Oral Bacteria: Don’t Pass It On

It may surprise you to learn that oral bacteria called Mutans streptococci, which can lead to tooth decay and cavities, are often passed from parent to child. These bacteria can be transmitted by the transfer of saliva, blowing on or pre-chewing your baby’s food, sharing utensils, and yes, even kissing your sweet baby on the lips.

Baby teeth are most vulnerable during infancy, especially at the time of tooth eruption, because the enamel is very soft and susceptible to tooth decay. But any decay doesn’t have an impact only on baby teeth. If the bacteria are able to thrive, they can colonize and stick around long enough to attack permanent teeth when they come in, too.

Cutting back on saliva-transferring behaviors may seem easier said than done, but here are some simple ways you can help lower your child’s exposure to contagious bacteria:

  • Don’t let your child place their fingers in anyone else’s mouth. If they do, wipe their hands before they can put them back in their own mouth.
  • Don’t share utensils or cups with infants.
  • Don’t blow on, pre-chew or taste your baby’s food.
  • Don’t share toothbrushes, and remember to replace them every 3 to 4 months.
  • Rinse off pacifiers in the sink (ideally using warm, soapy water), not in your mouth.
  • From infancy on, wipe your baby’s tongue, teeth and inner cheeks with a clean, wet cloth, especially after feeding.
  • Take care of your own oral health, and focus on preventative care—including flossing, regular dental checkups and a good diet—to lower the chances of passing cavity-causing bacteria to your child.

All children should be evaluated by a dentist when their first teeth erupt or, at the very latest, by their first birthday. Parents and caregivers with active decay must be extra cautious when it comes to bacteria-sharing behaviors. Bring your child in for a visit, and we can discuss additional ways to stop the flow of bacteria in your family.

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Dental Trauma Step by Step

Your toddler takes a tumble and lands on her face. When you check her teeth, they appear to be undamaged. But after a few days, you notice that she has a tooth with a discolored top. What now?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 30% of all children will suffer dental trauma by their 14th birthday. The most frequent injuries to primary teeth occur when children are 2 to 3 years old. At that age, they are typically learning how to coordinate their motor skills, leading to some face-first falls. When your child’s mouth hits an immovable object, you must decide what course of action to take to avoid long-term damage to the teeth.

The first step should be obvious: When in doubt, call our office. We will likely ask you to describe the situation, such as whether any teeth have become loose or appear broken, or whether there is bleeding. We may be able to determine over the phone that the child’s mouth is uninjured or has only a mild, superficial injury, in which case we may recommend simply keeping an eye on the mouth and teeth to see if anything develops. We may also suggest brushing the affected tooth or teeth with a soft toothbrush and using medicated wipes to keep the area clean and bacteria-free.

You may, however, discover your child’s tooth becoming discolored at or near the top. Oftentimes, mildly discolored teeth do not require special treatment. But teeth that become discolored beyond the tip or that darken need to be checked. That discoloration may be a sign of a potential infection that could wreak havoc on your child’s primary teeth—and even on their unerupted permanent teeth.

Don’t take chances with your child’s dental health. After a fall or other injury, anything that seems out of the ordinary in your child’s mouth needs to be evaluated. Schedule an appointment with our team. We’ll perform a thorough examination to make sure nothing has been damaged. And in the event that we do find something, we will address and treat it, so your child can get back on their feet in no time.

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Children’s Electric Toothbrushes—The Buzz on Bristles

When selecting a toothbrush for your child, there’s a whole battery of reasons to go with an electric model, although a manual brush is acceptable, too. The American Dental Association’s official position is that both electric and manual brushes “can be equally effective at fighting plaque and gum disease.”

Of course, children who find electric toothbrushes more appealing should use them. That usually means they will brush more often and put up a feistier fight against plaque and gum disease.

Here are more reasons children might benefit from going electric:

Ease. Some children simply find electric toothbrushes more comfortable for brushing in the proper way.

Effort. For the same—or even less—amount of effort they use to brush manually, children may get better results.

Time. Many models of electric toothbrushes for children have built-in timers—often for 2 minutes, the recommended brushing time—providing an easy, fun way to enforce the habit of brushing long enough to do a good job.

Character. More likely than not, one of your child’s favorite TV or movie characters appears on an electric toothbrush. Any potential brushing battles might be halted with a little cajoling in the vein of “it’s time to let Elmo (or Elsa) help you brush your teeth.”

Choice. Have your children visit the store with you and pick from various styles that you’ve prescreened (see below). Toothbrushes they select themselves will be ones they are more likely to use. In fact, you might allow them to choose two, so when you’re at home, they again get to opt for their favorite at that particular hour.

Make sure that whichever brushes you and your children select have small heads (allowing them to reach their back teeth easily) and soft bristles (especially important for toddlers and preschoolers). Other features you and your children might find appealing are a rotating head and an ergonomic, nonslip handle.

We’ll be happy to review proper brushing technique—which is equally important with either a manual or electric toothbrush—at your children’s next dental visits.

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Help Your Teenager Kick the Habit

Now more than ever, Americans know that cigarette smoking is unequivocally bad. But some teens may still perceive it as “cool.” Or they may use e-cigarettes (“vaping”) instead, meaning they inhale nicotine and other harmful chemicals from intensely flavored vapor. If you discover that your adolescent smokes or vapes, you will likely want to help them quit.

Despite nicotine’s addictive properties and teens’ stereotypical stubbornness, it’s not impossible to get them to stop. Try these tips:

  • Stay calm. Try to refrain from the instinct to lecture or yell. Attempt to open a dialogue at normal volume, calmly expressing your strong desire that your child not smoke or vape.
  • Offer concrete help. One resource aimed specifically at teenagers is the National Cancer Institute’s SmokefreeTXT program, which uses text messages sent throughout the day to provide support and positive feedback. Smoking cessation aids such as nicotine patches may be another option but should be used under a physician’s supervision.
  • Quit yourself. Are you a smoker? Commit to trying to quit along with your teen. If you have previously tried, discuss your struggles honestly with your child, and explain that you don’t want them to reach the point where quitting seems like an insurmountable challenge.
  • Set limits. For a son or daughter who can’t or won’t stop smoking or vaping yet, insist that they not indulge inside your home or in your home’s outdoor areas, their car, or any family car. The same must hold true for their friends.
  • Appeal to vanity. Your teen has heard since childhood that smoking causes lung cancer, but unfortunately, that fear has not been enough to keep them from smoking. Remind them of the more immediate effects: Smoking causes chronic bad breath, stained teeth, and higher rates of gum disease and tooth decay. Or maybe what will make them think long and hard about quitting are the effects of oral cancer: A person who develops oral cancer and survives may sustain severe facial disfigurement, potentially living without parts of the face, jaw or tongue.

Put us on your team to help your teenager quit smoking or vaping. Many smoking cessation resources exist that we can share at your teen’s next appointment. We will likely know it’s needed after discussing their habits, smelling their clothes or spotting yellowing teeth.

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Soothing Pain and Swelling After a Filling

Approximately 27% of children develop a cavity by age 5, and that first filling can be a big step for both you and your child. After receiving a filling, children of all ages may experience sensitive teeth and swelling, both of which are common and normal. Although caring for a child with sensitive teeth after a filling can be difficult, knowing what to expect will help make the process easier.

Tooth sensitivity may be intensified by hot or cold air and food, or by the pressure of biting. Younger children are susceptible to additional swelling from biting their tongue or lip before the anesthesia’s numbing effect wears off.

If present, sensitivity and swelling should begin to diminish 2 days after the procedure. If it does not, you should call and schedule a follow-up appointment. Continued sensitivity may mean that your child needs a bite adjustment. Children who become stubborn or uncooperative when it comes to brushing their teeth may be experiencing tooth pain.

Luckily, mild pain and swelling during the first 24 to 36 hours after treatment can often be remedied at home. While you closely monitor your child for continued swelling or sensitivity past 2 days, try these tips to ease your child’s initial discomfort:

  • Have your child rinse out their mouth with plain warm water mixed with a teaspoon of table salt to help relieve tenderness.
  • Rest a cold pack or compress against your child’s cheek for 15 minutes on and off.
  • For a day or two, limit your child’s diet to soft foods, allowing swelling and sensitivity to decrease.
  • Administer over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Have your child avoid intense activity the day of and the day after the filling.
  • Be as gentle and nurturing as possible.

On the off chance your child’s pain is severe, you may want to discuss sealant treatment with us to cut down on future cavities and filling work.

Remember, the earlier you address dental problems, the easier it will be to eliminate them and any pain that may be associated with their treatment.

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Not So Super Supernumerary Teeth?

One instance when more is not necessarily better is when it comes to your child’s teeth. Having more than 20 primary (“baby”) teeth or more than 32 permanent (“adult”) teeth is not an ideal situation. However, if your child does have one or more of these extra teeth—called supernumerary teeth—we can successfully manage the situation to everyone’s satisfaction. Most importantly, we’ll keep your child’s mouth healthy.

Supernumerary teeth are caused by a variety of circumstances, and estimates range as to how many children have them—from less than 1% to nearly 4%. A single extra tooth can be a pure anomaly—just “one of those things.” More than one extra tooth can also be associated with conditions that have additional manifestations, such as cleft palate or Gardner syndrome.

When the supernumerary tooth in question is a baby tooth, we can wait to see if it falls out naturally. An extra adult tooth, on the other hand, needs serious evaluation. Its existence can, for instance, have a negative impact on the positioning of your child’s adjacent “normal” teeth, or even fully prevent their eruption. It can also alter your child’s bite or lead to cyst formation. In such cases, removal is warranted. Occasionally, we leave it alone—typically when the supernumerary adult tooth is in the back of the mouth—unless it causes problems.

The most common kind of supernumerary permanent tooth is called a mesiodens. As the prefix “mesio” implies, it is in the middle—in this case, between the two top front permanent incisors. It is generally smaller than either of those teeth and cone-shaped. A mesiodens usually has short roots as well, which makes extraction fairly easy. Orthodontic correction may then be necessary to eliminate the space once occupied by the extracted tooth.

We understand that no one is thrilled to have to deal with a child’s unusual dental issue. But know that we’ll be as gentle as possible when dealing with any supernumerary teeth in your Superboy or Supergirl’s young mouth to ensure their optimal oral health and comfort.

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