February is National Children's Dental Health month, sponsored annually by the American Dental Association. As important as good oral health is to a child's overall health and development, tooth decay tops the list as the most common chronic childhood disease. In fact, over 40% of children ages 2-11 have had cavities in their baby teeth.
If unchecked, tooth decay can have a profound impact on a child's quality of life. The good news is that tooth decay is preventable, and often reversible if detected early. Here are some things you can do to set your child on the path to good dental health for life:
Get your child in the habit of brushing and flossing every day. Cavity prevention starts at home, so teach your child to brush twice a day with fluoride toothpaste—but use only a smear of toothpaste the size of a grain of rice before age 3, and a pea-sized amount from ages 3-6. Introduce dental floss into the routine when you notice that your child's teeth are starting to fit closely together. Children generally need help brushing until age 6 or 7 and flossing until around age 10.
Encourage tooth-healthy eating habits. Provide your child with a balanced diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Stay away from sugary snacks and beverages, especially between meals. If children drink juice, they should do so with meals rather than sipping juice throughout the day or at bedtime. Even 100% juice has natural sugars and can be acidic, which can harm teeth with prolonged exposure.
Establish a dental home early. Tooth decay isn't always easy to spot with the naked eye, so regular dental visits should start no later than a baby's first birthday. We can check the development of your child's teeth and spot any issues of concern. The earlier tooth decay is caught, the less damage it can do. Even if there are no dental problems, establishing a dental home early on will help your little one feel comfortable at the dental office.
Ask about preventive dental treatments. Fluoride varnishes or rinses are frequently recommended to help prevent cavities, particularly for children at higher risk of getting cavities. Dental sealants, another preventive treatment, are a coating commonly applied to molars to seal out tooth decay. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, children ages 6-11 with dental sealants have nearly three times fewer cavities than children who do not have sealants.
The key to healthy smiles for life is to start your child at a young age with good habits at home and regular dental visits. If you have questions about your child's dental health, call us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
While children are less likely than adults to experience periodontal (gum) disease, the same can't be said for tooth decay. One aggressive form of decay called early childhood caries (ECC) can have a profound effect on a child's dental development and future health.
That's why dentists who treat young children often use a variety of preventive measures to reduce the risk of ECC and other dental diseases. One popular method is dental sealants, dental material coatings applied to the biting surfaces of teeth that fill in the naturally occurring pits and crevices. These areas are highly susceptible to plaque formation, a bacterial biofilm of food particles that tends to accumulate on teeth. It's the bacteria that live in plaque that are most responsible for the formation of tooth decay.
Roughly one third of children between the ages of 6 and 11 have received some form of dental sealant. It's a quick and painless procedure applied during a routine office visit. The dentist brushes the sealant in liquid form on the teeth, and then hardens it with a special curing light. It's common for children to begin obtaining sealant protection as their molars begin to come in.
With their increased popularity among dentists, researchers have conducted a number of studies to see whether dental sealants have a measurable effect reducing tooth decay. After reviewing the cases of thousands of children over several years, many of these studies seemed to show that children who didn't receive sealants were more than twice as likely to get cavities as children who did.
As evidence continues to mount for dental sealants' effectiveness protecting young children from decay, both the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry now recommend it for all children. Not only can sealants help preserve children's teeth now, but they can reduce future costs for dental treatment that results from tooth decay.
Wearing orthodontic braces brings challenges to daily life. During treatment a patient will need to avoid certain foods and habits, take more time to brush and floss properly, and may endure occasional discomfort. But the effect of metal braces on appearance can be especially difficult, especially for peer-conscious teens.
Clear aligners, though, offer an alternative to braces that could make some of these challenges easier, particularly with your appearance. Aligners are clear plastic trays that fit over the teeth to move them. They can be removed by the wearer for easier brushing and flossing or for special occasions. Best of all, they're much less noticeable than metal braces.
Clear aligners were developed thanks to advances in digital technology. An orthodontist uses a computer application incorporating the data from photographs, x-rays or CT scans of a patient's teeth and jaws to produce a series of clear plastic trays. The patient then wears each tray for about two weeks before changing to the next tray in the sequence.
The trays apply pressure much like metal braces to gradually move teeth to the desired position on the jaw. Each tray is slightly smaller in size than the previous tray in the sequence, so that the progression of tooth movement continues with each succeeding tray. The treatment time is about the same as with conventional braces.
This new orthodontic tool works well for many common bite problems, but until recently they've been limited in scope. But new designs in trays and attachments called buttons added to teeth to provide more leverage have greatly increased their use for more complex bite issues.
Clear aligners also have one other disadvantage, ironically due to one of their principal benefits, removability. Although they can be taken out, they must be worn consistently to achieve results. Some younger patients may not have the maturity level and discipline to responsibly wear their aligners as they should.
That's one issue you'll need to discuss with your orthodontist if you're considering clear aligners for your teen. But if they can maintain wearing consistency, and they have a bite problem that can be corrected with aligners, both you and your teen may find this choice more agreeable and attractive than braces.
If you would like more information on clear aligners, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
While tooth decay is a potential problem at any age, the risk increases as you grow older. Not only are senior adults more susceptible, decay is often more difficult to treat. That’s because cavities can occur at or below the gum line, often due to gum recession.
If that’s the case, we won’t be able to fill the cavity in the usual way because the gum tissue is in the way. To make it possible to treat, we may need to perform a minor surgical procedure known as crown lengthening.
As the name implies, the procedure helps expose more of the crown, the tooth’s visible part, from the surrounding gum tissue. In basic terms, we’re repositioning the gum tissue away from the biting surface of a tooth to make room for a filling. It’s also useful for improving a tooth’s appearance by making it look longer, or creating room for a crown or other dental restoration.
After applying a local anesthesia, the dentist (or periodontist, a specialist in the gums) creates a tiny flap of gum tissue with a series of incisions. This allows the dentist to move the affected gums out of the way to access the underlying bone. The dentist then reshapes the bone to adequately support the gum tissue when it’s finally repositioned to expose the crown. In its new and improved position, the dentist sutures the gum tissue in place.
For a few days afterward, the patient will need to restrict their diet to soft foods, avoid strenuous activities and apply an ice pack to help reduce swelling the day of surgery. They will also prescribe a pain reliever and possibly an antibiotic to reduce the chances of infection.
While most people return to normal activities a few days later, you’ll usually have to wait a few weeks for the gums to heal before undergoing any further treatments for the affected teeth. But even with the wait, crown lengthening could make it possible to not only save your tooth but improve your smile as well.
If you would like more information on treating tooth decay, 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 “Crown Lengthening: This Common Surgical Procedure Restores Function and Improves Appearance.”
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