Bone Grafting

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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Bone graft.Do you think of bone as a hard, rigid material that never changes? In fact bone remodels itself all the time: Your body is constantly depositing new bone cells and removing old ones. In the case of the bone that supports your teeth, this process can be helpful or harmful. For example, the jawbone's adaptability allows an orthodontist to move teeth into a better position with braces. But in the case of losing a tooth as an adult, the bone changes that result can have serious consequences.

When teeth are lost, the bone that used to surround them begins to melt away or “resorb.” Tooth-supporting bone can also be lost when you have periodontal (gum) disease. If you loose enough teeth and bone, your facial features will sag, giving you a more aged appearance; it can also complicate treatment to replace your missing teeth. Fortunately, with modern bone grafting-techniques, the bone that has been lost can be built up again. This can benefit both your health and appearance by strengthening your jawbone, allowing more effective tooth replacement, and increasing support to your facial features.

Bone grafting is a minor surgical procedure that is normally done in a dental office. An incision is made in your gum to gain access to the bone beneath it, and then grafting material is added. Most often, the grafting material is processed bone minerals around which your body will actually deposit new bone cells.

The grafting material itself can come from your own body, but very often it is bone from an animal or human donor that has been treated by a laboratory to make it sterile and safe. It can even be a synthetic substance. Grafting material comes in a variety of forms: powder, granules, putty or a gel that can be injected through a syringe. The graft, which is generally covered by a collagen membrane for optimum bone repair, will act as a scaffold onto which your body will build new bone.

Uses for Bone Grafts

Bone grafting for dental implants.

Bone grafts are used in dentistry to accomplish the following treatment goals:

  • Saving Teeth — When severe periodontal disease causes bone loss, teeth can become loose and at risk of being lost. In order to save them, the bone around them can be regenerated through grafting; this increases bone support and helps keep them in place.
  • Tooth Extractions — These days, it is very common to deposit bone grafting material into a tooth socket after a tooth has been removed. That way, should you want to replace your tooth with a dental implant later on, that option will be available.
  • Dental Implants — In this optimal tooth-replacement system, a small titanium post embedded in the jawbone is attached to a highly realistic dental crown, permanently replacing the missing tooth. Implants require good bone volume and density to achieve their excellent functionality and high success rates. If you have already experienced bone loss, a graft can help regenerate enough bone to place the implant successfully.

What to Expect

The procedure for placing a bone graft usually requires only local anesthesia, though oral or IV (intravenous) sedatives can also be used to achieve a higher state of relaxation. Since a small incision is made in your gum tissue to gain access to the bone that will receive the graft, you may experience some soreness in the area after the surgery. This can usually be managed by over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication and/or pain relievers, as well as ice therapy after the procedure. Any discomfort should only last a day or two. Then, over the next several months, your body will replace the graft with its own bone, reversing the decline in bone quantity you have experienced.

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