Dry Mouth

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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Dry mouth.Everybody gets a dry mouth from time to time. Temporary mouth dryness can be brought on by dehydration, stress, or simply the normal reduction in saliva flow at night. But persistent mouth dryness, a condition known as xerostomia, is cause for concern.

Xerostomia occurs when your salivary glands, which normally keep your mouth moist by secreting saliva, are not working properly. A chronic lack of saliva has significant health implications. For one thing, it can be difficult to eat with a dry mouth; tasting, chewing and swallowing may also be affected. This could compromise your nutrition. Also, a dry mouth creates ideal conditions for tooth decay. That's because saliva plays a very important role in keeping decay-causing oral bacteria in check and neutralizing the acids these bacteria produce; it is the acid in your mouth that erodes tooth enamel and starts the decay process. A dry mouth can also cause bad breath.

Possible Causes

There are several possible causes for xerostomia, including:

  • Medications. For most people suffering from dry mouth, medications are to blame. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, there are more than 500 medications (both prescription and over-the-counter) that have this side effect. Antihistamines (for allergies), diuretics (which drain excess fluid), and antidepressants, are high on the list of medications that cause xerostomia. Chemotherapy drugs can also have this effect.
  • Radiation Therapy. Radiation of the head and neck can damage salivary glands—sometimes permanently. Radiation to treat cancer in other parts of the body will not cause xerostomia.
  • Disease. Some systemic (general body) diseases can cause dry mouth. Sjögren's syndrome, for example, is an autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack its own moisture-producing glands in the eyes and mouth. Other diseases known to cause dry mouth include diabetes, Parkinson's disease, cystic fibrosis and AIDS.
  • Nerve Damage. Trauma to the head or neck can damage the nerves involved in the production of saliva.

Getting Relief

If you are taking any medication regularly, it's possible that your physician can either suggest a substitute or adjust the dosage to relieve your symptoms of dry mouth. If this is not possible or has already been tried, here are some other things you can do:

  • Sip fluids frequently. This is particularly helpful during meals. Make sure what you drink does not contain sugar and isn't acidic, as these will both increase your risk of tooth decay. All sodas, including diet varieties, should be avoided, as they are acidic and attack the tooth surface.
  • Chew sugarless gum. This will help stimulate saliva flow if your salivary glands are not damaged. Choose a variety that contains xylitol, a natural sugar substitute that can be protective against tooth decay.
  • Avoid drying/irritating foods and beverages. These include toast and crackers, salty and spicy foods, alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
  • Don't smoke. This can dry out the mouth and also increase your risk of gum disease.
  • Use a humidifier. Running a cool-mist humidifier at night can be soothing.
  • Use saliva stimulants/substitutes. There are prescription and over-the-counter products that can either stimulate saliva or act as a substitute oral fluid. We can give you some recommendations.
  • Practice good oral hygiene. Brush at least twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste; this will remove bacterial plaque and add minerals to strengthen your teeth. Don't forget to floss.
  • Have an exam/cleaning. If you have dry mouth, it's more important than ever to maintain your regular schedule of visits to the dental office. Please be sure to let us know what medications you are taking, particularly if there have been any changes recently. We will do our best to help relieve any dry-mouth symptoms you are experiencing.

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