Your child's dental development is in overdrive between birth and early adulthood. The rapid growth of the teeth, gums and jaws occurs mostly on its own—but tooth decay could significantly derail it.
Although most cases of dental disease occur in adults, tooth decay is a major problem for children, particularly involving primary teeth. These teeth are much more important than they seem given their short lifespans: Because they help incoming permanent teeth to align properly, their premature loss due to decay can create future bite problems.
To prevent this from happening, taking steps to prevent tooth decay in young children is well worth the effort. The best strategy is a double-pronged approach. You'll first want to address certain areas that directly contribute to tooth decay. You'll then want to add measures that strengthen the teeth themselves against the disease.
In regard to the former, reducing the levels of harmful bacteria in the mouth tops the list. These bacteria produce acid as a byproduct that in turn softens and erodes enamel, the teeth's natural barrier against decay. We reduce bacteria by eliminating dental plaque, a film of built-up food particles that feeds and shelters bacteria, through daily brushing and flossing.
Certain dietary choices may also contribute to bacterial growth. Refined sugar is a prime food source for bacteria, so limiting it in the diet will help reduce tooth decay. Furthermore, a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods and dairy provide nutrients strengthen teeth against decay.
The other prong in defeating tooth decay mainly involves protective measures provided by your dentist. Sealants applied to the chewing surfaces of a child's teeth help protect the enamel from the buildup of bacteria in these highly susceptible areas. An occasional direct application of fluoride to teeth further strengthens their enamel, and makes them less susceptible to decay.
This approach can minimize the chances of tooth decay, but it won't eliminate the risk altogether. If it does occur despite your best efforts, prompt treatment can limit the damage and preserve the teeth. Working with your dentist, you can help ensure your child's teeth are protected from this damaging disease.
If you would like more information on best dental care practices for 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 “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
Here's some good news: Teenagers are less likely than adults to lose teeth to dental disease. But there's also a flip side. Teens can still lose teeth, more likely from traumatic injury.
Fortunately, there are several options for replacing lost teeth like dentures or bridges. But the choice considered best by most dentists and patients is a dental implant. An implant tooth looks and functions like the real thing—and it's durable, capable of lasting for years, if not decades.
But there's a hitch with teens getting an implant: Even though they may have all their permanent teeth by adolescence, their jaws are still growing and developing. Natural teeth, with their attachment to the jaws by way of a periodontal ligament, can keep pace with this growth—but implants can't.
That's because an implant doesn't have this attachment to gum tissue like natural teeth, but to the jawbone alone. Hence, an implant tooth can't keep up with jaw development, and may eventually look like it's "sunk" into the gums in relation to the teeth around it.
It's best, then, to wait until a teen's jaws have fully developed before attempting an implant. In the meantime, though, they don't have to endure a smile marred by missing teeth, but can replace them with a temporary restoration. The two most common options are a partial denture or a modified bridge.
The partial denture is a lightweight version that's quite affordable. Although not as durable as other types of dentures, the appliance is only intended to last until the patient is old enough for a permanent implant.
The modified bridge is a prosthetic tooth with strips of dental material extending behind it that are bonded to the backs of the teeth on either side to hold it in place. It's likewise not as durable as a traditional bridge, but it can fill the bill until time to place an implant.
Although this adds an additional step in a teen's restorative journey after losing a tooth, it's necessary—waiting to place an implant after jaw maturity will help ensure a long-lasting result. In the meantime, a temporary tooth replacement will help them to enjoy a normal smile.
If you would like more information on dental restorations for teens, 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 for Teenagers.”
Hannah Bronfman, well-known DJ and founder of the health and beauty website HBFIT.com, took a tumble while biking a few years ago. After the initial pain and bruising subsided, all seemed well—until she started experiencing headaches, fatigue and unexplained weight gain. Her doctors finally located the source—a serious infection emanating from a tooth injured during the accident.
It's easy to think of the human body as a loose confederation of organs and tissues that by and large keep their problems to themselves. But we'd do better to consider the body as an organic whole—and that a seemingly isolated condition may actually disrupt other aspects of our health.
That can be the case with oral infections triggered by tooth decay or gum disease, or from trauma as in Bronfman's case. These infections, which can inflict severe damage on teeth and gums, may also contribute to health issues beyond the mouth. They can even worsen serious, life-threatening conditions like heart disease.
The bacteria that cause both tooth decay and gum disease could be the mechanism for these extended problems. It's possible for bacteria active during an oral infection to migrate to other parts of the body through the bloodstream. If that happens, they can spread infection elsewhere, as it appears happened with Bronfman.
But perhaps the more common way for a dental disease to impact general health is through chronic inflammation. Initially, this defensive response by the body is a good thing—it serves to isolate diseased or injured tissues from healthier tissues. But if it becomes chronic, inflammation can cause its own share of damage.
The inflammation associated with gum disease can lead to weakened gum tissues that lose their attachment to teeth. But clinical research over the last few years also points to another possibility—that periodontal inflammation could worsen the inflammation associated with diseases like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis.
Because of this potential harm not only to your teeth and gums but also to the rest of your body, you shouldn't take an oral injury or infection lightly. If you've had an accident involving your mouth, see your dentist as soon as possible for a complete examination. You should also make an appointment if you notice signs of infection like swollen or bleeding gums.
Prompt dental treatment can help you minimize potential damage to your teeth and gums. It could also protect the rest of your health.
If you would like more information about the effects of dental problems on the rest of the body, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Link Between Heart and Gum Diseases.”
Getting dental implants is going to require surgery. But don't let that concern you—it's a relatively minor procedure.
Currently the “gold standard” for tooth replacement, an implant consists of a titanium post surgically imbedded in the jawbone. We can affix a life-like crown to a single implant or support a fixed bridge or removable denture using a series of them.
Because placement will determine the restoration's final appearance, we must carefully plan implant surgery beforehand. Our first priority is to verify that you have adequate jawbone available to support an implant.
Additionally, we want to identify any underlying structures like nerves or blood vessels that might obstruct placement. We may also develop a surgical guide, a retainer-like device placed in the mouth during surgery that identifies precisely where to create the holes or channels for the implants.
After numbing the area with local anesthesia, we begin the surgery by opening the gum tissue with a series of incisions to expose the underlying bone. If we've prepared a surgical guide, we'll place it in the mouth at this time.
We then create the channel for the insert through a series of drillings. We start with a small opening, then increase its size through subsequent drills until we've created a channel that fits the size of the intended implant.
After removing the implant from its sterile packaging, we'll directly insert it into the channel. Once in place, we may take an x-ray to verify that it's been properly placed, and adjust as needed. Unless we're attaching a temporary crown at the time of surgery (an alternate procedure called immediate loading), we suture the gums over the implant to protect it.
Similar to other dental procedures, discomfort after surgery is usually mild to moderate and manageable with pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen (if necessary, we can prescribe something stronger). We may also have you take antibiotics or use antibacterial mouthrinses for a while to prevent infection.
A few weeks later, after the bone has grown and adhered to the implant surface, you'll return to receive your new permanent crown or restoration. While the process can take a few months and a number of treatment visits, in the end you'll have new life-like teeth that could serve you well for decades.
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 Implant Surgery.”
You've just finished your daily brushing and flossing. How did you do? Swiping your tongue across your teeth can generally tell you: It's a good sign if it glides smoothly; but if it feels rough and gritty, you better take another run at it.
This "tongue test," however, only gives you a rough idea of how well you're removing plaque, that thin bacterial film on teeth most responsible for dental disease. Plaque, though, can be sneaky, "hiding" in the nooks and crannies on the biting surfaces of teeth, around the gum line and in between teeth.
So, how do you know if you're clearing out any plaque holdouts? An effective way is to use a plaque disclosing agent. This over-the-counter dental product consists of a swab, tablet or solution, which contains a dye that's reactive to plaque.
After brushing and flossing as usual, you apply the solution to your teeth for about 30 seconds. You then take a look in the mirror: Any remaining plaque will be stained a bright color that makes it stand out. There are also agents with two colors of dye, one that stains older plaque and one for newer plaque.
The plaque staining not only helps you see how well you've been brushing and flossing, it can also show you areas in need of improved hygiene. For example, if you notice a scalloped pattern around the gum line, that may mean your brush isn't getting into that area effectively. In this way, you can use a disclosing agent to fine-tune your hygiene.
Repeated use of a disclosing agent is safe, but just remember the dye color can be vivid. It does wear off in a few hours, though, so perhaps schedule it for a day off around the house. You should also avoid swallowing any solution or getting any of it on clothing.
The ultimate test, though, is a thorough dental cleaning with your dentist at least every six months. They can verify whether you've been fairly successful with your brushing and flossing, or if you have room for improvement. If you do use a disclosing agent, you can also discuss that with them in working out better strategies to protect your teeth from tooth decay and gum disease.
If you would like more information on improving your oral hygiene, 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 “Plaque Disclosing Agents.”
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