Your child could hit a speed bump on their road to dental maturity—tooth decay. In fact, children are susceptible to an aggressive form of decay known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC) that can lead to tooth loss and possible bite issues for other teeth.
But dentists have a few weapons in their arsenal for helping children avoid tooth decay. One of these used for many years now is the application of sealants to the biting surfaces of both primary and permanent teeth. Now, two major research studies have produced evidence that sealant applications help reduce children's tooth decay.
Applying sealant is a quick and painless procedure that doesn't require drilling or anesthesia. A dentist brushes the sealant in liquid form to the nooks and crannies of a tooth's biting surfaces, which tend to accumulate decay-causing bacterial plaque. They then use a curing light to harden the sealant.
The studies previously mentioned that involved thousands of patients over a number of years, found that pediatric patients without dental sealants were more than three times likely to get cavities compared to those who had sealants applied to their teeth. The studies also found the beneficial effect of a sealant could last four years or more after its application.
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend sealants for children, especially those at high risk for decay. It's common practice now for children to first get sealants when their first permanent molars erupt (teeth that are highly susceptible to decay), usually between the ages of 5 and 7, and then later as additional molars come in.
There is a modest cost for sealant applications, but far less than the potential costs for decay treatment and later bite issues. Having your child undergo sealant treatment is a worthwhile investment: It could prevent decay and tooth loss in the near-term, and also help your child avoid more extensive dental problems in the future.
The amount of sugar your child consumes has a huge bearing on their tooth decay risk: The more they take in, the higher it is for this destructive disease. That's why you should moderate their intake of the usual suspects: sodas, candies and other sugar-laden foods. But you should also put the brakes on something considered wholesome and nutritious: fruit juices. And that includes all natural juice with no sugar added.
Sugar in any form is a prime food source for decay-causing bacteria. As bacteria consume leftover sugar in the mouth, they produce acid as a byproduct. With an ample source of sugar, they also multiply—and this in turn increases their acid production. Acid at these high levels can soften and erode tooth enamel, which leads to tooth decay and cavities.
Limiting or even excluding sugar-added foods and snacks can help minimize your children's risk for tooth decay. For designated snack times, substitute items like carrot sticks or even popcorn with a dash of spice rather than sweet snacks and candies. If you do allow occasional sweet foods, limit those to mealtimes when saliva, which neutralizes acid, is most active in the mouth.
As you manage sugary items your children may eat or drink, the American Academy of Pediatrics also advises you to moderate their consumption of fruit juices, including all-natural brands with no added sugar. Their recommended limits on daily juice drinking depend on a child's age and overall health:
- Infants (less than one year) or any children with abnormal weight gain: no juice at all;
- Toddlers (ages 1-3): 4 ounces or less per day;
- Younger children (4-6): 6 ounces or less per day; and
- Older children (7-18): 8 ounces (1 cup) or less per day.
As for the rest of your children's daily hydration needs, the most dental-friendly liquid for any of us is plain water. For older school-age children, low- or non-fat milk is also a sound choice.
Preventing tooth decay in your children is a continuous task that requires all of us, parents and dental providers, to do our part. Besides daily hygiene (brushing and flossing) and regular dental visits, keeping sugar at bay—including with juices—is an important part of that effort.
The monarchs of the world experience the same health issues as their subjects—but they often tend to be hush-hush about it. Recently, though, the normally reticent Queen Elizabeth II let some young dental patients in on a lesser known fact about Her Majesty's teeth.
While touring a new dental hospital, the queen told some children being fitted for braces that she too “had wires” once upon a time. She also said, “I think it's worth it in the end.”
The queen isn't the only member of the House of Windsor to need help with a poor bite. Both Princes William and Harry have worn braces, as have other members of the royal family. A propensity for overbites, underbites and other malocclusions (poor bites) can indeed pass down through families, whether of noble or common lineage.
Fortunately, there are many ways to correct congenital malocclusions, depending on their type and severity. Here are 3 of them.
Braces and clear aligners. Braces are the tried and true way to straighten misaligned teeth, while the clear aligner method—removable plastic mouth trays—is the relative “new kid on the block.” Braces are indeed effective for a wide range of malocclusions, but their wires and brackets make it difficult to brush and floss, and they're not particularly attractive. Clear aligners solve both of these issues, though they may not handle more complex malocclusions as well as braces.
Palatal expanders. When the upper jaw develops too narrowly, a malocclusion may result from teeth crowding into too small a space. But before the upper jaw bones fuse together in late childhood, orthodontists can fit a device called a palatal expander inside the upper teeth, which exerts gentle outward pressure on the teeth. This encourages more bone growth in the center to widen the jaw and help prevent a difficult malocclusion from forming.
Specialized braces for impacted teeth. An impacted tooth, which remains partially or completely hidden in the gums, can impede dental health, function and appearance. But we may be able to coax some impacted teeth like the front canines into full eruption. This requires a special orthodontic technique in which a bracket is surgically attached to the impacted tooth's crown. A chain connected to the bracket is then looped over other orthodontic hardware to gradually pull the tooth down where it should be.
Although some techniques like palatal expanders are best undertaken in early dental development, people of any age and reasonably good health can have a problem bite corrected with other methods. If you are among those who benefit from orthodontics, you'll have something in common with the Sovereign of the British Isles: a healthy, attractive and straighter smile.
You have a wonderful pediatric dentist who's great with kids. Their dental office is a children's wonderland with cheerful colors, toys and a staff that tries to make things fun. But no matter what you do—including rewards and positive praise—it's not enough to calm your child's anxiety during dental visits.
Even with the most conducive clinical environment and parental efforts, some children still have an inordinate fear of seeing the dentist. Their anxiety could be a roadblock to getting the treatment they need to maintain good oral health and development. And if that fear carries over into adulthood, they may get into the habit of postponing needed care.
But dentists have an important tool they can use to help children relax: conscious sedation therapy. Using proven sedation medication, dentists can place patients in varying degrees of suppressed consciousness.
Although often used in conjunction, sedation is not the same as anesthesia. The latter is used to eliminate pain during dental procedures. Sedation, on the other hand, aims to calm the negative emotions generated by dental anxiety. A child under sedation can still breathe normally without assistance and respond to physical stimulation or verbal commands.
Sedation medications can be administered orally, usually in syrup form, or with an intravenous (IV) drip. Two of the more popular drugs are Midazolam and Hydroxyzine, both of which act fast and then leave the body quickly after the procedure. These types of sedation drugs have a very low risk of side effects compared to general anesthesia.
While under sedation, the child's vital signs (heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, etc.) are continuously monitored. Afterward, they'll wait in recovery until their vital signs are back to their pre-sedation levels. They can then go home to rest for the remainder of the day, and then usually return to school or other normal activities the following day.
Besides making it easier for a child to receive needed dental care, conscious sedation can also make the overall visit more pleasant, and lead to more positive memories of the experience. This may indeed help them later in life to overcome any lingering anxiety and continue regular dental care throughout adulthood.
If you would like more information on reducing your child's dental visit anxiety, 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 “Sedation Dentistry for Kids.”
Entering your “sunset” years doesn't mean you're washed up—you still have a lot to offer the world. That's why the theme for this May's Older Americans Month (sponsored by the Administration for Community Living) is “Make Your Mark.” And to really make that difference, you'll have to maintain your health—including protecting your teeth from loss.
Once upon a time, it was considered the norm for older adults to experience tooth loss and the resulting consequences on their overall well-being. Today, though, not only can advanced restorations lessen the impact of lost teeth, it's also more likely that you can keep your teeth intact for the rest of your life.
To give your teeth their best chance for survival in your later years, here are 3 things you can do to promote their continuing health.
Brush and floss every day. Ridding your teeth of disease-causing plaque on a daily basis is important at any age, but perhaps even more so as you get older. However, hand weakness caused by arthritis or another health condition can make it more difficult to brush and floss. It may help to use a larger-handled toothbrush or an electric toothbrush, and a threading device may help with flossing. If manual flossing is still too difficult, you can try a water flosser that emits a water stream to loosen and flush plaque away.
Relieve chronic dry mouth. Older adults are more prone to chronic dry mouth because of increased use of medications, many of which interfere with saliva flow. It's more than an unpleasant feeling: Deprived of the protective properties of saliva, your mouth is at increased risk of dental disease. If dry mouth is a problem for you, speak with your doctor about alternatives to any saliva-inhibiting medications you're taking. Also, drink more water and use saliva boosters to promote better saliva flow.
Keep up dental visits. Regular dental visits become even more important as you age. Dental cleanings are especially necessary, particularly if you have dental work that can interfere with plaque removal during brushing and flossing. Disease monitoring and screening are more in-depth for older adults who are more prone to tooth decay, gum disease and oral cancer. And if you wear dentures, you should have them checked regularly for fit and overall condition.
If you've already enjoyed decades of dedicated dental care, you need only stay the course. But even if you haven't, adopting new dental care habits now can boost your teeth's health and longevity. To get started, make an appointment with us: We'll assess your current dental health and offer a care strategy for keeping your teeth healthy through the next exciting season of your life.
If you would like more information about dental care for older adults, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Aging & Dental Health” and “Understanding Aging Makes Beauty Timeless.”
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