Dental disease doesn’t discriminate by age. Although certain types of disease are more common in adults, children are just as susceptible, particularly to tooth decay.
Unfortunately, the early signs of disease in a child’s teeth can be quite subtle—that’s why you as a parent should keep alert for any signs of a problem. Here are 3 things you might notice that definitely need your dentist’s attention.
Cavities. Tooth decay occurs when mouth acid erodes tooth enamel and forms holes or cavities. The infection can continue to grow and affect deeper parts of the tooth like the pulp and root canals, eventually endangering the tooth’s survival. If you notice tiny brown spots on their teeth, this may indicate the presence of cavities—you should see your dentist as soon as possible. To account for what you don’t see, have your child visit your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups.
Toothache. Tooth pain can range from a sensitive twinge of pain when eating or drinking hot or cold foods to a throbbing sharp pain. Whatever its form, a child’s toothache might indicate advancing decay in which the infection has entered the tooth pulp and is attacking the nerves. If your child experiences any form of toothache, see your dentist the next day if possible. Even if the pain goes away, don’t cancel the appointment—it’s probable the infection is still there and growing.
Bleeding gums. Gums don’t normally bleed during teeth brushing—the gums are much more resilient unless they’ve been weakened by periodontal (gum) disease (although over-aggressive brushing could also be a cause). If you notice your child’s gums bleeding after brushing, see your dentist as soon as possible—the sooner they receive treatment for any gum problems the less damage they’ll experience, and the better chance of preserving any affected teeth.
When you look at the top row of a normal smile, you'll see symmetrical pairs: the central incisors in the middle, flanked by the lateral incisors and the canine (or eye) teeth on the outside of them.
Sometimes, though, teeth may not form as they should: in fact, it's one of the more common congenital defects with one in five people having missing or deformed teeth, often the upper lateral incisors. In the latter case, it's not uncommon for the eye teeth to drift into the missing lateral incisors' spaces next to the central incisors. This creates a smile even a layperson can tell is off.
There is a way to treat this with orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry that will transform that person's smile while restoring better mouth function too. It's often a long process, however, that's best begun early and must be precisely timed with dental development.
Using braces, we move the drifted teeth back to their proper positions, which will make room for a future dental restoration. It's usually best to begin this treatment during late childhood or early adolescence. The next step is to fill the newly-created space with prosthetic (false) teeth.
Dental implants are an ideal choice since they're durable and life-like, and won't require permanent alteration of adjacent teeth. They do, however, require a certain amount of bone volume at the site to support them; if the volume is insufficient we may have to place a bone graft to stimulate new growth.
It's also best not to install implants until the jaw has finished development, usually in the late teens or early adulthood. In the interim between tooth repositioning and implants we can customize a retainer or other removable appliance with a false tooth to occupy the space. This not only enhances the smile, it also prevents the repositioned teeth from drifting back.
These steps toward achieving a new smile take time and sometimes a team of specialists. But all the effort will be rewarded, as a person born without teeth can have a new smile and improved oral health.
If you would like more information on treating dental development deficiencies, 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 “When Permanent Teeth Don't Grow.”
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that can lead to a number of serious health problems. One of them, tooth erosion, could ruin your dental health.
Your stomach uses strong acids to break down food during digestion. A ring of muscle just above the stomach called the esophageal sphincter works as a one-way valve to allow food contents into the stomach but prevent acid from traveling back up through the esophagus.
GERD occurs when the esophageal sphincter weakens and starts allowing acid into the esophagus and potentially the mouth. The acid wash can eventually damage the esophageal lining, causing pain, heartburn, ulcers or even pre-cancerous cells.
Acid coming up in the mouth can cause the mouth’s normally neutral pH to slide into the acidic range. Eventually, these high acid levels soften and erode tooth enamel, increasing the risk of decay and tooth loss.
Accelerated erosion is often a sign of GERD—in fact, dentists may sound the first warning that a patient has a gastrointestinal problem. Unfortunately, a lot of damage could have already occurred, so it’s important to take steps to protect your teeth.
If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, be sure to maintain good oral hygiene practices like brushing or flossing, especially using fluoride toothpaste to strengthen enamel. But try not to brush right after you eat or during a GERD episode: your teeth can be in a softened condition and you may actually brush away tiny particles of mineral. Instead, wait about an hour after eating or after symptoms die down.
In the meantime, try to stimulate saliva production for better acid neutralization by chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva booster. You can also lower mouth acid by rinsing with a cup of water with a half teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in or chewing on an antacid tablet.
You can also minimize GERD symptoms with medication, as well as avoiding alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Try eating smaller meals, finishing at least three hours before bedtime, and avoid lying down immediately after eating. Quitting smoking and losing weight may also minimize GERD symptoms.
GERD definitely has the potential to harm your teeth. But keeping the condition under control will minimize that threat and benefit your health overall.
If you would like more information on the effects of GERD on dental health, 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
There’s a potential threat lurking in your young child’s mouth—tooth decay. This destructive disease can not only rob them of teeth now, it could also impact their dental health long into their adult years.
That’s why we focus heavily on decay prevention measures even in primary (“baby”) teeth, as well as early treatment should it still occur. It’s a straightforward treatment strategy: minimize the factors that contribute to disease and maximize those that protect against it.
We can represent the disease-causing factors with the acronym BAD. Bad bacteria top the list: they produce oral acid that erodes tooth enamel. Couple that with an Absence of healthy saliva function, necessary for acid neutralization, and you have the potential opening for tooth decay. Poor Dietary habits that include too much added sugar (a prime food source for bacteria) and acidic foods help fuel the decay process.
But there are also SAFE factors that can help counteract the BAD. Promoting better Saliva function helps control acid levels, while Sealants applied to chewing surfaces strengthen these vulnerable areas against decay. We can prescribe Antimicrobials in the form of mouth rinses that reduce abnormally high bacterial concentrations. Fluoride applied directly to the enamel bolsters its mineral content. And an Effective diet high in nutrition and low in sugar or acidic foods rounds out our protective measures.
Promoting SAFE factors greatly reduces the risk of childhood tooth decay. To keep on track it’s important to start regular, six-month dental visits beginning around your child’s first birthday. These visits are the most important way to take advantage of prevention measures like sealants or topical fluoride, as well as keeping an eye out for any signs of decay.
And what you do at home is just as important. Besides providing a teeth-friendly diet, you should also brush and floss your child’s teeth every day, teaching them to do it for themselves when they’re old enough. Playing it “SAFE” with your child’s dental health will help ensure your child’s teeth stay decay-free.
If you would like more information on dental care for your child, 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 “Taking the Stress out of Dentistry for Kids.”
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