Although primary (“baby”) teeth have a lifespan of only a few years, they’re still important to a child’s current and future dental health. In the present, they help a child eat, speak and smile properly. They also help create a healthy future as placeholders for developing permanent teeth yet to come in.
If, however, a child loses a primary tooth prematurely due to decay, the corresponding permanent tooth could come in misaligned. That’s why we do what we can to help a decayed primary tooth reach its full lifespan. And there are different ways to do this depending on the type of tooth.
With front teeth, which don’t encounter the same chewing forces as those in the back, we may use a tooth-colored filling. This approach is also preferable for appearance’s sake since front teeth are highly visible when a child speaks or smiles.
Primary molars, on the other hand, need a more robust solution. A filling may not be able to withstand the level of long-term chewing forces that these back teeth normally encounter. And because they’re less visible than front teeth, there’s less concern about aesthetics.
That’s why many pediatric dentists prefer stainless steel crowns for molars. Just like their permanent teeth counterparts, a primary crown fits over and completely covers a tooth. They’re typically pre-formed, coming in different shapes and sizes that can then be customized for the tooth in question. After preparing and removing any decayed material from the tooth, we can usually install the crown in one visit with local anesthesia and a sedative (if the child needs it for anxiety).
While a steel crown isn’t the most attractive restoration, it typically handles the higher chewing forces in the back of the mouth better and longer than a filling. That’s especially critical for primary molars, which are some of the last teeth to fall out (as late as ages 10-12). And besides preserving it as a permanent tooth placeholder, a crown also helps the tooth function effectively in the present.
Regardless of what method we use, though, preserving primary teeth is a primary goal of pediatric dentistry. And with a stainless steel crown, we can keep those important back molars functioning for as long as they’re intended.
If you would like more information on caring for primary teeth, 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 “Stainless Steel Crowns for Kids.”
A child with a chronic illness or condition often requires a lot of focus on care for their special needs. Other aspects of their health can often take a back seat — too often including dental care.
Proper dental care can be a challenge for special needs children if they have diminished physical, intellectual or behavioral capacities. Children with autism or attention deficit disorders may not be able or willing to perform tasks like brushing and flossing. Other conditions could make them intolerant to toothpaste in the mouth, or create an inability to keep their mouths open or to spit.
Some chronic conditions also seem predisposed to dental defects. For example, enamel hypoplasia, a lack of sufficient tooth enamel, is common with Down, Treacher-Collins or Turner Syndromes, and can greatly increase the risk of tooth decay.
But even though difficult, effective dental care isn't impossible. It begins with your dental provider.
Pediatric dentists are often excellent in this regard: they often have the training and experience to treat children with chronic conditions. Whoever you choose must be able to partner with you in caring for your child's dental needs.
Daily hygiene is also a critical factor. Your goal should be the same as with any child — to teach them to brush and floss for themselves. Depending on their condition, however, you may need to assist them for a longer term, perhaps permanently. But it is imperative — daily hygiene is their best defense against oral diseases.
You should also consider their medication and how it may impact their dental health. Antidepressants, antihistamines or drugs that assist with breathing function can cause mouth dryness. This, as well as drugs with sugar or acid compounds, can increase risk for dental disease. If they must take these types of medications, try to give them at mealtime to reduce their effect in the mouth.
Above all, pursue the same professional dental care as you would for any other child. Keep up regular dental visits beginning around their first birthday for cleanings and preventive measures like topical fluoride or sealants. By taking these measures you'll help ensure their dental health won't suffer.
If you would like more information on dental care for special needs 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 “Managing Tooth Decay in Children with Chronic Diseases.”
The month of February gets its name from the ancient spring cleansing ritual called “Februa.” So perhaps it’s appropriate that February is now celebrated as National Children’s Dental Health Month. Having a healthy mouth starts with good oral hygiene—a practice that’s important for everyone, but especially for kids, because the healthy habits they develop in childhood can keep their teeth and gums in good condition for life. How can you help your kids achieve the best oral health? We’re glad you asked. Here are five tips:
Brush and floss daily
Sure, you knew that already. But did you know that for effective cleaning, your kids should brush for two full minutes, twice a day? And despite reports you may have heard, the American Dental Association maintains that using an interdental cleaner (like floss) is essential part of good oral hygiene: It’s the best way to clean decay-causing bacteria from tooth surfaces that your brush just can’t reach.
Limit snacking to around mealtimes
If you allow kids to have sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes. That way, the teeth aren’t constantly bathed in substances that can feed harmful bacteria. It also gives the healthful saliva a chance to neutralize acids that can attack the tooth’s protective enamel coating.
Avoid soda and other sugary, acidic drinks
That includes so-called “sports” and “energy” drinks, which often contain extremely high levels of sugar. These beverages, along with diet sodas and some fruit juices, may also be highly acidic, and can damage teeth. What’s the best drink for your kids’ health? Plain old refreshing water!
Pay attention to baby teeth
Sure, in a few years, those teeth will be gone. But in the mean time, they have an important job to do: They not only contribute to proper speech, eating and appearance, but also hold a space for the permanent teeth that will follow them. If they are lost too early, problems with permanent teeth may follow.
Get regular checkups
Routine office visits are the best way to monitor your child’s dental health and development, prevent disease, and solve minor problems before they get bigger. Plus, we can address any questions you may have about oral hygiene and a range of other topics. So if we haven’t seen your child lately, maybe February is a good time for a visit.
If you have questions about your child’s oral health, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
As if the preteen years didn’t give kids and their parents enough to think about, new oral health concerns loom on the horizon. Along with major changes to the body, brain and emotions, additional risk factors for tooth decay and gum disease appear during adolescence — the period of development starting around age 10 and extending through the teen years that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Even with declining rates of tooth decay across the nation, the cavity rate remains high during adolescence. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 in every 5 adolescents has untreated tooth decay. What’s more, the onset of puberty — usually beginning around age 10-11 in girls and 11-12 in boys — brings changes in hormone levels that can affect gum health.
We all have millions of microorganisms in our mouth, representing hundreds of different species of mostly helpful, but some harmful, bacteria. Research has shown that total oral bacteria increases between ages 11 and 14, and new types of bacteria are introduced, including some that are not friendly to teeth and gums. Some unfamiliar microbes trigger an exaggerated inflammatory response to dental plaque, so gum bleeding and sensitivity are experienced by many children in this age group. In fact, “puberty gingivitis,” which peaks around age 11-13, is the most common type of gum disease found during childhood.
A combination of hormones, lifestyle changes and poor oral hygiene habits raises the risk of oral health problems among adolescents. A more independent social life may be accompanied by a change in eating habits and easier access to snacks and beverages that are sugary, acidic (like sports drinks and soda) or full of refined carbohydrates — none of which are tooth-healthy choices. And as children move toward greater independence, parents are less likely to micromanage their children’s personal care, including their oral hygiene routines. Good oral hygiene can keep dental plaque at bay, lowering the chance of having gingivitis and cavities. But let’s face it: Adolescents have a lot to think about, and keeping up with their oral health may not be a priority.
To help your preteen stay on top of their oral health, keep healthy snacks at home for your children and their friends and make sure you are well stocked with supplies such as new toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste. In addition, most preteens (and teens) can benefit from gentle reminders about oral hygiene routines.
For optimal oral health through all stages of life, make sure your preteen keeps up with professional teeth cleanings and exams, and talk with us about whether fluoride treatments or sealants may be appropriate for your child.
For more on your child’s oral health, read “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Dentistry & Oral Health For Children” in Dear Doctor magazine.
X-ray imaging is a routine part of a child's dental care — and it undeniably makes a difference in preventing and treating dental disease. It's so routine, we can easily forget they're being exposed to an invisible form of electromagnetic radiation.Â And just like other sources of radiation, too much x-ray exposure could increase the risk of cancer.
But while it's possible for your child to be over-exposed to x-rays, it's highly unlikely. That's because healthcare professionals like dentists adhere to a standard known as ALARA when considering and administering x-rays. ALARA is an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable.” In other words, we only want to expose a patient to the lowest and safest levels of x-ray dosage and frequency that will achieve the most benefit.
To achieve that standard, professional dental organizations advocate the use of x-rays only after a clinical examination of the patient, as well as a thorough review of their medical history for any usage of x-rays for other conditions. If x-rays are warranted, we then take further precautions to protect the patient and staff, and only use the type of x-ray application that's absolutely necessary. For most children that will be a set of two or four bitewing radiographs, which are quite effective for detecting decay in back teeth.
This dosage of radiation in a session of bitewing radiographs is roughly a fifth of the background radiation in the environment a child may be exposed to every day. By spacing these sessions at least six months apart, we're able to achieve a high level of decay detection at a safe and reasonable amount of x-ray exposure.
On top of that, the digital advances in x-ray imaging have reduced the amount of radiation energy needed to achieve the same results as we once did with film. These lower exposure levels and the ALARA standard helps ensure your child's exposure to x-rays will be well within safe limits.
If you would like more information on the use of x-rays with 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”