As summer reaches its apex here in the western hemisphere, warmer weather beckons many of us out of doors. And there's plenty of fun to be had, from hiking and camping to frolicking in the pool, so long as you're playing it safe—and that includes with your family's dental health.
As physical activity increases during the summer months, so does the potential for accidents. And our mouths—especially the teeth, gums and jaws—aren't immune: In the blink of an eye an accident could cause a serious oral injury that can reverberate for weeks, months or even years. Not only that, but dental diseases like tooth decay or gum disease don't take the summer off.
So have fun this summer, but take precautions with your family's dental health. Here are a few top things that deserve your focus.
Sports-related injuries. Summer often means outdoor sports like basketball and baseball. Even if you are shooting hoops alone or honing batting and catching skills with family members, accidents can happen, possibly resulting in an injury to the mouth. To guard against this, be sure the athletes in your family wear appropriate protective gear like helmets or mouthguards.
Slips and falls. Moving around outdoors, especially in unfamiliar territory, increases the risk for falls that could injure the mouth. A pool area can be especially hazardous: Hard surfaces that are slippery when wet, for example, are a tooth injury waiting to happen. So, try to eliminate structural hazards around pools or other high-risk areas as much as possible, and insist that everyone adhere to safety rules like “No running.”
Oral hygiene. Although not in the category of an accidental blow or fall, dental disease is still a year-round risk: Your family may be taking a break from routine, but disease-causing oral bacteria don't. So, encourage your family even in the more laid-back summer months to continue to brush and floss every day to minimize the development of tooth decay or gum disease.
Sugary snacks. Summer may also occasion a break from what your family normally eats. As a result, you may be munching more on foods with added sugar. Remember, though, oral bacteria love this particular carbohydrate as much as your family does. More sugar in the mouth means more bacteria and a higher risk of tooth decay. So, choose items like nuts or fresh fruit as much as possible in lieu of sugary treats.
Summer is a great time for relaxing in the open air and building fond family memories. Just be sure to exercise these preventive measures to keep oral accidents or dental disease from ruining the fun.
If you would like more information about dental prevention measures, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry.”
There are a lot of things we do without much conscious thought — habits we've developed over time. Some habits help streamline our lives for the good; others, though, hold us back or even harm us. A lot of these habits, both good and bad, form during our childhood years.
That's why it's important for you to guide your children into forming good habits. The goal is that when they're adults they'll “own” these habits, and their life will be healthier and happier because of them.
One particular area of habit-forming focus is dental care. It's essential your children develop good habits caring for their teeth and gums. The most important is a daily routine of brushing and flossing.
Brushing and flossing has one primary aim: to remove bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces. Bacteria in plaque are the main cause for two potentially devastating diseases, tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Allowing plaque to build up over just a few days can trigger an infection that inflames the gums or softens enamel leading to tooth decay. Left untreated these diseases can ultimately cause tooth and bone loss.
A daily habit of brushing and flossing, along with semi-annual professional cleanings, can drastically reduce a person's risk for these diseases. It's best to instill these habits and their importance as soon as your child's teeth begin to erupt in the mouth.
In the beginning, you'll be performing the habit for them: for children two and younger use a slight smear of toothpaste on the brush. As they get older, you can increase it to pea size. Eventually you'll want to help them learn to brush on their own. In this case, modeling the behavior — both of you brushing your teeth together — will have the biggest impact and help them see how important the habit really is.
Before you know it, brushing and flossing will become second nature, a habit they'll begin doing on their own without being told. Once instilled, it'll be a habit they'll practice long after they leave your care — and one they'll hopefully pass on to their own children.
If you would like more information on proper dental care for your child, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Children losing their primary (“baby”) teeth is both natural and necessary. So, is it really that much of a concern if they lose one early?
The answer is yes — premature primary tooth loss could have long-term consequences for the permanent teeth as they develop within the jaw before eruption. Primary teeth play a crucial role in this development: as the permanent teeth form and grow the primary teeth serve as placeholders until they’re ready to erupt. A natural process then takes place in which the primary tooth’s roots dissolve (resorb) to allow them to fall out. Once they’re out of the way, the permanent teeth can then erupt.
If, however, they’re lost before the permanent teeth are ready, it leaves a space in the child’s bite. The dynamic mechanism between teeth and the periodontal ligament causes adjacent teeth to move or “drift” into the space. This can crowd out the permanent tooth intended for the space, causing it to come in improperly forming a malocclusion (bad bite), or it may become impacted and remain partially or fully below the surface of the gums.
This poor dental development could lead to extensive orthodontic treatment later in life, which is why we seek to preserve even decayed primary teeth for their entire natural lifespan. If the tooth is lost, however, we need to take action to preserve the space for the permanent tooth and avoid costly treatment later.
This usually calls for a “space maintenance” appliance — a type of orthodontic “retainer” — worn by the child to prevent other teeth from drifting into the space. Designed by your orthodontist, the appliance can also perform a cosmetic and social function by causing the space to appear unnoticeable.
Maintaining that space requires monitoring — especially by an orthodontist — and continued dental hygiene and care both at home and at the dentist’s office. The extra care preserving the space caused by premature tooth loss will help to ensure your child’s dental structure develops properly and their future smile will be an attractive one.
If you would like more information on the care and treatment of primary teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Early Loss of Baby Teeth” and “Losing a Baby Tooth.”
Ask any kid and they'll tell you just how valuable "baby" teeth really are—out of the mouth, of course, and under their pillow awaiting a transaction with the Tooth Fairy. But there's more to them than their value on the Fairy Exchange Market—they play a critical role in future dental health.
Primary teeth provide the same kind of dental function as their future replacements. Children weaned from nursing can now eat solid food. They provide contact points for the tongue as a child learns to speak. And they play a role socially, as children with a "toothsome" smile begin to look more like what they will become when they're fully mature.
But primary teeth also serve as guides for the permanent teeth that will follow. As a future tooth develops below the gum line, the primary tooth preserves the space in which it will erupt. Otherwise, the space can be taken over by other teeth. This crowds out the intended tooth, which may erupt out of position or remain impacted below the gum line.
In either case, the situation could create a poor bite (malocclusion) that can be quite costly to correct. But if we can preserve a primary tooth on the verge of premature loss, we may be able to reduce the impact of a developing malocclusion or even prevent it.
We can help primary teeth last for their intended lifespan by preventing tooth decay with daily oral hygiene or clinically-applied sealants and topical fluoride. If they do become infected, it may be worth the effort to preserve them using procedures similar to a root canal treatment.
If a tooth can't be preserved, then we can try to reserve the empty space for the future tooth. One way is a space maintainer, which is a stiff wire loop attached to metal band bonded around an adjacent tooth. This keeps other teeth from drifting into the space until the permanent tooth is ready to erupt, at which time we can remove the appliance.
Your child may be anxious to get another tooth to put under their pillow. But helping that primary tooth go the distance will be more than worth it for their future dental health.
If you would like more information on the care and treatment of baby teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
Your child could hit a speed bump on their road to dental maturity—tooth decay. In fact, children are susceptible to an aggressive form of decay known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC) that can lead to tooth loss and possible bite issues for other teeth.
But dentists have a few weapons in their arsenal for helping children avoid tooth decay. One of these used for many years now is the application of sealants to the biting surfaces of both primary and permanent teeth. Now, two major research studies have produced evidence that sealant applications help reduce children's tooth decay.
Applying sealant is a quick and painless procedure that doesn't require drilling or anesthesia. A dentist brushes the sealant in liquid form to the nooks and crannies of a tooth's biting surfaces, which tend to accumulate decay-causing bacterial plaque. They then use a curing light to harden the sealant.
The studies previously mentioned that involved thousands of patients over a number of years, found that pediatric patients without dental sealants were more than three times likely to get cavities compared to those who had sealants applied to their teeth. The studies also found the beneficial effect of a sealant could last four years or more after its application.
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend sealants for children, especially those at high risk for decay. It's common practice now for children to first get sealants when their first permanent molars erupt (teeth that are highly susceptible to decay), usually between the ages of 5 and 7, and then later as additional molars come in.
There is a modest cost for sealant applications, but far less than the potential costs for decay treatment and later bite issues. Having your child undergo sealant treatment is a worthwhile investment: It could prevent decay and tooth loss in the near-term, and also help your child avoid more extensive dental problems in the future.
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