Secret Sugar in the Medicine Aisle?
Some sources of sugar are pretty easy to pinpoint. Birthday cake? Yep. Candy bars? Of course. Fruits—even healthy ones? Them, too. But one source of sugar that finds its way into your children’s mouths is much less obvious than others: cough and cold medicines.
No matter where it comes from, sugar that lingers on your children’s teeth is harmful, because sugar feeds the bacteria that live in the oral cavity. Well-nourished bacteria then release acids that destroy tooth enamel and give rise, eventually, to tooth decay and cavities.
The ingredients listed on cough syrups and other cold-easing liquid remedies may give a clue to their sugar content. Sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, for example, are simply forms of sugar added to cough medicine formulas to make them taste better. (“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down,” right?)
And sugars are not the only components of cough, cold and flu medications that can have an impact on your children’s dental health. Citric acid can erode tooth enamel, just like the acids produced by oral bacteria. Alcohol, another common ingredient in cough syrups, dries out the mouth and reduces saliva production, the body’s natural way of rinsing away sugars and acids.
Fortunately, there are ways for your children to reap the benefits of these over-the-counter remedies while keeping their teeth at minimal risk.
- Avoid medications at bedtime. If possible, have children take liquid cough medicine at mealtimes, when they produce more saliva that rids the mouth of sugar.
- Brush or rinse. After taking any sugar-containing medication, make sure your children brush their teeth with fluoride toothpaste. When that is not possible, have them at least rinse their mouths with cool water.
- Chew sugar-free gum. A piece or two of sugar-free gum helps ward off decay, especially after consuming sticky, sugary substances.
- Take a pill instead. Children who are able to swallow pills may be able to take those in lieu of liquid medication formulations.
That extra sugar is nothing to sneeze at. We can provide more information on how your children can safely take cold medicines, while keeping decay at bay, at their next visit.
Rough Edges on Your Child’s Teeth
At around 6 or 7 years of age, the first of a person’s 32 permanent teeth, usually the first molars, come in. Then come the central incisors, followed by the lateral incisors, canines, premolars and, finally, the other molars. When your child’s permanent teeth erupt, you may notice that the edges are not as smooth as you might have expected. These rounded bumps, called mamelons, should not cause you any worry.
Mamelons can be found on upper and lower central and lateral incisors—better known as the front teeth. They may appear as bumps or waves, or look like a serrated edge. For some children, they are more prominent, giving the appearance of indentations in the teeth. To a parent’s eye, it may look as though your child has uneven teeth, but this is a natural part of tooth development.
All teeth begin as multiple lobes under the surface of the gums. As a tooth develops, these lobes come together to form each part of the tooth. Mamelons are the remnants of the separate lobes that have come together to form the incisors. When you look at some mamelons, you can visualize the three separate lobes that formed the tooth.
In most cases, mamelons wear away quickly, leaving behind a smooth tooth edge. In other cases, however, when teeth do not touch each other, mamelons do not wear away and instead last into adulthood. When your child enters his or her teen years, an orthodontist may recommend smoothing any existing mamelons for esthetic or alignment reasons. This is a painless procedure. Adults, too, sometimes request to have their mamelons smoothed for better esthetics.
Do your child’s permanent front teeth appear to have serrated edges or ridges? Do not be alarmed; it is perfectly natural and will likely go away on its own. However, should your child experience pain or embarrassment due to these bumps, we would be happy to discuss with you the process of smoothing them. In the meantime, focus on instilling in your child good oral hygiene habits to keep teeth clean and healthy, including visits to our office on a regular basis.
Baby-bottle Tooth Decay—Something to Chew On
Early childhood caries—more commonly known as baby-bottle tooth decay—can cause pain and developmental problems for your child. When babies’ teeth are exposed to sweetened or naturally sweet liquids, such as milk, fruit juice and formula, acid-producing bacteria can feed on these fluids and damage the teeth. Luckily, you can stave off baby-bottle tooth decay by taking these simple steps:
- After each feeding, wipe your baby’s gums with a clean gauze pad or washcloth.
- Never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle containing anything but water.
- Pour only formula, milk, breast milk or, following your pediatrician’s recommendation, electrolyte solutions in bottles—no sugar water, juice or soft drinks.
- Do not share saliva with your baby by licking pacifiers or using the same spoons.
- Clean your child’s pacifiers thoroughly, and never dip them in sweeteners.
- Encourage healthy eating habits; minimize the sugar in your child’s diet, especially between meals.
- Start brushing your baby’s teeth when the first tooth appears. Continue wiping and massaging the gums where teeth have not yet emerged.
- Make sure your baby’s first dental visit takes place by his or her first birthday, or no later than 6 months after the first tooth eruption.
Wean your child from drinking milk, juice or other beverages from a bottle by gradually diluting the contents with water over 2 to 3 weeks. Although children should be weaned from the bottle (except for water) as soon as they are able to drink from a cup, don’t take the bottle away too soon—the sucking motion aids in the development of facial muscles and the tongue.
For children younger than age 3, use a “smear” of toothpaste on the brush. Once your child reaches age 3, brush his or her teeth with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Even after your child has mastered the art, closely supervise toothbrushing until your child can be trusted to spit out rather than swallow the toothpaste—usually not before age 7. When all the baby teeth have emerged, start flossing them.
Even though baby teeth are temporary, keeping them healthy is important. Those baby teeth aid in many vital functions, such as chewing, speech development and guiding the eruption of permanent teeth. Be sure we see your child regularly—at least once every 6 months—so we can monitor the health and development of your baby’s teeth.
Sucking the Mystery Out of Dental Suction
When children need dental repairs or maintenance while in our chair, we typically use suction. Dental suction devices work in a way similar to vacuum cleaners; the high-volume suction even looks a bit like a vacuum cleaner. We accomplish dental suction primarily with two devices: the saliva ejector and the high-volume suction, which are among the most frequently used tools in our office.
The saliva ejector—the smaller tool that often hangs from the lower lip—sucks fluid out of the mouth. The high-volume suction—the larger tool typically used during a procedure—sucks debris out of the mouth. Both tools allow us to deliver efficient, effective dental care.
We use suction for a variety of reasons. To keep the teeth cool and clean, dental drills spray a lot of water, which can quickly accumulate in the mouth. Also, many people produce excess saliva when their mouths are open for a long time. Suction removes the accumulated water and saliva, minimizing any choking or gagging reflex while giving us an unobstructed view of our work area and keeping our mirror clean.
Certain dental procedures generate debris in the mouth. Any leftover cleaning paste from tooth cleaning and polishing needs to be removed from the mouth, and suction does the job. When we place new fillings, excess filling material may fall out or be scraped off; that, too, needs to be whisked away. Some types of fillings require clean, dry teeth to set properly. Suction removes any saliva, blood or water that might interfere with the repair.
We would be happy to satisfy your child’s curiosity about how our dental suction devices work. At his or her next appointment, ask us to demonstrate the suction tools so that your little one may become accustomed to their look and feel.
Take the Tension Out of Toothbrushing Time
You know the drill for fighting cavities: Brush at least twice a day. Floss daily. Use a mouth rinse (if we recommend it). Yet instilling these habits in your children can prove difficult. Whether they’re being defiant, testing your patience or just downright don’t like brushing their teeth, your children’s stubborn opposition can be frustrating—but it can be resolved. To take the tension out of toothbrushing time, put these seven strategies to good use:
Start them young. Wiping your baby’s gums with a damp cloth or gauze pad after feedings gets your child accustomed to teeth cleaning. That makes children more likely to want to “do it myself.”
Brush together. Make time for family teeth cleaning. Since youngsters love to imitate their parents, model good oral hygiene habits by brushing and flossing with your children. That also allows you to ensure that they are brushing and flossing properly.
Take them shopping. Store shelves are lined with a seemingly endless variety of toothbrushes in different colors and themes. Let your children choose toothbrushes that excite them. They might find matching handheld flossers, too.
Use children’s toothpaste. You can easily find toothpastes in child-friendly flavors that contain appropriate amounts of fluoride for youngsters. When children like the flavor of their toothpaste, they are typically less resistant to brushing.
Maintain a routine. Your children may be used to a regular dinnertime, bath time and bedtime. Add a regular toothbrushing time to the schedule, and make it second nature.
Reward positive behavior. Create a motivational chart to keep track of brushing and flossing, and use stars or stickers to fill it in. Ask your children to choose a reward they can earn when they complete the chart.
Make it fun. Give your young children toothbrushes they can play with while you supervise. Let them brush your teeth while you brush theirs. Count down each tooth, and cheer as it is brushed. And be willing to let your children make a bit of a mess.
We have even more ways to encourage children to develop good oral hygiene habits. Talk to us at your child’s next visit. We’ll offer more tips to make toothbrushing time a favorite part of the day—and evening.
Smart Seasonal Sweets for Children
The fall and early winter bring holidays that bring food—and lots of it. The season’s festive fare includes plenty of sugary treats: cookies, pies, candy canes and so forth. While there is ample time for fun and celebration, there are also smart, tooth-friendly ways for little ones to indulge in holiday sweets without jeopardizing their oral health. Follow these tips to protect children’s teeth during all the mealtime merriment.
Replace sugary treats with natural sweets.
Candy is plentiful this time of year, filled with processed sugars that can cause all sorts of dental problems. Swap out some of that candy for fruit whenever possible. Crunchy fruit, like apples, help remove harmful particles from your children’s teeth.
Use sugar substitutes.
Most recipes that call for sugar can be tweaked to include a less-harmful alternative sweetener instead. Some sweeteners, such as xylitol, have been proven to have dental benefits.
Keep your home clear of sugary sodas and juices. While juice may be less nutritionally empty, both soda and juice may contain high levels of sugar and acid. Swap these drinks for water or tea when possible. At times when sugary drinks are unavoidable, dilute them with water, and have your children drink them through a straw. Not only is this fun for them, it protects their teeth from direct exposure to sweetened beverages.
Give them sugar-free sweets.
As mentioned above, xylitol is a good sugar alternative. Your store stocks mints and candies made with xylitol that you can give your children instead of other, more damaging candy.
Encourage healthy dental habits.
This time of year, healthy dental habits are especially important. Use whatever tools you have in your parental toolbox to make sure your children are taking their dental health seriously—brushing at least twice a day and flossing once a day.
For more ways to protect your children’s dental health this holiday season, be sure to ask us at their next checkup.