Teeth lost to tooth decay can have devastating consequences for a child’s dental health. Not only can it disrupt their current nutrition, speech and social interaction, it can also skew their oral development for years to come.
Fortunately, we have a number of preventive tools to curb decay in young children. One of the most important of these, dental sealants, has been around for decades. We apply these resin or glass-like material coatings to the pits and crevices of teeth (especially molars) to help prevent the buildup of bacterial plaque in areas where bacteria tend to thrive.
Applying sealants is a simple and pain-free process. We first brush the coating in liquid form onto the teeth’s surface areas we wish to protect. We then use a special curing light to harden the sealant and create a durable seal.
So how effective are sealants in preventing tooth decay? Two studies in recent years reviewing dental care results from thousands of patients concluded sealants could effectively reduce cavities even four years after their application. Children who didn’t receive sealants had cavities at least three times the rate of those who did.
Sealant applications, of course, have some expense attached to them. However, it’s far less than the cost for cavity filling and other treatments for decay, not to mention future treatment costs resulting from previous decay. What’s more important, though, is the beneficial impact sealants can have a child’s dental health now and on into adulthood. That’s why sealants are recommended by both the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
And while sealants are effective, they’re only one part of a comprehensive strategy to promote your child’s optimum dental health. Daily brushing and flossing, a “tooth-friendly” diet and regular dental cleanings and checkups are also necessary in helping to keep your child’s teeth healthy and free of tooth decay.
Like the rest of their bodies, children’s teeth and mouth are on a rapid development track. By the time they’re young adults, they will have had two sets of teeth, extensive bone growth and a noticeable change in their features. The natural process is truly amazing.
But dental disease can easily derail their development, with tooth decay the most common problem children encounter. More than at any other time of life, preventive dental care is a top priority.
True preventive care for your child includes the entire mouth, not just the teeth. Our main focus, of course, is to head off tooth decay before it develops, including the application of topical fluoride or sealants when appropriate. But we also monitor bite development and provide protection against sports injuries or other forms of trauma with customized mouth guards.
You also have a part to play in your child’s preventive dental care. It begins when your child’s first teeth begin to emerge in the mouth — the point when you should begin brushing them. You can also reduce the risk of dental disease by providing a nutritious diet that’s high in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in sugar, especially between-meal snacks.
You should also start regular dental visits around their first birthday. This is not only the best time to begin professional care, but your child will also have an easier time at this age becoming comfortable with visiting the dentist than waiting until they’re older.
Taking care of your child’s teeth is a working partnership between you and us: we provide the professional care your child needs to develop properly, while you look to their daily hygiene and nutrition, which is just as important for your child’s healthy development. Through our partnership, we can ensure your child is getting the very best start toward a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.
Famed educator Maria Montessori once said, “Play is the work of the child”—and most kids take their “work” very seriously. But their avid enthusiasm might also raise the risk of blunt force injuries, particularly to the mouth.
While you should certainly take steps to protect their mouth (like a custom-made guard for contact sports), you can’t completely erase the risk. You should know, therefore, what to do in case of a mouth injury.
The lips, tongue, and other soft oral tissues often get the brunt of any contact injury, ranging from minor bruising and swelling to severe cuts that require medical attention. First, clean the area as thoroughly as possible to remove trapped dirt or debris in the wound. If bleeding occurs, apply continuous gentle pressure with a clean cloth or gauze for 10-15 minutes until it stops, and cold compresses for any swelling. If the wound looks deep or severe, take them to an emergency room.
Blunt force can also impact teeth in a variety of ways. If part of a tooth chips, attempt to find the pieces and see a dentist as soon as possible—they may be able to bond the pieces back to the tooth. If a tooth gets moved out of place, call your dentist immediately or go to an emergency room after hours.
If a permanent tooth gets completely knocked out, find it and rinse off any debris with clean water. Then, place it gently back into its socket, or alternatively between the child’s cheek and gum or in a glass of cold milk. You’ll need to see a dentist as soon as possible to have the tooth replanted. With this kind of injury, time is of the essence.
A hard impact can also fracture the jawbone, which may be suspected if the face appears distorted or the teeth can’t make contact with each other when the jaws are shut. Control any bleeding, apply cold compresses or mild pain relievers to ease any pain or swelling, and go to an emergency room immediately.
A traumatic injury can heighten everyone’s emotions, including yours. You can avoid your emotions turning into panic, though, by following these common sense guidelines to help your child get through this unfortunate event.
The development of your child’s teeth, gums and jaw structure is an amazing process. But while it largely occurs on its own, we can’t take it for granted—we’ll need to do our part to ensure their mouth stays free from the effects of disease and injury.
That starts first and foremost with early oral hygiene practices. And we do mean early, even before teeth begin to erupt: a simple habit of wiping their gums after feeding with a clean, damp cloth helps reduce the growth of bacteria, the leading cause of dental disease.
Once teeth do appear, you can begin brushing them every day with just a smear of toothpaste. You can increase this to a pea-sized dose around age 2, as well as begin teaching them to brush and later floss for themselves.
Regular dental visits are the next pillar of preventive care. By and large it’s best to begin visits around their first birthday. Their primary teeth should be coming in at an even pace by then; and the earlier you begin visits the easier it will be for them to become used to them as a routine part of life.
Dental visits are essential for keeping bacterial plaque under control, as well as monitoring overall dental health. It’s also an opportunity to apply other preventive measures such as sealants that discourage tooth decay development on biting surfaces and topical fluoride for strengthening enamel.
Dental visits also provide frequent opportunities to detect bite problems or other situations as they’re emerging. Recognizing these early gives us a chance to intervene with less invasive treatments that could prevent or minimize more invasive treatments later.
You also don’t want to forget about the other major cause of dental problems—traumatic injuries. You can lessen this risk by limiting your child’s exposure to hard, sharp objects like furniture or some toys. And if they become involved with contact sports, it’s a good idea to invest in a custom mouthguard to protect their teeth and mouth from blunt force trauma.
As always, we’re here to support you and give you advice on other ways to keep your child’s dental development on track. Together we’ll give your child the best chance possible to enter adulthood with a healthy mouth.
One of the biggest concerns we hear from parents is about their child's thumb sucking habit. Our advice: if they're under age 4, there's no need for concern — yet. If they're older, though, you should be concerned about the possible effect on their bite.
Thumb sucking is a universal habit among infants and toddlers and is related to their swallowing pattern during feeding. As they swallow, their tongue thrusts forward to create a seal with the lips around the breast or a bottle nipple. Many pediatricians believe thumb sucking replicates nursing and so has a comforting effect on infants.
Around age 4, though, this swallowing pattern begins to change to accommodate solid food. The tongue now begins to rest at the back of the top front teeth during swallowing (try swallowing now and you'll see). For most children, their thumb sucking habit also fades during this time and eventually stops.
But for whatever reason, some children don't stop. As the habit persists, the tongue continues to thrust forward rather than toward the back of the top front teeth. Over time this can place undue pressure on both upper and lower front teeth and contribute to the development of an open bite, a slight gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut.
While late childhood thumb sucking isn't the only cause for an open bite (abnormal bone growth in one jaw is another), the habit is still a prominent factor. That's why it's important that you start encouraging your child to stop thumb sucking around age 3 and no later than 4. This is best accomplished with positive reinforcement like rewards or praise.
If they've continued the habit a few years after they should have stopped, we may also need to check to see if their swallowing mechanism has become stunted. If so, we may need to use certain exercises to retrain their tongue to take the proper position during swallowing.
While you shouldn't panic, it's important to take action to stop thumb sucking before it becomes a long-term problem. A positive, proactive approach will help avoid costly orthodontic problems later in their lives.
If you would like more information about thumb or finger sucking, 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 Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
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