Infancy is perhaps the only time in a person's life where a smile with just a few tiny teeth is still endearing. More will come—and then each will gradually depart, succeeded by permanent replacements.
That short lifespan, though, doesn't diminish their importance. Primary teeth not only provide children the ability to eat solid food and develop speech, but they set the stage for future dental health.
The latter arises from primary teeth's role as placeholders for incoming permanent teeth. Because permanent teeth eruption occurs in stages, primary teeth prevent earlier erupted teeth from drifting into the space intended for a later tooth. If they're lost prematurely and other teeth crowd into the space, the intended tooth may not have enough room to erupt properly, cascading from there into a poor bite (malocclusion).
The most common reason for premature loss is an aggressive form of tooth decay in children under 6 called early childhood caries (ECC). About one in four U.S. children encounter ECC, with those in poverty at higher risk. Infection in one tooth can spread to others, including newly erupted permanent teeth.
The goal then is to prevent ECC as much as possible, and initiate prompt treatment should it still occur. A good prevention strategy has two prongs: the actions and habits of parents or caregivers; and the prevention and treatment measures taken by dental providers.
At home, it's important that you wipe your newborn's gums with a clean, damp cloth after each feeding to reduce bacterial growth. As teeth erupt, switch then to gentle brushing with a rice grain-sized amount of baby toothpaste. You should also limit their sugar consumption, including not allowing them to sleep with a bedtime bottle of any liquid other than water.
It's also important that you start your child's regular dental visits around their first birthday. This allows us to detect any developing cavities, as well as apply sealants and topical fluoride to help prevent decay. And should a cavity develop, regular visits help ensure prompt treatment to preserve the tooth.
Your child's set of primary teeth only last a few short years, but their contribution echoes for a lifetime. Taking these measures to protect them from tooth decay ensures they'll fully make that contribution.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
Tooth decay is perhaps the biggest danger your child's teeth can face. Not only can it rob them of primary teeth now, but the loss of teeth at this early age could also lead to future bite problems.
That's why it's important to reduce the risk of tooth decay through daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. You child may also benefit from another measure that enhances those other hygiene efforts—topical fluoride applied directly to tooth surfaces.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring chemical that's been demonstrated to strengthen tooth enamel against contact with acid, the main cause of tooth decay. Today, fluoride is added not only to toothpastes and other dental hygiene products, but also in minute amounts to drinking water supplies across the country.
Even if your child takes in fluoride through one or more of these sources, there may still be a benefit to a topical application. For one, topical applications are usually stronger than fluoride toothpaste or fluoridated water supplies and can have greater effect. And because fluoridated water is ingested first before traveling through the bloodstream to the teeth, directly applied fluoride can strengthen them much faster.
But are these stronger concentrations of topical fluoride safe? Studies have shown no long-term health risk, but there can be temporary side effects like stomach pain, vomiting or headaches if the patient accidently swallows too much of the solution during the application. These side effects, however, can be minimized through safety measures dentists put in place during the procedure.
One study by the Cochrane Oral Health Research Group seems to show that the long-term benefit of topical fluoride is well worth this minor risk of side effects. After reviewing several scientific studies involving thousands of patients, the group found an overall 28% reduction in decayed, filled or missing teeth over a number of years among those who received a topical fluoride treatment.
Because of these and other forms of evidence, fluoride applications in either gel, foam or varnish forms have become a routine part of preventive care for children. Discussing it with your dentist, you may find it could be an extra weapon for your child in fighting tooth decay.
If you would like more information on how to protect your child's teeth from 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
Do you want to give your child something that will benefit them the rest of their life? Then give them the gift of healthy teeth and gums.
Such a gift doesn't come wrapped in a box with a bow on it—you bestow it first by ensuring they receive the utmost in dental care during their formative years. Even more importantly, you instill in them good oral care habits that will protect their dental health for the rest of their lives.
Oral Hygiene 101. Daily hygiene—brushing and flossing to remove disease-causing dental plaque—is the foundation for maintaining a lifetime of optimal dental health. Early on, you'll have to perform these tasks for your child, but the true gift is in teaching them to brush and floss effectively for themselves (and your dentist can help too!).
How's my brushing? There's oral hygiene—and then there's effective oral hygiene. For a quick check, there's a simple test you can teach your child to make sure they're brushing and flossing correctly: Just after they finish, have them rub their tongue all along their teeth. If the teeth feel smooth, they've made the grade! If it feels gritty, though, they'll need to try again. (For better accuracy, you can also purchase a disclosing solution at your local pharmacy that when applied to teeth will reveal any remaining plaque.)
Eating for dental health. Instilling the values of proper nutrition not only promotes your child's overall health, it can also help them have healthier teeth and gums. Foods rich in vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin D, calcium and phosphorus, help build strong teeth and bones. Avoiding processed foods, especially those with added sugar, helps them avoid tooth decay or gum disease.
Mouth protection from injury. As your child grows and becomes more active, they're more at risk for injury to their mouth, teeth or gums. Help them break habits like chewing on hard objects, and insist on them wearing a mouthguard while playing sports. As they enter the teen years, encourage them to avoid “mouth jewelry” that could damage their tooth enamel.
These values and practices are often woven into the fabric of everyday life. They take relatively little time, but they can make a huge impact on your child's oral health future.
If you would like more information on dental care for kids, 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.”
During the COVID-19 quarantines, stir-crazy celebrities have been creating some “unique” home videos—like Madonna singing about fried fish to the tune of “Vogue” in her bathroom or Cardi B busting through a human-sized Jenga tower. But an entertaining Instagram video from Kevin Bacon also came with a handy culinary tip: The just-awakened film and TV actor showed fans his morning technique for cutting a mango to avoid the stringy pulp that gets between your teeth. After cutting a mango in half, he scored it lengthwise and crosswise to create squares and then turned the mango inside out for easy eating.
With his mango-slicing video garnering over a quarter-million views, the City on a Hill star may have touched a nerve—the near universal annoyance we all have with food stuck between our teeth. Trapped food particles aren't only annoying, they can also contribute to a bacterial film called dental plaque that's the top cause for tooth decay and gum disease.
Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to avoid stuck food if you love things like popcorn, poppy-seed muffins or barbecue ribs. It's helpful then to have a few go-to ways for removing food caught between teeth. First, though, let's talk about what NOT to use to loosen a piece of stuck food.
A recent survey of more than 1,000 adults found that when removing something caught between our teeth, we humans are a creative lot. The makeshift tools that survey respondents said they've used in a pinch included twigs, safety pins, screwdrivers and nails (both the hammer and finger/toe variety). Although clever, many such items are both unsanitary and harmful to your gums and tooth enamel, especially if they're metallic or abrasive.
If you want a safe way to remove unwanted food debris, try these methods instead:
Brush your teeth: The gentle abrasives in toothpaste plus the mechanical action of brushing can help dislodge trapped food.
Use dental floss: A little bit of dental floss usually does the trick to remove wedged-in food—and it's easy to carry a small floss container or a floss pick on you for emergencies.
Try a toothpick. A toothpick is also an appropriate food-removing tool, according the American Dental Association, as long as it is rounded and made of wood.
See your dentist. We have the tools to safely and effectively remove trapped food debris that you haven't been able to dislodge by other means—so before you get desperate, give us a call.
You can also minimize plaque buildup from food particles between teeth by both brushing and flossing every day. And for optimally clean teeth, be sure you have regular dental office cleanings at least twice a year.
Thanks to Kevin Bacon's little trick, you can have your “non-stringy” mango and eat it too. Still, you can't always avoid food getting wedged between your teeth, so be prepared.
Most babies come into the world ready and able to nourish at their mother's breast—no training required! About one in ten children, though, may have a structural abnormality with their tongue or lip that makes it difficult for them to breastfeed.
The abnormality involves a small strip of tissue called a frenum or frenulum, which is found in the mouth connecting soft tissue to more rigid structures. You'll find a frenum attaching the upper lip to the gums, while another connects the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.
Frenums are a normal part of oral anatomy and usually don't pose a problem. But if the frenum tissue is too short, thick or tight, it could restrict lip or tongue movement. If so, a baby may not be able to achieve a good seal on their mother's nipple, causing them to ineffectively chew rather than suck to access the mother's milk. Such a situation guarantees an unpleasant experience for both mother and baby.
The problem can be addressed with a minor surgical procedure performed in a dentist's office. During the procedure, the dentist first numbs the area with an anesthetic gel. The frenum is then snipped with scissors or a laser.
With very little if any post-procedure care, the baby can immediately begin nursing. But although the physical impediment may be removed, the child may need to “relearn” how to nurse. It may take time for the baby to readjust, and could require help from a professional.
Nursing isn't the only reason for dealing with an abnormally shortened frenum. Abnormal frenums can interfere with speech development and may even widen gaps between the front teeth, contributing to poor bite development. It's often worthwhile to clip a frenum early before it creates other problems.
It isn't absolutely necessary to deal with a “tongue” or “lip tie” in this manner—a baby can be nourished by bottle. But to gain the physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, taking care of this particular problem early may be a good option.
If you would like more information on the problem of tongue or lip ties in infants, 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 “Tongue Ties, Lip Ties and Breastfeeding.”
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