Osteoporosis & Oral Health

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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Normal bone vs osteoporosis.Osteoporosis is a condition that weakens bones and makes them more prone to fracture. Estimated to affect about 10 million Americans at present, it causes some 2 million fractures each year — and as our population ages, these numbers are expected to increase. Osteoporosis can affect any part of the body — including the jawbone that supports the teeth.

This may be of particular concern if you are considering certain dental procedures — for example, getting dental implants to replace missing teeth. Implants are today's gold standard for tooth replacement, because they look and function so much like real teeth. But their success depends on a process known as osseointegration, by which they fuse to living bone in the jaw. For this to occur, that bone must be relatively healthy; yet osteoporosis — and certain medications used to treat it — may affect your oral health.

Bone: An Ever-Changing Tissue

The living bone tissue in the body isn't like the dry, white skeleton you may have seen in a doctor's office or on TV. It is constantly being remodeled by two natural processes: resorption, in which the body removes and breaks down old, damaged bone; and bone formation, where the removed material is replaced by new, healthy bone. In an ideal situation, both processes happen at an equal rate; osteoporosis, however, tips the balance toward resorption, weakening the bone structure.

A class of drugs called bisphosphonates (whose brand names include Fosamax, Boniva, Reclast and Prolia) can inhibit resorption and help bring the two processes back into balance. But for reasons that aren't fully understood, these medications sometimes have a different effect on the bones of the jaw. In rare cases, long-term bisphosphonate users experience osteonecrosis of the jaw (ONJ), a condition in which isolated areas of jawbone lose their vitality and die. If you are a candidate for oral surgery, tooth extraction or implant placement, it's important to consider the possible effect of bisphosphonate use before you have this type of procedure.

Taking Medication

Over 90 percent of the people who suffer from bisphosphonate-associated ONJ received high doses of the medication intravenously — often for cancer treatment. Only a small percentage of those who take the drug orally are likely to develop this condition. So generally speaking, if you have osteoporosis or are at high risk of bone fractures, the benefit of taking these medications far outweighs the risk.

But if you are about to begin therapy with high doses of bisphosphonates, it's ideal to have a dental exam and resolve any oral disease before beginning the medication. Likewise, while you're receiving the medication, it's best to avoid invasive dental treatments if possible. However, since untreated oral disease may cause serious health problems, be sure to discuss the situation with all members of your medical team before making treatment decisions.

Most people who take oral bisphosphonates for osteoporosis won't have to postpone or avoid dental procedures, because they have little risk of developing ONJ. In the case of dental implant placement, the decision to proceed is made on an individual basis, after a thorough examination of the quality and quantity of tooth-supporting bone in the jaw. The presence of osteoporosis may influence the type of implants used, and the amount of healing time needed to complete the osseointegration process.

No matter what dental procedures you are considering, it is vital to keep us informed about any medical conditions you have, and any drugs you may be taking — both prescription and non-prescription.

Preventing Osteoporosis

There are several ways you can help prevent osteoporosis. For a start, make sure you're getting enough calcium and vitamin D. It also helps to decrease your caffeine and alcohol intake, and quit smoking. Weight-bearing exercise — physical activities that force you to work against gravity, like walking, jogging or weight training — can bring a host of benefits. And don't forget your regular visits to the dental office. Your dental professionals don't just help you to maintain good oral health — we encourage you to keep up your overall health as well.

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