you'll know it: The distinct parts of the tooth can be separated from each other, and tooth's pulp is often inflamed and painful. This condition requires immediate treatment, and it's rarely possible to save the affected tooth.

Treatment for Cracked Teeth
What treatment is best for a cracked tooth depends on the extent and the severity of the damage. If a small crack is detected early enough, it's often possible to seal the fissure with restorative materials. For larger cracks that involve the pulp of the tooth, root canal treatment is generally required. Afterward, the visible structure of the tooth may be restored with a crown or “cap.” Sometimes, additional procedures may be recommended to try and save the tooth. In the most severe cases, however, the tooth will need to be extracted.

The preferred treatment for cracked teeth is — you guessed it — prevention! Wearing proper protective equipment (including a custom-fitted mouthguard) when playing sports, and staying alert to dangerous situations (like distracted or impaired driving) can help keep you safe. So can regular dental checkups, where your teeth are examined carefully for early signs of a problem. However, if you experience any symptoms that could indicate a cracked tooth, don't wait: The sooner it's treated, the better the chance that we can save it.

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