While they're resilient, your child's teeth aren't invincible. Daily hygiene and regular dental visits are important, but you should also be alert for problems and take action when they arise.
Here are 4 areas that could cause problems for your child's teeth, and what you should do — or not do — if you encounter them.
Teething. This is a normal experience as your child's first teeth erupt through the gums. The gums become tender and painful, causing constant gnawing, drooling, disturbed sleep and similar symptoms. You can help relieve discomfort by letting them bite on a chilled (not frozen) teething ring or a cold, wet washcloth. Pain relievers like ibuprofen in appropriate dosages can also help — but don't apply ice, alcohol or numbing agents containing Benzocaine directly to the gums.
Toothache. Tooth pain could be a sign of decay, so you should see us for an examination. In the meantime you can help relieve pain with a warm-water rinse, a cold compress to the outside of the face, or appropriately-dosed pain relievers. If the pain is intense or persists overnight, see us no later than the next day if possible.
Swollen or bleeding gums. If you notice your child's gums are red and swollen or easily bleed during brushing, they could have periodontal (gum) disease. This is an infection caused by bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that build up on the teeth. You can stop plaque buildup by helping them practice effective, daily brushing and flossing. If they're showing symptoms, though, see us for an exam. In the meantime, be sure they continue to gently brush their teeth, even if their gums are irritated.
Chipped, cracked or knocked out tooth. If your child's teeth are injured, you should see us immediately. If part of the tooth has broken off, try to retrieve the broken pieces and bring them with you. If it's a permanent tooth that was knocked out, pick it up by the crown (not the root), rinse it with clean water and attempt to place it back in the socket. If you can't, bring the tooth with you in a container with clean water or milk. The sooner you see us, the better the chances for saving the tooth — minutes count.
It might seem that supermodels have a fairly easy life — except for the fact that they are expected to look perfect whenever they’re in front of a camera. Sometimes that’s easy — but other times, it can be pretty difficult. Just ask Chrissy Teigen: Recently, she was in Bangkok, Thailand, filming a restaurant scene for the TV travel series The Getaway, when some temporary restorations (bonding) on her teeth ended up in her food.
As she recounted in an interview, “I was… like, ‘Oh my god, is my tooth going to fall out on camera?’ This is going to be horrible.” Yet despite the mishap, Teigen managed to finish the scene — and to keep looking flawless. What caused her dental dilemma? “I had chipped my front tooth so I had temporaries in,” she explained. “I’m a grinder. I grind like crazy at night time. I had temporary teeth in that I actually ground off on the flight to Thailand.”
Like stress, teeth grinding is a problem that can affect anyone, supermodel or not. In fact, the two conditions are often related. Sometimes, the habit of bruxism (teeth clenching and grinding) occurs during the day, when you’re trying to cope with a stressful situation. Other times, it can occur at night — even while you’re asleep, so you retain no memory of it in the morning. Either way, it’s a behavior that can seriously damage your teeth.
When teeth are constantly subjected to the extreme forces produced by clenching and grinding, their hard outer covering (enamel) can quickly start to wear away. In time, teeth can become chipped, worn down — even loose! Any dental work on those teeth, such as fillings, bonded areas and crowns, may also be damaged, start to crumble or fall out. Your teeth may become extremely sensitive to hot and cold because of the lack of sufficient enamel. Bruxism can also result in headaches and jaw pain, due in part to the stress placed on muscles of the jaw and face.
You may not be aware of your own teeth-grinding behavior — but if you notice these symptoms, you might have a grinding problem. Likewise, after your routine dental exam, we may alert you to the possibility that you’re a “bruxer.” So what can you do about teeth clenching and grinding?
We can suggest a number of treatments, ranging from lifestyle changes to dental appliances or procedures. Becoming aware of the behavior is a good first step; in some cases, that may be all that’s needed to start controlling the habit. Finding healthy ways to relieve stress — meditation, relaxation, a warm bath and a soothing environment — may also help. If nighttime grinding keeps occurring, an “occlusal guard” (nightguard) may be recommended. This comfortable device is worn in the mouth at night, to protect teeth from damage. If a minor bite problem exists, it can sometimes be remedied with a simple procedure; in more complex situations, orthodontic work might be recommended.
Teeth grinding at night can damage your smile — but you don’t have to take it lying down! If you have questions about bruxism, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Stress & Tooth Habits” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
Since the discovery a century ago of its beneficial effect on tooth enamel, fluoride has become an important part of tooth decay prevention. It's routinely added to toothpaste and other hygiene products, and many water utilities add minute amounts of it to their drinking water supplies. Although there have been questions about its safety, multiple studies over the last few decades have eased those concerns.
Children especially benefit from fluoride during their teeth's developing years. Some children are at high risk for decay, especially an aggressive form known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC). ECC can destroy primary (baby) teeth and cause children to lose them prematurely. This can have an adverse effect on incoming permanent teeth, causing them to erupt in the wrong positions creating a bad bite (malocclusion).
For children at high risk for decay, dentists often recommend applying topical fluoride directly to the teeth as added protection against disease. These concentrations of fluoride are much higher than in toothpaste and remain on the teeth for much longer. Topical applications have been shown not only to reduce the risk of new cavities, but to also stop and reverse early decay.
Children usually receive these applications during an office visit after their regular dental cleaning. There are three different ways to apply it: gel, foam or varnish. To prevent swallowing some of the solution (which could induce vomiting, headache or stomach pain) the dentist will often insert a tray similar to a mouth guard to catch any excess solution. Varnishes and a few gels are actually painted on the teeth.
The American Dental Association has intensely studied the use of topical fluoride and found its application can result in substantial decreases in cavities and lost teeth. They've concluded this benefit far outweighs the side effects from ingesting the solution in children six years and older. With proper precautions and waiting to eat for thirty minutes after an application, the possibility of ingestion can be reduced even further.
While topical fluoride can be effective, it's only one part of a good dental care strategy for your child. Consistent daily brushing and flossing, a nutritious diet low in added sugar, and regular dental visits still remain the backbone of preventive care.
There’s only one way to effectively halt the progressive damage of periodontal (gum) disease — completely remove the bacterial plaque and hardened deposits (calculus) from above and below the gum line that are causing the infection. Although we can accomplish this in most cases with hand instruments called scalers, ultra-sonic equipment or both, some cases may require periodontal surgery to access and clean deeper “pockets” of infection.
As this damaging disease progresses, the supporting bone dissolves and the gum tissues will begin to detach from a tooth, leaving an open space known as a “periodontal pocket.” Besides plaque and calculus pus may also form as a result of the infection. All of this material must be removed from the pocket before healing and, hopefully, tissue reattachment can begin.
Shallow pockets near the gum line are usually accessed and cleaned with hand instruments. But deeper pockets (5 millimeters or greater in depth) may require a surgical procedure to completely clean the area also allowing for regenerative procedures to be done to regain attachment. This will reduce the depth of the periodontal pockets that will make them more accessible for future cleanings and maintenance. Flap surgery is a common type of such a procedure: a small opening (similar to the flap of a letter envelope) is surgically created in the gum tissue to expose the area of infection around the tooth root and bone.
There are also other types of periodontal surgery for repairing and stimulating regeneration of damaged gum tissues. Using grafts or other enhancements, these plastic surgical techniques are especially useful where gum tissues have receded above the natural gum line, leaving more of the underlying tooth below the enamel exposed to disease. These procedures have become more effective in recent years with the development of specialized technologies called “barrier membranes” and biologic growth factors. These materials have allowed bone grafts to be more successful as this technology is engineered for targeted tissue growth and repair, and then dissolve at an appropriate point in the regeneration process.
Periodontal surgery isn’t appropriate for every situation. Still, these procedures do play an important role for many patients to put a halt to the damage caused by gum disease.
If you would like more information on surgical procedures for gum 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 “Periodontal Surgery: Where Art Meets Science.”
Your child’s dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-ray imaging. It’s one of our best tools for finding and treating tooth decay.
But since x-rays emit radiation, is your child in any danger when they’re exposed?
X-rays, an invisible form of electromagnetic energy, will form images on exposed film after passing through the body. Because it takes longer for x-rays to pass through dense tissue like teeth and bones, the corresponding areas appear lighter on the film than less dense tissue like the gums. We can detect decay because the diseased tooth structure is less dense and thus appears darker against healthier tooth structure.
The downside of x-rays, though, is the radiation they emit could potentially alter cell structure and increase the risk of future cancer, especially with children. That’s why we follow a principle known as ALARA when using x-ray imaging. ALARA is an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable,” meaning the doses for an x-ray session will be as low as possible while still gaining the most benefit.
Advances in technology, particularly the development of digital processing, has helped reduce the amount of radiation exposure. We’re also careful with what types of x-rays we use. The most common type is the bitewing, a device with the film attached to a long piece of plastic that the child holds in their mouth while biting down.
Depending on the number of our patient’s teeth, we can usually get a comprehensive view with two to four bitewings. A typical bitewing session exposes them to less radiation than what they’re receiving from natural environmental background sources each day.
Keeping the exposure as low and as less frequent as possible greatly reduces health risks while still getting the full benefit of early decay detection. Still, if you have concerns about your child’s x-ray exposure, we’ll be happy to discuss our approach and all the precautions we take using x-ray imaging.
If you would like more information on x-ray diagnostics and 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
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