Caries and Sugar—A Sticky Subject

Most of us know that allowing children to snack on sugary foods all day long isn’t the best choice for their overall health. But when it comes to dental health, even foods that have some nutrition can be detrimental. Gummy candies and vitamins, dried fruit snacks and chewy protein bars may seem like smart snacking choices, but they can easily get stuck in between young teeth—and since children typically aren’t the best flossers, this can be a recipe for dental disaster.

Sugar doesn't actually cause cavities; rather, the sugar acts as “food” for bacteria that cause decay. When carbohydrate-heavy foods become stuck to the teeth, they produce an acid that eats away at the enamel of your child’s pearly whites, allowing bacteria to make a nice, comfy home in the dentin, or center, of the tooth. Once the dentin begins to decay, cavities are the next step down the road to the dentist’s drill and fillings.

Interestingly, eating a massive amount of sugar in one sitting is less harmful than sucking on sugary candies or sipping juice all day long. This is because the more time the mouth spends in that sugary, acidic state, the longer the bacteria can do their dirty, decaying work. After eating a sugary snack, the negative effects can be mitigated if children rinse their mouths with water, brush their teeth or floss.

So while it might be a losing battle to try to remove all sugar and sticky carbohydrates from your children’s diets, you can teach them good dental habits such as

  • chewing sugarless gum with xylitol
  • carrying a toothbrush in their backpack to brush after meals and snacks
  • eating fresh fruit instead of fruit leather or juice
  • choosing chocolate—if you do allow candy—rather than gummy candy (just as it easily melts in your hand, chocolate can easily melt off your child’s back teeth)

And if all else fails, remind your children that swishing some water around in their mouths after snacks is a lot easier than getting a cavity filled!

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Smart First Aid for Broken Teeth

Injuries to children’s teeth are common, but damage can be minimized if you know what to do. Making sure you get fast dental treatment is the key to handling dental injuries in children.

Dental trauma often happens between the ages of 18 and 36 months, when toddlers are curious but still uncoordinated. In older children with permanent teeth, sports accidents are a major cause of broken teeth.

If your child chips or shatters a tooth, try to find and gather the fragments. Other first aid measures include cleaning or rinsing dirt from around the break and putting a cold compress near the broken tooth to relieve facial swelling.

You should bring your child to see us immediately, because we can often re-bond tooth fragments. In more severe fractures that involve half the tooth or more, the nerve of the tooth might be exposed, making it critical that your child gets urgent dental treatment.

Factors affecting the type of treatment and outcome are

  • the type and location of the tooth, such as whether it’s a primary or permanent tooth
  • your child’s age (a two-year-old will be treated differently from a five-year-old)
  • the need for sedation
  • the amount of root left on the tooth

Whenever possible, we will repair fractured baby teeth. However, in some cases it’s better to remove a heavily damaged baby tooth rather than perform a pediatric root canal. Our focus needs to be on protecting the developing permanent tooth.

The following tips can help prevent broken teeth:

  • Childproof your home with gates across stairs and padding on sharp edges.
  • Make sure your toddler doesn’t run around with toys in his or her mouth.
  • Encourage teenagers to wear mouthguards when playing sports.
  • For the best protection, consider a custom mouthguard.

Many parents worry about their child’s appearance after a broken tooth. Rest assured that with prompt first aid after the injury and a trip to our office, most problems are fixable. Your child will maintain a healthy smile and self-confidence.

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Don’t Give Your Baby Tooth Decay

Are cavities contagious? You may be surprised to learn that tooth decay in babies often begins with germs passed from adult to child. Babies are born without the bacteria that cause cavities; if your infant has been infected with those germs, you could be the cause.

Cavity-causing bacteria can be passed to a child through the saliva of an adult, usually the primary caregiver, who has tooth decay. A study in the journal Pediatric Dentistry found that mothers are the leading source of oral bacteria growth in their babies.

Cleaning a pacifier in your mouth before giving it to your baby or sharing food from the same spoon are common practices that can transmit these bacteria. 

Experts say that your baby’s teeth are most vulnerable to infection when they are newly erupted, because the enamel on the new tooth is very soft. But even before your baby has any teeth, these germs can start the decaying process. And if the bacteria are allowed to thrive in your child’s mouth, they can linger there and attack the permanent teeth as well.

By taking the following steps now, you can help prevent infecting your baby:

  • Be sure you and any other adults who have regular close contact with your child are in good oral health.
  • Avoid mouth kissing and sharing food or utensils that pass from your mouth to your child’s.
  • Clean pacifiers with water, not saliva.
  • Clean your child’s gums with a soft cloth after feedings.
  • Brush any erupted teeth at least twice a day with a baby toothbrush and water.
  • Introduce a smear of toothpaste when your pediatric dentist approves.
  • Start your child’s regular visits to our office when he or she is 12 months old, or when the first tooth erupts.

Taking these measures can put your child on the road to good oral health, something you can both smile about.

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Oral Health: An A+ for Your Children

Did you know that your children’s oral health can have a significant impact on their school attendance and performance? Studies show that 51 million school-hours are lost in the United States each year due to oral problems. All those absences lead to lower grade point averages for children with poor oral health. Yet even when present in class, these children may be in pain and unable to focus on schoolwork.

Dental problems can interfere with a child’s ability to eat, speak, socialize and sleep, all of which may affect school performance and can have long-term consequences. Fortunately, most childhood dental problems can be prevented with good oral hygiene and regular dental checkups during which problems can be detected and treated before they become serious.

Some parents may think there is no reason to take a child to the dentist unless he or she complains of pain. But by that time, decay and infection could already have caused your child to miss school or perform poorly. In fact, research proves that, unlike absences caused by dental pain or infection, absences for routine dental care are not associated with poorer school performance.

On your own, you can protect your child’s oral health by making sure your child

  • engages in a daily brushing and flossing regimen
  • follows a healthy diet
  • avoids sugary treats and frequent snacking, both of which can lead to tooth decay

Fluoride is one of the best preventive measures against childhood cavities. Most communities supply fluoridated drinking water. Check with our office; if your community does not fluoridate its water, ask us for advice about fluoride toothpaste and other options.

Good oral health goes hand-in-hand with better school performance and better career opportunities in adulthood. Taking an active role in your child’s oral health will enhance your child’s chances of success in school.

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Tackling Teething Terror: Relieving Your Baby’s Pain

Crankiness. Crying. Refusing to eat. These are just a few of the symptoms that your baby is teething, a process that typically begins around 6 months of age. Although teeth buds have been lying in wait in your child’s mouth since before birth, the teeth don’t actually start poking through the gums until the middle of the first year. When they start to come through, the pressure of the tooth breaking through the gum line can cause your child pain and discomfort, unleashing a whole host of ailments including

  • uncontrollable drooling (often causing red cheeks or chin)
  • an unwillingness to nurse or drink from a bottle (the sucking motion increases blood flow to the mouth, which can make the pain worse)
  • pulling on the ears (due to “referred” pain)
  • a desperate need to gnaw on anything and everything in sight

Some babies—and their parents—are lucky; teething can sometimes be a relatively painless process, and you may not even know teeth are on their way until you spot the telltale white nub in the front of your child’s mouth. But for many others, teething is a long and frustrating process.

The following tips can help ease this discomfort, though, and as soon as you learn what works for your individual child, the arrival of the next few teeth will be a much smoother process.

  1. Chew the pain away. Allow your child to gnaw on teething toys, rings or a washcloth soaked in cold water. (Cold is good, but freezing can actually make things worse.) If your child is eating solids, a refrigerated cucumber or frozen bagel can also feel comforting (just watch carefully to avoid the risk of choking).
  2. Massage your baby’s sore gums with a clean finger or soft cloth; the pressure will relieve some discomfort.
  3. If all else fails, ask us about giving your child an over-the-counter pain reliever or an oral analgesic.

The duration of the teething period is actually quite short, although it can feel interminable. By following these suggestions, you can make this phase less painful for you and your child.

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Stuck Between Two Teeth

Many adults have experienced the irritation of an object trapped between their teeth. Children can suffer the same discomfort too, especially because of the large gaps between their developing teeth.

Young children like using their mouth to explore the world around them; often, the problem starts when a child uses his or her teeth to break apart an object or remove part of a toy. Most frequently, however, it is food that gets stuck between teeth. For some children, the object will be too large, and your efforts to dislodge it will fail. Then, an emergency trip to our office will be necessary.

In most cases, you can remove an object from between your child’s teeth with dental floss or a dental pick.

  • Gently floss your child’s teeth as you normally would.
  • Slide the floss up and down a few times until the object is removed.
  • Rinse your child’s mouth with warm water.
  • Never use a sharp instrument to remove objects.
  • If you child has braces, apply the same techniques.

While you can’t always prevent objects from getting stuck between children’s teeth, you can start by limiting certain foods, such as popcorn, corn on the cob and hard candies. Having your child brush or floss after eating these foods can help. Some parents carry portable, individually wrapped flossing sticks for a quick fix when children get food lodged in their teeth.

If several attempts to remove the object fail, bring your child in to see us. Excessive or repeated force to remove an object could damage teeth and gums. Your child may be complaining of pain, which can be a sign the tooth is damaged. When your child has braces, a dental visit can reassure you that the braces are still fitted properly and the mouth isn’t injured.

If you find that your child frequently gets objects stuck between his or her teeth, the problem may be that the teeth have shifted or cavities are present. Usually, objects stuck between teeth will come out with floss, but when they don’t, we can come to the rescue.

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