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?”
Perhaps the only thing worse than having a toothache of your own is when your child has one. Tooth pain can be a miserable experience, especially for children. It can also be confusing about what to do to deal with it.
Fortunately, a toothache usually isn't a dental emergency, so take a deep breath. Here's what you should do if your child is experiencing tooth pain.
Get the 411 from them. Before you call the dentist, find out more first about the tooth pain from your child with a few probing questions: Where exactly does it hurt? Do you feel it all through your mouth or just in one place? Is it all the time, or just when you bite down? When did it start? You may not get the same level of detail as you would from an adult, but even a little information helps.
Take a look in their mouth. There are a lot of causes for toothache like a decayed tooth or abscessed gums. See if any of the teeth look abnormal or if the gums are swollen. You might also find a piece of food or other particle wedged between the teeth causing the pain. In that case, a little dental floss might relieve the problem.
Ease the pain. While you're waiting on your dental appointment, you can help relieve some of their discomfort by giving them a child-appropriate dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen. You can also apply an ice pack on the outside of the jaw for five minutes on, then five minutes off to decrease swelling. Under no circumstances, however, should you give your child aspirin or rub it on the gums.
See the dentist. It's always a good idea to follow up with the dentist, even if the pain subsides. In most cases, you may be able to wait until the next day. There are, however, circumstances that call for a visit as soon as possible: if the child is running a fever and/or has facial swelling; or if the tooth pain seems to be related to an injury or trauma.
It can be unsettling as a parent when your child has a toothache. But knowing what to do can help you stay calm and get them the care they need.
If you would like more information on pediatric dental care, 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 “A Child's Toothache.”
Dorit Kemsley isn't shy. Best known to fans as an outspoken and sometimes outrageous cast member of the reality show Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Kemsley is never reticent about “mixing it up” with fellow castmates or their significant others. Recently, though, she confessed to something that left her less than confident: her smile.
Kemsley has been self-conscious about her smile because her teeth looked noticeably short, worn down from an unconscious habit of grinding her teeth. Although teeth grinding is more common among children (who normally grow out of it by adolescence), it can persist into adulthood, usually from difficulties managing high stress (a likely component in the fashion designer/reality show star's busy life).
Stress-induced teeth grinding can occur during waking hours or, more likely, during deep sleep. The accumulating, long-term effects from the habit can lead not only to worn teeth but to weakened gum support, a high risk of tooth fracture or jaw pain and dysfunction.
So, how do you know if you grind your teeth, especially if it's only happening at night? Typical signs include sore jaws after awaking from sleep, increased tooth pain or sensitivity or, like Kemsley, a noticeable difference in your tooth length. Your family or sleeping partner may also complain about the “skin-crawling” noise you make during the night.
There are ways to lessen the effects of teeth grinding. The first step is to have us verify the underlying cause for the habit. If it's tension from stress, then you might reduce the habit's occurrences by learning better stress management or relaxation techniques through individual counseling, group support or biofeedback therapy. We can also fit you with a mouth guard to wear at night or through the day that reduces the force generated during teeth grinding.
And if you've already experienced accelerated tooth wear like Kemsley with a resultant “small teeth” smile, you might pursue the same solution as the RHOBH star: dental veneers. These thin, life-like wafers of porcelain are custom-made to mask imperfections like chips, staining, slight tooth gaps and, yes, worn teeth.
Veneers are often less expensive and invasive than other cosmetic techniques, yet they can have a transformative effect, as Kemsley's Instagram followers have seen. In conjunction with other dental treatments needed to repair any underlying damage caused by a grinding habit, veneers are an effective fix for the smile you present to the world.
If you suspect you may have a grinding habit, see us for a complete examination. From there, we'll help you protect your teeth and your smile.
Madeline Stuart, acclaimed fashion model; Chris Burke, successful actor; Collette Divitto, founder of Collettey's Cookies. Each of them is accomplished in their own right—and each has Down syndrome. In October, Down Syndrome Awareness Month recognizes the achievements of people with Down syndrome overcoming incredible challenges. One such challenge, keeping their dental health on track, is something they and their families face every day.
Down syndrome, also known as trisomy 21, is a genetic disorder that happens when the body's cells contain an extra copy of chromosome number 21. This can cause a wide range of physical, intellectual and developmental impairments that, among other things, can contribute to dental disease and other oral health concerns.
But oral problems can be minimized, especially during childhood. Here are four ways to better manage dental care for a child with Down syndrome.
Begin dental visits early. Down syndrome patients can have physical challenges that could result in delayed tooth eruption, undersized teeth or smaller jaws that contribute to poor bite development and greater risk of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. To stay ahead of any developing issues, you should begin regular visits to the dentist no later than the child's first birthday.
Be aware of dental anxiety. Some children with Down syndrome experience significant anxiety about the clinical aspects of their care. We strive to provide a comfortable, caring environment for all patients, including those with special needs. A variety of relaxation techniques as well as sedation options may help to reduce anxiety.
Coordinate medical and dental care. Medical problems can affect dental care. Be sure, then, to keep us informed about your child's health issues. For example, heart defects are more common among those with Down syndrome, and dental patients with heart conditions may need to be treated with antibiotics before certain dental procedures to minimize the chances of infection.
Make daily hygiene easier. Daily brushing and flossing are important for everyone's dental health, but they can be difficult for someone with Down syndrome. In some cases, you may have to assist or even perform these tasks for your child. You can make oral hygiene easier by choosing toothbrushes that fit your child's level of physical ability or using special flossing devices.
The physical disabilities of those with Down syndrome fall along a wide spectrum, with some individuals needing more help than others. Tailoring their dental care to their specific needs and capabilities can help keep your child's teeth and gums healthy for the long term.
If you would like more information about providing dental care for children with disabilities, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Managing Tooth Decay in Children With Chronic Diseases” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
October is National Dental Hygiene Month, when we call attention to the importance of keeping those pearly whites clean. Brushing and flossing, along with regular dental cleanings, protect your teeth and gums from dental disease. It might also lessen the risk or severity of heart disease, arthritis—or even dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
Sound far-fetched? A number of years ago, researchers noticed that people with periodontal (gum) disease were also more prone to systemic conditions like chronic heart and lung diseases, diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis. The common thread: inflammation, the body's response to infection or trauma.
Inflammation in and of itself is a necessary part of the healing process. But if it becomes chronic, as it often does with a gum infection and these other systemic diseases, this defensive response meant to aid healing can instead damage tissues.
We've also learned that inflammation arising from gum disease may worsen inflammation associated with other systemic conditions. It can work the other way as well: If you have an inflammatory disease, your risk for gum disease goes up and any gum infection can be more acute.
What we've learned recently, though, might be even more concerning: Results from a recent study are showing some evidence of a link between gum disease and dementia and decline in cognitive ability. The study, published in the journal Neurology this past July, followed approximately 8,000 Americans for twenty years. Participants came from a variety of locations and demographic subsets, and were on average in their early sixties with no signs of dementia at the beginning of the study.
Of the participants who completed the study, about 19% had developed dementia. Of these participants, those with severe gum disease and tooth loss were slightly more likely to have dementia than subjects with healthy teeth and gums.
At the very least, these studies raise more questions about the connections between oral and general health, calling for further exploration. One thing's for sure, though—healthy teeth and gums play an important role in the overall quality of life and health. The time and effort required for the following are well worth it to maintain a healthy mouth.
- Brush and floss your teeth every day without fail;
- Visit your dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings;
- Eat a “tooth-friendly” diet low in sugar and rich in vitamins and minerals (especially calcium);
- See your dentist as soon as possible if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums.
We all want to stay fit and active throughout our senior years. Taking care of your teeth and gums—especially with daily oral hygiene—is a key part of the formula for a long and happy life.
If you would like more information about the importance of dental hygiene to overall health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
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