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.
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
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
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).
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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Root canal treatment — also called endodontics (“endo” – inside, “dont” – tooth) — is a set of specialized procedures designed to treat problems of the soft pulp (nerve) tissue inside the tooth. While some mistakenly think of it as an unusually painful treatment, in most cases the procedure is no more uncomfortable than getting a filling. It's actually one of the most effective ways of relieving some kinds of tooth pain.
A root canal procedure becomes necessary when infection or inflammation develops in the pulp tissue of the tooth. Pulp tissue consists of blood vessels, connective tissue and nerve cells — which explains why a problem here may cause you to feel intense pain. In time, the pain may go away... at least temporarily. Without treatment, however, the infection won't. It can lead to a dental abscess, and may even contribute to systemic problems in other parts of the body.
Root Canal Treatment Is Your Friend
We've all heard the gag: “I'd rather have a root canal...” This comedy line, comparing the procedure to something truly undesirable, may be funny — but putting off needed endodontic treatment is no joke. The idea that a root canal procedure invariably comes with complications and pain is a shopworn myth. It's certainly true that infection or inflammation in the tooth's pulp can be excruciatingly painful. But you should remember that having a root canal results in eliminating this acute pain and is not the cause of the pain.
Need another reason not to delay root canal treatment? How about this: A natural tooth that's saved via root canal treatment and restoration helps you avoid the problems that commonly occur when teeth must be removed. These include unwanted tooth migration or shifting, which can lead to difficulties in chewing; the need for bridgework or dental implants, which may be costly and complicated; and even the eventual loss of bone structure from the area of the missing tooth.
Causes of Root Canal Problems
Root canal problems stem from infection and inflammation of the tooth's pulp tissue. One potential cause of infection is deep tooth decay. Untreated dental cavities eventually allow bacteria to work their way down to the center of the tooth, where they may infect the pulp tissue. Another path by which bacteria may come into contact with pulp is via chipped or cracked teeth. Any opening in the protective enamel coating has the potential to allow bacteria access to the tooth's pulp.
Trauma to the tooth — the kind that might result from a sports injury or automobile accident, for example — is also a major cause of pulp tissue damage. In this case, it's essential to seek treatment immediately, both to try and save the tooth, and to prevent future problems.
In some cases, extensive dental work itself may cause damage to the pulp tissue that will need to be treated via a root canal. Having multiple fillings or restorations on the same tooth increases the chances of this type of injury. Occasionally, common procedures like crown preparation or orthodontics may eventually lead to root canal problems.
What to Expect During Root Canal Therapy
If an examination shows that you do need root canal therapy, don't worry — it's one of the most routine and effective procedures in the arsenal of dental treatments and can often be accomplished in just one visit.
The root canal process generally begins the same way as a filling does, and with no greater discomfort: an anesthetic is administered to numb the tooth and the surrounding area. For many patients, the worst is already over.
Next, a small opening is made in the surface of the affected tooth to give access to the pulp chamber and root canals. Tiny instruments are used, sometimes with the aid of a microscope, to remove the dead and dying pulp tissue from inside these narrow passageways. The chamber and empty canals are then cleaned, disinfected, and prepared to receive a filling of inert, biocompatible material. Finally, adhesive cement is used to seal the opening in the tooth, preventing future infection.
Following root canal treatment, your tooth may feel some sensitivity or tenderness for a few days. Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen are generally effective in relieving discomfort, but prescription medications may also be given if needed. During this period, it may help to avoid biting hard on the affected tooth. All of these symptoms, however, should be temporary.
To further protect the tooth and restore it to full function, it's usually necessary to have a crown or other restoration placed on it. Restorations can take many forms, from traditional gold crowns to tooth replicas made of high-tech tooth-colored material. In any case, you will have made an investment in preserving your dental health for years to come.
Signs and Symptoms of Root Canal Problems
How do you know when you need a root canal? Sometimes, it's painfully obvious. If you feel constant and severe pain and pressure in your mouth, or noticeable swelling and extreme sensitivity in your gums, then it's clear you need an evaluation and treatment right away. Another telltale symptom of pulp tissue damage is sharp pain when you bite down on food. Lingering pain after eating hot or cold foods is also an indication of potential trouble. If you notice any of these symptoms, you need to have an examination as soon as possible.
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