When your baby’s first teeth come in, you might not think it necessary yet to worry about tooth decay. But even infants can develop this common dental disease. In fact, it has a specific name in children 6 and under: early childhood caries (ECC).
About one-fourth of U.S. children have ECC, and poor or minority children are at highest risk. Because of primary (“baby”) teeth’s thin enamel layer, ECC can spread to healthier teeth with unnerving speed, causing extensive damage.
While such damage immediately affects a child’s nutrition, speech development and self-esteem, it could also impact their future oral health. Permanent teeth often erupt out of position because of missing primary teeth lost prematurely, creating a poor bite. And children with ECC are more likely to have cavities in their future permanent teeth.
While there are a number of effective treatments for repairing ECC-caused damage, it’s best to try to prevent it before damage occurs. A large part of prevention depends on you. You should, for example, begin oral hygiene even before teeth come in by wiping their gums with a clean, damp cloth after feeding. After teeth appear, switch to daily brushing with just a smear of toothpaste.
Because refined sugar is a primary food source for decay-causing bacteria, you should limit it in their diet. In the same vein, avoid sleep-time bottles with fluids like juices, milk or formula. As they grow older, make sure snacks are also low in sugar.
You should also avoid spreading your own oral bacteria to your baby. In this regard, don’t put their eating utensils or pacifier in your mouth and don’t drink from the same cup. Avoid kissing your baby on the lips. And above all, take care of your own oral health to prevent your own encounter with dental disease.
Finally, start regular dental visits on or before your baby’s first birthday. Regular cleanings and checkups increase the chances for early decay detection, as well as provide for treatments and prevention measures that can reduce the disease’s spread and destruction.
ECC can be devastating to both your baby’s current and future dental health. But with vigilance and good dental practices, you may be able to help them avoid this serious disease.
For years people tuned in to enjoy one of David Letterman's "Top 10 lists," a frequent gag performed on his show Late Night. Each countdown list poked fun at off-the-wall topics like "Top 10 New York City Science Projects" or "Top 10 Questions People Ask when Shopping for an Umbrella."
Recently, the American Dental Association presented their own kind of list—"America's Top 3 Oral Health Problems"—based on surveys of around 15,000 people across the U.S. But unlike the popular Late Night lists, this one is no laughing matter.
Coming in at #3, 29% of the respondents indicated they had experienced tooth pain at some time in their life. Tooth pain is the body's way of alerting to trouble in the mouth, anything from a decayed tooth to a gum abscess. The best thing to do if you have any persistent oral pain is to see your dentist as soon as possible for a thorough examination. And you should do this even if the pain goes away.
The second most prominent oral problem among people is difficulty biting or chewing, about 31% of those in the surveys. As with tooth pain, the reasons can vary greatly, including cracked, loose or deeply decayed teeth, dentures or jaw joint disorders (TMD). Because dental disease is usually the ultimate culprit, the best way to avoid this is to practice daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits. And, as with tooth pain, you should see your dentist if you're having symptoms.
At 33% of respondents, the number one oral problem in America is chronic dry mouth. It's a constant inadequate flow of saliva often caused by medications or certain systemic conditions. Because saliva helps protect the mouth against infection, a restricted flow increases your risk of disease. If you notice your mouth is dry all the time, you should talk to your dentist about ways to boost your saliva. If you're taking medications, ask your doctor if they could be causing your symptoms and if you could change to something else.
While any of these Top 3 oral problems can be a stepping stone to more serious dental problems, it doesn't necessarily have to lead to that. You can improve your dental health through daily oral hygiene and regular dental treatment. And it might help you stay off this unpleasant list.
If you would like more information on treating dental disease, 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 “Top 3 Oral Health Problems.”
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara had a rough Stanley Cup final against the St. Louis Blues this past June. Not only did the Bruins ultimately lose the championship, but Chara took a deflected puck shot to the face in Game Four that broke his jaw.
With the NHL season now over, the 42-year-old Bruins captain continues to mend from his injury that required extensive treatment. His experience highlights how jaw fractures and related dental damage are an unfortunate hazard in hockey—not only for pros like Chara, but also for an estimated half million U.S. amateurs, many in youth leagues.
Ice hockey isn't the only sport with this injury potential: Basketball, football (now gearing up with summer training) and even baseball players are also at risk. That's why appropriate protective gear like helmets and face shields are key to preventing injury.
For any contact sport, that protection should also include a mouthguard to absorb hard contact forces that could damage the mouth, teeth and gums. The best guards (and the most comfortable fit) are custom-made by a dentist based on impressions made of the individual's mouth.
But even with adequate protection, an injury can still happen. Here's what you should do if your child has an injury to their jaw, mouth or teeth.
Recognize signs of a broken jaw. A broken jaw can result in severe pain, swelling, difficulty speaking, numbness in the chin or lower lip or the teeth not seeming to fit together properly. You may also notice bleeding in the mouth, as well as bruising under the tongue or a cut in the ear canal resulting from jawbone movement during the fracture. Get immediate medical attention if you notice any of these signs.
Take quick action for a knocked-out tooth. A tooth knocked completely out of its socket is a severe dental injury. But you may be able to ultimately save the tooth by promptly taking the following steps: (1) find the tooth and pick it up without touching the root end, (2) rinse it off, (3) place it back in its socket with firm pressure, and (4) see a dentist as soon as possible.
Seek dental care. Besides the injuries already mentioned, you should also see a dentist for any moderate to severe trauma to the mouth, teeth and gums. Leading the list: any injury that results in tooth chipping, looseness or movement out of alignment.
Even a top athlete like Zdeno Chara isn't immune to injury. Take steps then to protect your amateur athlete from a dental or facial injury.
If you would like more information about dealing with sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
Even though a child’s primary (“baby”) teeth eventually give way, it’s still important to treat them if they become decayed. Primary teeth serve as guides for the emerging permanent teeth — if they’re lost prematurely, the permanent tooth may come in misaligned.
If the decay, however, affects the tooth’s inner pulp, it poses complications. A similarly decayed adult tooth would be treated with a root canal in which all the pulp tissue, including nerve fibers and blood vessels, are removed before filling and sealing. Primary teeth, however, are more dependent on these nerves and blood vessels, and conventional filling materials can impede the tooth’s natural loss process. It’s better to use more conservative treatments with primary teeth depending on the degree of decay and how much of the pulp may be affected.
If the decay is near or just at the pulp, it’s possible to use an indirect pulp treatment to remove as much of the softer decay as possible while leaving harder remnants in place: this will help keep the pulp from exposure. This is then followed with an antibacterial agent and a filling to seal the tooth.
If the pulp is partially exposed but doesn’t appear infected, a technique called direct pulp capping could be used to cover or “cap” the exposed pulp with filling material, which creates a protective barrier against decay. If decay in a portion of the pulp is present, a pulpotomy can be performed to remove the infected pulp portion. It’s important with a pulpotomy to minimize the spread of further infection by appropriately dressing the wound and sealing the tooth during and after the procedure.
A pulpectomy to completely remove pulp tissue may be necessary if in the worst case scenario the pulp is completely infected. While this closely resembles a traditional root canal treatment, we must use sealant material that can be absorbed by the body. Using other sealants could inhibit the natural process when the primary tooth’s roots begin to dissolve (resorb) to allow it to eventually give way.
These all may seem like extraordinary efforts to save a tooth with such a short lifespan. But by giving primary teeth a second chance, their permanent successors will have a better chance of future good health.
If you would like more information on treating decay in 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 article “Root Canal Treatment for Children’s Teeth.”
Just like adults, teenagers experience chipped, stained or disfigured teeth. And during a life stage where issues with appearance can be acutely painful, these defects call out for a solution.
And, there is one: porcelain veneers. These thin wafers of custom-made porcelain are bonded to the front of teeth to cover dental flaws. They’re one of the least invasive—and most affordable—methods for smile enhancement.
There is one caveat, though: The affected teeth will most likely need alteration. Veneers can look bulky when bonded directly to teeth, so we compensate for this by removing some of the surface enamel. This changes the tooth permanently, to the point that it will always require a veneer or some other form of restoration.
But although this may be a minor issue for an adult, it could pose a problem for a teenager. That’s because the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth containing nerves and blood vessels, is larger in a younger adolescent tooth than in an older adult tooth. Because of its size, it’s closer to the tooth’s surface. During enamel reduction for veneers on a young tooth, this could lead to inadvertent nerve damage. If that happens, the tooth may need a root canal treatment to preserve it.
If the adolescent tooth needing a “facelift” has already been root canaled or sustained significant structural damage, then altering it for veneers may not be too concerning. Likewise, if the teeth are smaller than normal, the bulkiness of a veneer may actually improve appearance and not require alteration. We’ll need to examine a young patient first before making any recommendations.
There are also alternatives to veneers for improving smile appearance. Enamel staining could be enhanced temporarily with teeth whitening. Small chips can be repaired with bonded dental material, or in skilled hands be used to “build” a veneer one layer at a time with no enamel reduction. Although not as durable as regular veneers, these bonding techniques could buy time until the tooth is more mature for veneers.
Whichever path we take, there are effective ways to transform a teenager’s flawed tooth. And that can make for an even better smile.
If you would like more information on dental restorations for teenagers, 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 “Veneers for Teenagers.”
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