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Toothbrush Accessories: Purchase or Pass?

You do your best to protect your children from germs. But you know that, despite your best efforts to keep it clean, your bathroom serves as home to some bacteria. Can those bacteria make their way onto your children’s toothbrushes? Are commercially available accessories, such as toothbrush sanitizers and bristle covers, the key to keeping your children’s mouths healthier?

The answer, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), is no. While your mouth harbors many different microorganisms that can wind up on your toothbrush, most people—children and adults alike—are well equipped to keep those microorganisms in check. And, there is no clinical evidence to suggest that microorganisms on a toothbrush contribute to adverse effects on dental or systemic health. For this reason, we do not recommend the use of any special toothbrush accessories to keep your children’s brushes clean.

We do, however, recommend the following:

  • Make sure your children rinse their toothbrushes thoroughly with tap water after brushing.
  • Store toothbrushes upright where they can dry before their next use. Do not cover them or keep them in closed containers.
  • Do not share toothbrushes or let toothbrushes touch each other when stored.
  • Replace your children’s toothbrushes every 3 to 4 months.

A child with a compromised immune system, or a family member with a systemic disease that might be spread by saliva, is another story. In that case, the ADA recommends a “commonsense approach” that might include rinsing a toothbrush with antibacterial mouth rinse before use or soaking it in antibacterial mouth rinse for up to 15 minutes after use. Do not put a toothbrush in the microwave or dishwasher—these devices may damage the brush and make it less effective.

Ultimately, no scientific data have shown that using a commercially available toothbrush sanitizer has any positive or negative effect on systemic or oral health. Should you have any additional questions about toothbrushes or toothbrush accessories, ask them at your children’s next appointments. We’ll be happy to provide the information you need to make the best dental health decisions for your family.

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Enamel Erosion: Dealing with the Hard Stuff

Tooth enamel, the hardest substance in the human body, provides teeth with a coating that helps safeguard against cavities. However, certain foods and behaviors can erode tooth enamel, reducing its protective properties and increasing the risk for tooth decay and gum disease. In children, this erosion can have adverse consequences for their immediate and future oral health.

Erosion can result from a variety of causes. Children might be prone to weak enamel from birth, sometimes due to complications during pregnancy. A bout of pneumonia, high fever or infection during early childhood can also predispose a child to weakened tooth enamel.

Poor diet, however, is the most common cause of tooth erosion in children. When enamel is repeatedly exposed to the acids in many popular foods and beverages, it gradually weakens. According to the National Institutes of Health, soft drinks are the primary culprit, followed by fruit juices, sports drinks, flavored beverages, sour foods and candies, and other sugary treats.

Signs of erosion include “pits” or rough spots on the teeth. Sometimes teeth look yellow when the enamel wears down and the underlying dentin becomes visible. Tooth erosion may also cause pain, because the lack of protection makes teeth more prone to sensitivity to hot or cold foods.

Protecting your child’s teeth from enamel erosion typically involves both dietary and behavioral modifications. Plain water should be the beverage of choice. Limit consumption of candy and highly acidic foods. When your child does consume a sugary or acidic food, give them milk or cheese afterward. Dairy products can minimize the effect of acidic foods on tooth enamel while providing tooth-strengthening calcium.

Saliva also helps minimize the effects of acidic foods, so encourage children to wait at least an hour after eating something acidic before brushing their teeth. Brushing removes plaque and debris, but brushing teeth weakened from recent exposure to acid may further erode enamel.

Finally, make sure your children brush their teeth at least twice a day, and remember to schedule a checkup with us every 6 months. Good oral hygiene and a healthy diet may be all that is needed to protect your child’s teeth from enamel erosion.

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Mouthguard Care

April is National Facial Protection Month, making now the perfect time to make sure your children’s teeth are protected from injury and trauma with a good mouthguard worn during physical activities. Because mouthguards are an essential piece of sports gear, you may already know that they should be a standard part of every young athlete’s uniform. But how should children take care of their mouthguards? And when should they be replaced?

Review with your children these do’s and don’ts for optimal mouthguard care:

  • DO wear a mouthguard during practices and training sessions, as well as during games.
  • DO brush and rinse teeth before and after wearing a mouthguard.
  • DO clean the mouthguard before and after each use by washing it in cool, soapy water and rinsing thoroughly.
  • DO store it in a sturdy, vented container that is moisture-free; regularly wash the container with a nontoxic cleaner and warm water.
  • DO replace a mouthguard that has tears or holes, becomes loose, or suffers a powerful blow.
  • DON’T leave a mouthguard in hot water or out in the sun.
  • DON’T share a mouthguard with others.
  • DON’T keep a removable appliance, such as a retainer, in the mouth when wearing a mouthguard or playing sports; always remove it beforehand.
  • DON’T chew on the mouthguard.
  • DON’T close a mouthguard container until the cleaned appliance is dry.

Even though mouthguards keep your children’s teeth safe, they can be potential breeding grounds for harmful bacteria. To keep your athletes healthy, make sure their mouthguards are kept clean.

A custom-fitted mouthguard is particularly important for those who wear braces or other fixed appliances. We can create a custom mouthguard that is comfortable and offers superior protection. Given the cost of treating a sports-related dental injury, a custom mouthguard is a worthwhile investment.

Don’t forget to schedule regular visits for your children before each playing season, and have them bring their mouthguards to each appointment.

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Childhood Cavities: A Threat to Systemic Health

Dental decay is the most common childhood disease, affecting up to 90% of children worldwide. Cavities can cause pain, affecting a child’s ability to eat, sleep, talk or study. Untreated cavities can lead to decay and even tooth loss, which may negatively affect your child’s quality of life. Worse, not only does untreated tooth decay threaten certain aspects of oral health but it can also make your child vulnerable to other diseases.

Cavities and tooth loss increase the risk of infection. According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, an infection that progresses deeper into the tooth pulp can develop into a medical emergency.

In some cases, an infection results in an abscess. This may cause your child’s permanent teeth to emerge misaligned, increasing susceptibility to cavities and gum disease that can potentially persist into adulthood. Although rare, gum disease can lead to lung infections or pneumonia, illnesses that adversely impact respiratory health.

When cavities go untreated, even the heart is at risk. Plaque, the sticky substance that adheres to teeth after eating and drinking, should be professionally removed during dental cleanings. When left to build up on teeth, plaque can attract bacteria that travel through the bloodstream and encourage fatty deposits to form in the arteries—a scenario for potential blood clots and stroke.

If your child has diabetes, be aware that cavities can cause blood sugar to rise, which may make disease management more difficult. Studies have shown that treating tooth decay can help control blood sugar levels and decrease the progression of diabetes.

The good news is that with attention to your child’s diet and oral hygiene habits, cavities are preventable. Limit the sugary treats and sweetened beverages your child consumes, including soda, fruit juices and sports drinks. Just like plaque, sugar left on teeth may attract decay-causing bacteria.

Be sure your child brushes their teeth at least twice a day and visits us for regular checkups at least twice a year. Early detection is the best defense against tooth decay and related diseases.

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Baby Root Canals: Are They Necessary?

You might be surprised to learn that we sometimes perform root canal procedures on primary (“baby”) teeth. Informally called a “baby root canal,” the surgery is performed using local anesthesia to save a tooth with injured or infected pulp—the tooth’s nerve-containing inner material. Injuries can be caused by accidents, such as being hit in the mouth by a ball or falling off a bicycle; infections usually result from untreated tooth decay.

Severe pain, especially with no apparent cause, may indicate that a tooth needs a root canal. The tooth might also be extremely sensitive to temperature changes. When those symptoms are caused by pulp injury or infection, our goal becomes saving the tooth.

Why not just extract a baby tooth? After all, it’s going to fall out eventually anyway. If the tooth seems likely to fall out soon, we probably will just remove it. However, a baby tooth that is expected to remain in your child’s mouth for months or years to come is worth the effort to save. Your child uses those teeth to bite, tear and chew food effectively.

Importantly, that baby tooth also serves as a placeholder for the permanent tooth that will one day replace it. A space left empty for too long gives adjacent teeth the opportunity to shift into it. The result could be that the permanent tooth erupts at the wrong angle—or not at all. The long-term absence of a particular tooth may create a need for braces.

There’s no need to fear a baby root canal. We use a very tiny drill to access the tooth’s interior, then remove decay and any pulp that can’t be saved. When necessary, we apply antibiotics—to ensure that any infection doesn’t spread to nearby tissue or bone—along with a special protective filling that will safeguard the baby tooth until it is ready to fall out. Then we seal the opening.

An injured or infected tooth should not go unaddressed. Make an appointment for your child as soon as there are any signs of tooth pain. We will be sure to get to the “root” of the problem.

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Seal the Cavity Deal with Sealants

Sealants are among the most important tools we have to protect your children’s teeth from cavities. Simple yet extremely effective, sealants are a safe, liquid form of plastic or other dental material that work to keep tooth decay from developing. While sealants are not a substitute for regular brushing and flossing, they are an extremely valuable addition to a child’s oral hygiene regimen.

The process of applying sealants entails brushing a thin, plastic coating onto the surfaces of the teeth most needing cavity prevention—molars and premolars. Food and cavity-causing bacteria tend to accumulate in these deeply creviced teeth. Even the most diligent young tooth-brushers may have difficulty removing all the debris from those uneven surfaces.

Hardening promptly after application, sealants become clear, colorless physical barriers that block food particles and bacteria from entering the nooks and crannies of the teeth. Sealants should be applied to the chewing surface of each back tooth as soon as it erupts in your child’s mouth. We often seal primary teeth as well as the adult teeth that emerge later.

Although sealants effectively deter cavity formation in the crevices of molars and premolars, they cannot prevent cavities on their own. Dental sealants are not an excuse for lax oral health habits. Nothing can substitute for regular, correctly performed brushing and flossing. And for all tooth surfaces—smooth and creviced—the number one source of cavity protection is fluoride, provided by fluoride toothpaste, fluoridated water and, when necessary, a fluoride-containing mouth rinse.

In addition to diligent oral hygiene, avoiding cookies, pretzels, chips and sticky candies will help sealants do their job. The residue from these treats is often difficult to brush away.

One sealant application can last for up to 10 years. During regular examinations and cleanings, we’ll check your child’s sealants and reapply as needed.

Do you have any questions about sealants or cavity prevention? Please let us know at your child’s next visit.

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