Families of children with chronic conditions face many challenges. One that often takes a back seat to other pressing needs is the prevention of tooth decay. But although difficult, it still deserves caregivers’ attention because of the dental disease’s potential long-term impact on oral health.
Chronically ill children are often at higher risk for tooth decay, most commonly due to challenges in practicing effective oral hygiene. Some conditions create severe physical, mental or behavioral impairments in children’s ability to brush and floss: for example, they may have a heightened gag reflex to toothpaste in their mouth or they may not be able to physically perform these tasks on their own.
Some children may be taking medications that inhibit salivary flow as a side effect. Saliva is critical for disease prevention because it both neutralizes mouth acid (which can erode tooth enamel) and is a first line of defense against disease-causing bacteria. And a child’s diet, while designed to support treatment of their chronic condition, may conversely not be the best for supporting their dental health.
It’s best if caregivers and their dentists develop a strategy for decay prevention, which should include the following:
- Regular dental visits beginning at Age One. Besides monitoring dental health, dental visits also provide cleanings and other preventive measures like topical fluoride or sealants;
- Brushing and flossing support. Depending on a child’s physical and mental capacities, caregivers (or an older sibling) may need to model brushing and flossing, or perform the tasks for the child;
- Medication and diet changes. If medications are causing dry mouth, caregivers can speak to their physicians about possible alternatives; likewise, they should see if modifications can be made to their diet to better support dental health.
- Boosting salivary flow. It’s especially important with children who have dry mouth to drink more water or use aids (like xylitol gum or candies) to boost salivary flow.
Although it requires extra effort and time to give attention to a chronically ill child’s dental health, it’s well worth it. By working to prevent tooth decay early in life, these children will be more likely to enjoy good dental health in the future.
If you would like more information on dental care for children with special needs, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor 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.”
Mayim Bialik has spent a good part of her life in front of TV cameras: first as the child star of the hit comedy series Blossom, and more recently as Sheldon Cooper’s love interest — a nerdy neuroscientist — on The Big Bang Theory. (In between, she actually earned a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA…but that’s another story.) As a child, Bialik had a serious overbite — but with all her time on camera, braces were just not an option.
“I never had braces,” she recently told Dear Doctor – Dentistry & Oral Health magazine. “I was on TV at the time, and there weren’t a lot of creative solutions for kids who were on TV.” Instead, her orthodontist managed to straighten her teeth using retainers and headgear worn only at night.
Today, there are several virtually invisible options available to fix orthodontic issues — and you don’t have to be a child star to take advantage of them. In fact, both children and adults can benefit from these unobtrusive appliances.
Tooth colored braces are just like traditional metal braces, with one big difference: The brackets attached to teeth are made from a ceramic material that blends in with the natural color of teeth. All that’s visible is the thin archwire that runs horizontally across the teeth — and from a distance it’s hard to notice. Celebs like Tom Cruise and Faith Hill opted for this type of appliance.
Clear aligners are custom-made plastic trays that fit over the teeth. Each one, worn for about two weeks, moves the teeth just a bit; after several months, you’ll see a big change for the better in your smile. Best of all, clear aligners are virtually impossible to notice while you’re wearing them — which you’ll need to do for 22 hours each day. But you can remove them to eat, or for special occasions. Zac Efron and Katherine Heigl, among others, chose to wear clear aligners.
Lingual braces really are invisible. That’s because they go behind your teeth (on the tongue side), where they can’t be seen; otherwise they are similar to traditional metal braces. Lingual braces are placed on teeth differently, and wearing them often takes some getting used to at first. But those trade-offs are worth it for plenty of people. Which celebs wore lingual braces? Rumor has it that the list includes some top models, a well-known pop singer, and at least one British royal.
So what’s the best way to straighten your teeth and keep the orthodontic appliances unnoticeable? Just ask us! We’d be happy to help you choose the option that’s just right for you. You’ll get an individualized evaluation, a solution that fits your lifestyle — and a great-looking smile!
For more information about hard-to-see (or truly invisible) orthodontics, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Orthodontics for the Older Adult” and “Clear Aligners for Teenagers.”
If you smoke, you know better than anyone how a hard a habit it is to kick. If you want to quit, it helps to have a motivating reason—like lowering your risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease or similar conditions.
Here’s another reason for quitting tobacco: it could be making your teeth and gums less healthy. And, if you’re facing a restoration like dental implants, smoking can make that process harder or even increase the risk of failure.
So, to give your willpower some needed pep talk material, here are 3 reasons why smoking doesn’t mix with dental implants.
Inhaled smoke damages mouth tissues. Though you may not realize it, the smoke from your cigarette or cigar is hot enough to burn the top layer of skin cells in your mouth, which then thickens them. This could affect your salivary glands causing them to produce less saliva, which in turn could set off a chain of events that increases your risk of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. The end result might be bone loss, which could make installing dental implants difficult if not impossible.
Nicotine restricts healthy blood flow. Nicotine, the chemical tobacco users crave, can restrict blood flow in the tiny vessels that course through the mouth membranes and gums. With less blood flow, these tissues may not receive enough antibodies to fight infection and fully facilitate healing, which could interfere with the integration of bone and implants that create their durable hold. Slower healing, as well as the increased chances of infection, could interrupt this integration process.
Smoking contributes to other diseases that impact oral health. Smoking’s direct effect on the mouth isn’t the only impact it could have on your oral health. As is well known, tobacco use can increase the risk of systemic conditions like cardiovascular and lung disease, and cancer. These conditions may also trigger inflammation—and a number of studies are showing this triggered inflammatory response could also affect your body’s ability to fight bacterial infections in the mouth. Less healthy teeth, gums and underlying bone work against your chances of long-term success with implants.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implants & Smoking: What are the Risks?”
Periodontal (gum) disease causes more than simple gum swelling—this bacterial infection can harm and destroy your teeth’s supporting structures, including the bone. Its aggressiveness sometimes requires equally aggressive treatment.
Gum disease usually begins with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth and gum surfaces. Without proper oral hygiene plaque builds up with large populations of bacteria that can trigger an infection.
The growth of this disease is often “silent,” meaning it may initially show no symptoms. If it does, it will normally be reddened, swollen and/or bleeding gums, and sometimes pain. A loose tooth is often a late sign the disease has severely damaged the gum ligaments and supporting bone, making tooth loss a distinct possibility.
If you’re diagnosed with gum disease, there is one primary treatment strategy—remove all detected plaque and calculus (tartar) from tooth and gum surfaces. This can take several sessions because as the gums begin responding to treatment and are less inflamed, more plaque and calculus may be discovered.
Plaque removal can involve various techniques depending on the depth of the infection within the gums. For surfaces above or just below the gum line, we often use a technique called scaling: manually removing plaque and calculus with specialized instruments called scalers. If the infection has progressed well below the gum line we may also use root planing, a technique for “shaving” plaque from root surfaces.
Once infection reaches these deeper levels it’s often difficult to access. Getting to it may require a surgical procedure known as flap surgery. We make incisions in the gums to form what looks like the flap of an envelope. By retracting this “flap” we can then access the root area of the tooth. After thoroughly cleansing the area of infection, we can do regenerative procedures to regain lost attachment. Then we suture the flap of gum tissue back into place.
Whatever its stage of development, it’s important to begin treatment of gum disease as soon as it’s detected. The earlier we can arrest its spread, the less likely we’ll need to employ these more invasive procedures. If you see any signs of gum disease as mentioned before, contact us as soon as possible for a full examination.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
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