Three Secrets to a Super Smile and Great Teeth
Nobody likes to get cavities. Brushing and flossing will help your child avoid the dentist’s drill, but there are other, lesser-known ways to keep your child’s mouth healthy and beautiful.
Secret #1: Eat right—keep your smile bright and your teeth healthy
A healthy diet, rich in whole grains and vegetables and low in processed foods, benefits every part of a child’s body—even the pearly whites. Most of us know that fluoride is important for children’s oral health, but other minerals and vitamins can help reduce gum disease and strengthen teeth. Calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and vitamins A and D are important for building and protecting tooth enamel; antioxidants (found in many fresh fruits and vegetables) help the body ward off infection, which can lead to gum disease. Since all of these can be found in healthy foods, eating right can be a great tool in your child’s fight against cavities.
Secret #2: Attack the plaque
Starchy or sugary foods mix with the acids in saliva and form a sticky substance called plaque. If the plaque sits on your child’s teeth too long, it can lead to decay (cavities). Brushing, chewing sugarless gum with xylitol or rinsing out your child’s mouth 30 minutes after eating will help remove the plaque, but another idea is to focus on regular meals. Snacking throughout the day means that your child’s mouth is exposed to more bacteria, and, realistically, most children are not going to remember to brush every time they eat. And when they do snack, children should stick to tooth-friendly snacks like cheese or veggies.
Secret #3: Shun the sugary drinks
Speaking of plaque-forming acid, some of the main culprits of tooth decay in children are soda and sugary fruit drinks. These tend to have a high acid content, which erodes tooth enamel—even diet sodas, despite being sugar-free, are highly acidic. When enamel is not strong, teeth are more prone to cavities. Have your child avoid soda and candy as much as possible, and, if children do indulge, make sure they brush their teeth soon afterward.
Tongue Thrusting, Lip Sucking Can Lead to Overbite
When parents consider the habits and behavior that may influence their children’s mouth and tooth development, most moms and dads focus squarely on thumb sucking and the potential damage that habit can cause, especially when it extends well beyond the toddler years. However, two other common behaviors—tongue thrusting and lip sucking—can also cause significant problems with oral development. Left unmanaged, both habits can cause similar dental problems and can even interfere with speech development.
Tongue thrusting is just what it sounds like: the tongue is pressed forcefully against the back of the front teeth, exerting pressure that can eventually cause the teeth to protrude. Tongue thrusting is often seen in newborns and is part of the earliest swallowing reflex. In most children, tongue thrusting stops as the child grows and matures. But in others, the act of closing the oral cavity by forcing the tongue against the teeth can persist. In addition to causing an overbite or other type of malocclusion, tongue thrusting can also impede normal speech development, causing lisps and other speech-related problems that can require therapy to correct. Some children who thrust their tongues may require the aid of a speech therapist to help them learn a new swallowing pattern.
In lip sucking, the child places his lower lip beneath the upper front teeth and exerts pressure against the upper teeth as the lip is sucked. Even a relatively small sucking motion can be surprisingly powerful. When lip sucking becomes a regular habit, the resulting consistent pressure against the upper teeth can result in an overbite.
For children who exhibit either of these behaviors, the best way to help them break the habit is to provide positive reinforcement by giving praise when they “catch” themselves performing the habit and stop. Avoid negative reinforcement tactics such as scolding, which can actually make the problem worse. Because lip sucking may occur in an attempt to self-soothe, parents should also look for sources of stress or anxiety that may be causing the habit to persist.
Choose the Right Toothbrush for Your Child
Teaching children to brush regularly is essential to keeping their teeth and gums healthy. But with so many toothbrush types on the market—disposable, battery-powered, electronic—how do you choose the one that is best for your child while meeting your budget considerations?
While it is important to select a toothbrush appropriate to your child’s age, size and special needs, your child should also like using the toothbrush. Children who like their toothbrush will be more likely to brush regularly and properly. If your child is old enough, let him or her help pick out a new toothbrush.
Your pediatric dentist and hygienist can advise you in this important choice. Here are some additional suggestions:
- Select a toothbrush that has an American Dental Association Seal of Approval. This will ensure that the construction and materials of the toothbrush are appropriate for children.
- Pick an age-appropriate toothbrush. Most children’s toothbrushes have the recommended age range printed on the box. If the brush head is too small or too large, it will not reach all areas of your child’s mouth. The handle should feel comfortable so that your child will be able to use it properly.
- Choose soft bristles. A child’s teeth and gums are more sensitive than an adult’s, especially when the child is teething. A soft-bristled brush cleans teeth well without wearing away tooth enamel or gum tissue. The bristled end of the toothbrush should be small and round, so that the child will not be hurt if his or her hand slips while brushing.
- Choose a special brush for braces. Children who wear braces may do better with special orthodontic toothbrushes that have bristles altered to reach hard-to-clean areas.
- Disposable or battery powered? Both types can effectively keep teeth and gums healthy. The choice may depend on your child’s preferences and age, as well as the evaluation of your pediatric dentist.
- Options and attractions. Child-friendly toothbrush designs make the brushing experience fun and may be more effective. Some brushes feature cartoon characters or a variety of colors. Several models play music or flash timed colored lights to let your child know how long to brush.
Whichever choice you make, be sure to replace your child’s toothbrush as recommended, usually every three months for the average disposable brush. Your pediatric dentist is your best resource in the choice and maintenance of the right toothbrush for your child’s oral health.
Smoothies: Not So Smooth Sailing for Teeth
Fruit smoothies have been touted by some companies as an easy and tasty way to get your child to eat the two to four daily servings of fruit recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in its food pyramid. But fruit smoothies may not be all their proponents claim. And a new study suggests that fruit smoothies may be hazardous to the teeth.
A typical fruit smoothie is made of fresh or frozen fruit pureed with fruit juice into a cold, thick beverage. Some smoothies add milk, yogurt or another dairy product to improve their consistency and taste. Although some people make their own smoothies at home, many commercially made smoothies are available. These often contain added sugar and other ingredients.
An investigation published in February 2013 by the British Dental Journal tested a range of fruit smoothies for their potential impact on teeth. The authors used four commercial all-fruit smoothies that included such fruits as strawberries, bananas, kiwis, apples, pomegranates, blueberries and acai, along with one commercial smoothie that was 73% yogurt and a homemade smoothie made of strawberries, bananas and a blend of apple, orange, grape and lime juice. They analyzed the chemical makeup of each drink and tested its effect on previously extracted teeth.
Food and drink with too much acid have the potential to harm tooth enamel. The results of this study showed that each of the all-fruit smoothies had acid levels that could cause damage to teeth. Only the smoothie that was nearly three-quarters yogurt did not have troublesome acidity levels. Smoothies that included apples, kiwi or lime altered the surface hardness of the teeth.
Although fruits are naturally sweet, many commercially available smoothies also have a significant amount of sugar added. One “super-sized” smoothie offered by a popular national chain has been found to include more than 169 grams of sugar. Besides the danger that consuming all that extra sugar poses to your child’s teeth, a 12-ounce smoothie may exceed 500 calories. An extra 500 calories daily would equal a weight gain of one pound per week.
None of this means that you should not give your child a fruit smoothie. Smoothies can be a good source of vitamin C and other nutrients. And smoothies made with yogurt or milk provide calcium while having less harmful acid than pure fruit smoothies. But if you are not making the smoothies yourself, read the label carefully to know exactly what your child is drinking.
Six Simple Steps to Keep Baby’s Mouth in Tip-Top Shape
Looking at your infant’s toothless—or near toothless—smile, you may wonder why there is any reason to worry about establishing good dental health practices at such a tender age. The fact is that even before teeth emerge, a baby’s mouth is subject to the same sorts of bacteria found in the adult mouth. Failure to keep your child’s gums and emergent teeth healthy and clean can result in dental problems down the road.
Baby bottle tooth decay is the name given to one of the most common dental problems faced by infants and very young children. Sugars from both sweetened and unsweetened drinks, such as fruit juice, formula and even milk, provide an ideal habitat for harmful bacteria to thrive.
Long ago, many parents felt that because they were not permanent, baby teeth were expendable and there was no need to address cavities that might develop in them. In fact, healthy baby teeth play a critical role in helping a young child develop chewing and speaking skills, while serving as placeholders for the adult teeth that will eventually replace them. Baby teeth that are not cared for properly can cause pain and infection and may need to be extracted. Missing baby teeth can cause adult teeth to come in crooked or cause deformation of the oral cavity.
Fortunately, caring for a baby’s gums and teeth is a pretty simple process:
- Even before teeth emerge, wipe the baby’s gums with a soft cloth after each feeding.
- Establish regular brushing after the first tooth emerges, but avoid toothpaste until your child is able to keep from swallowing it.
- Avoid beverages with added sugar.
- Never allow your baby to sleep with a bottle that contains anything other than water. If your child already has sugary drinks in his or her bottle, wean your child from the practice by diluting the beverage until it is all water.
- Focus on healthy snacks rather than sugary between-meal treats.
And the most important step: Bring your child into our office before the age of one year to help us identify any potential problems and provide guidance that can help ensure that your child enjoys a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.
Ouch! That Hurts! Caring for Sensitive Teeth
Does drinking a cold soft drink or eating hot soup make your child wince? If so, he or she may be one of the more than 40 million Americans with sensitive teeth.
Tooth sensitivity develops when a tooth loses its protective layers. The part of the tooth above the gum line is protected by a layer of enamel, the hardest substance in the body. A softer layer of a material extends below the gum line and protects the tooth roots. Under this lies a layer of dentin. All these protective layers shield the tooth pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. When the enamel and dentin are worn away or a tooth root is exposed, hot, cold or acidic foods—even breathing in cold air—can stimulate nerve cells in the pulp and cause a short, sharp pain.
What can you do to stop this pain? First, take your child to see the dentist if the sensitivity lasts more than a few days. Worn fillings or crowns, cracked teeth, a developing abscess, tooth grinding at night, receding gums or gingivitis—sore, swollen, or inflamed gums—can cause tooth sensitivity. These problems need to be treated.
If your child’s mouth gets a clean bill of health, we may recommend some or all of the following:
- Choose the right toothpaste. Some people develop sensitivity to tartar-control or whitening toothpastes. Ask your dentist whether an American Dental Association–approved fluoridated desensitizing toothpaste might be right for your child.
- Brush correctly. Have your child brush gently with a soft-bristled toothbrush. If the bristles on the brush are bent, your child is brushing too hard.
- Choose the correct mouthwash. Acidic mouthwashes can worsen tooth sensitivity. Ask your dentist to recommend a neutral fluoridated mouthwash for your child.
- Become more aware of what your child eats. Acidic drinks such as juice and colas can wear away protective enamel.
- We can apply a fluoride gel, fluoride varnish or dentin sealer to protect the tooth’s roots.
Do not let tooth sensitivity ruin your child’s enjoyment of food. Talk to us about ways to protect your child’s teeth.