Cheesy Solution to Better Oral Health

Say “cheese”! A new study published in the May/June 2013 of General Dentistry reports that snacking on cheese can actually protect tooth enamel in children, even more than drinking milk or eating yogurt. More good news: The same benefits are offered by no-fat, low-fat and regular varieties.

Cheese works by increasing the pH level of dental plaque, making it less acidic. The bacteria that cause cavities thrive in an acidic environment, so by increasing the pH level, bacteria is prevented from adhering to the tooth surfaces where they can do damage to the protective enamel.

For the study, the researchers enrolled 68 children from 12 to 15 years of age and measured their baseline dental plaque pH levels. Next, the children were divided into three groups: one group was given milk to drink, another was given sugar-free yogurt to eat and the third was given cheddar cheese. After consuming these foods for three minutes, the children rinsed their mouths, and plaque pH measurements were taken at three 10-minute intervals. These measurements showed that the kids who drank milk or ate yogurt had no changes in their plaque pH levels, but those who ate cheese had a rapid and steady increase in pH levels over time.

How does cheese protect enamel? Cheese offers two primary benefits: First, it increases the production of saliva, which in turn protects teeth by helping to keep food particles from sticking to teeth and by keeping pH levels in check. Second, cheese contains substances called pyrophosphates, an organic compound that occurs naturally in the body and is also added to some toothpastes. Pyrophosphates can help teeth that have been surrounded by acid become remineralized, which means the enamel can be restored.

The Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) applauded the results.

“It looks like dairy does the mouth good," says AGD spokesperson Seung-Hee Rhee, DDS, FAGD. "Not only are dairy products a healthy alternative to carb- or sugar-filled snacks, they also may be considered as a preventive measure against cavities."

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Fluoride Toothpaste: Right for All Ages

Plaque, a film of bacteria that forms daily on teeth and gums, can cause gum disease and tooth decay. Brushing with toothpaste helps remove plaque. But what kind of toothpaste is best for your child?

Many toothpastes contain fluoride, a fluorine compound that also helps prevent tooth decay by inhibiting the loss of minerals from tooth enamel and encouraging remineralization of teeth. It also affects the bacteria that cause cavities by discouraging the acid attacks that break down the tooth.

But ingesting fluoride can be bad for your child. Too much fluoride may cause a condition called fluorosis. A mild case of fluorosis can cause cosmetic damage to the enamel of the child’s developing teeth, while more severe cases can cause the enamel to become pitted with brown discoloration.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry has stated that the use of fluoride is safe and highly effective. The most effective way for children to get fluoride involves frequent topical application of low doses. That means using fluoride toothpaste, even for young children.

If your child is less than two years old, start brushing your child’s teeth twice a day when the first tooth appears. Apply a tiny smear of fluoridated toothpaste to your child’s soft toothbrush. Brush all surfaces of the teeth and gums.

If your child is two to six years old, use a “pea-sized” dollop of fluoridated toothpaste. Be sure not to use too much toothpaste—studies have shown that parents often underestimate the amount of toothpaste they put on their child’s toothbrush. Follow these toothbrushing guidelines:

  • Brush your child’s teeth until the child is old enough to brush properly.
  • Once your child is old enough, closely supervise your child’s toothbrushing.
  • Limit toothbrushing to twice a day.
  • Use an appropriately sized, soft toothbrush.
  • Teach your child to spit out toothpaste rather than swallowing it.
  • Minimize or eliminate rinsing after brushing.

Fluoride toothpaste, when used properly, can help protect your child’s teeth from decay and cavities. Be sure to store toothpaste in a place that is inaccessible to your child to prevent him or her from consuming excess toothpaste.

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Teach Your Child Effective Toothbrushing Technique

According to research, over 40% of children have cavities by the time they enter kindergarten. Poorly-cared-for baby teeth may cause infection, pain, and problems eating and speaking. They can also affect the permanent teeth when they erupt. You can help your child avoid these dental problems by teaching good tooth-brushing habits and technique.

By ages 2 to 3, children should be introduced to the MOI brushing technique: Clean the masticatory (chewing) surfaces with simple horizontal (scrubbing) movements; the outer surfaces with more difficult circular movements; and the inside surfaces with small up-and-down movements.

Let your child watch you brush your teeth. Then help him to try it. At first, you can hold the child on your lap and brush his or her teeth with the MOI technique, explaining what you are doing each step of the way.

Use a soft-bristled, child’s toothbrush with a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. Show your child how to hold the toothbrush at a 45º angle to the gum line and brush gently.

When your child is ready to brush without your assistance, he or she may not have the manual dexterity to clean all teeth thoroughly, so up to around age 6, give your child’s teeth a final brush after he or she has finished.

Show your child how to rinse and spit, reminding him or her not to swallow toothpaste. Ingesting too much fluoride can result in spots on even the permanent teeth.

Teach your child to brush at least twice daily. Each brushing should last at least two minutes and cover every region of the mouth. Children tend to focus on the more visible front teeth only, so be sure to remind him or her to brush in back.

A best practice is to brush along with your child until he or she is about 8 years old and shows proficiency. You can use a timer or a two-minute song and make a game of exploring every part of your mouth.

Establishing regular brushing habits at an early age can help your child maintain good oral health for years to come. For tips about how to accomplish this important oral health care task, talk to us when you bring your child in for an office visit.

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Preventing Preschool Caries

It’s an unfortunate combination in young children: trends toward too much sugar (even from “healthy” carbs like whole-wheat crackers) and too little toothbrushing (allowed by parents who don’t want to force their toddlers to do something they don’t enjoy), along with some nasty bacteria called mutans streptococcus. The result is a significant rise in dental caries—the infection commonly known as “cavities”—in American preschoolers. Four million preschoolers, in fact—40% of children age 2 to 5—have at least one cavity, up from about 3.4 million a decade ago.

Genetics plays a role in caries susceptibility; a child of parents who had multiple cavities in youth will be more likely to suffer as well. Still, severe caries is not inevitable even then. Because the bacteria thrive where sugar is present, creating acid that leaches calcium from teeth and weakens their structure, dental-health vigilance to eliminate sugar on tooth surfaces becomes even more important.

Of course, parents should try to keep the teeth of any preschooler as strong and sugar-free as possible. Here’s how:

  • Keep the consumption of sugar—and foods that turn to sugar, like breads—to a minimum. Gobbling a big candy bar in 10 minutes, then brushing—while not a good daily habit for a small tummy—is better for a preschooler’s teeth than nibbling on tiny crackers or sipping fruit juice off and (mostly) on all day long. Sugar stays on the teeth, and the bacteria feast.
  • Have your child brush at least twice daily to physically remove sugars from tooth surfaces.
  • Supply fluoride, as prescribed by us or your child’s doctor, especially if your preschooler drinks mostly unfluoridated water. Fluoride strengthens tooth structure.
  • Ask us about giving your child lollipops flavored with xylitol, which can kill cavity-causing bacteria.

Multiple cavities in a frightened preschooler are challenging to treat. Some dentists turn to general anesthesia—which has its own risks—to more easily treat all the teeth at once. It’s far preferable to try to prevent caries in the first place, even if a nightly tiff with Tiffany at teeth-brushing time is the result.

And don’t forget to bring your child to our office for a dental check-up several times a year. That way, we can assess your child’s oral health and suggest ways to prevent preschool cavities.

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Treating Your Child’s Dry Mouth—Why Saliva Is Important

From drooling babies to spit-bubble-popping preschoolers, saliva is a part of every parent’s life. But what happens when your child isn’t making enough of it?

Dry mouth, or xerostomia, occurs when a person doesn’t have sufficient saliva to keep the mouth moist enough to do what it needs to do—actions like chewing, swallowing, speaking, and tasting. Spit helps break down food before it hits the stomach, aiding digestion and ensuring that a body retains nutrients in the process. Insufficient saliva also puts teeth at risk, since spit acts as a sort of natural “mouthwash.”

Aside from being problematic from a health perspective, the symptoms caused by dry mouth can be uncomfortable. If your child has xerostomia, he or she may complain of a sticky or dry feeling in the mouth, a sore or burning sensation in the mouth and throat, and trouble chewing and swallowing food.

Dry mouth can be caused by certain medications, chemotherapy or medical conditions like Sjogren’s Syndrome, so if your child exhibits these symptoms for an extended amount of time, it’s important to bring it to your dentist’s attention. Many children do suffer from occasional, harmless dry mouth, though, and this can be dealt with at home, using the following tips:

  • Encourage them to sip water throughout the day, especially at meals.
  • Brush and floss regularly to reduce the risk of additional oral health problems that could contribute to (or be caused by) a lack of saliva.
  • Have your child avoid spicy, salty foods; sodas; and caffeine—these can all make dry mouth worse.
  • Allow your child to chew sugarless gum to jump-start the salivary glands.
  • If your child is uncomfortable, sugar-free popsicles or ice chips can provide relief.

If you are concerned about your child’s dry mouth, talk to us. We may be able to prescribe a medication to help. There’s no reason to suffer from chronic dry mouth, and we can get your child back to blowing spit bubbles as soon as possible!

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Teething Late? Blame It on Your Family’s Genes

Most children begin developing teeth between six and nine months of age, but in some children, the emergence of teeth occurs later—sometimes much later. While in some cases, late emergence simply can be a matter of genetics, in other cases delayed dentition can be a sign of other, more serious underlying factors that warrant the attention of a dental specialist. Conditions like Down syndrome and thyroid disease are related to late tooth development and can be identified soon after birth or even while the baby is still in the uterus. Other conditions can be more difficult to spot.

In most cases, late dentition indicates nothing more than a genetic predisposition; however, delayed teething can cause other effects in your developing child. For instance, when teeth are delayed, speech may also be delayed or certain speech problems may be present. They can also delay consumption of solid table foods, which in turn may cause nutritional deficits in your child.

One of the most important roles of baby teeth is to act as guides for the adult teeth that will emerge later. When eruption of baby teeth is delayed, adult teeth may also emerge late, or may be crooked or crowded. In fact, a recent study conducted by researchers in Europe indicates that children with late tooth development are 35% more likely to require orthodontic treatment when they get older. The study also confirmed that late teethers have specific genetic variants that cause the delays. The same variants are related to the growth and development of the heart, skull, jaws, ears, fingers and toes.

In general, if your child has not had any signs of teething by the age of 10 or 11 months and especially if you suspect other signs of developmental delay, it’s worth contacting your pediatrician or us to determine the underlying cause. We will ask about late tooth development in other family members and will also discuss signs of other types of developmental delays for you to watch for.

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