Why Do Teeth Decay?
Even though tooth enamel may be the hardest substance found in the human body, it is not unbreakable. Children run the risk of tooth enamel decay to their primary and permanent teeth. You can often recognize enamel decay when it begins to occur and stop it; after it occurs, only we can treat it.
Once a month, check under your child’s upper lip for white, chalky lines near the gum line or brown spots on the teeth. If you see these signs, make an appointment with us as soon as possible so we can assess the situation and begin treatment if needed.
Enamel decay can be caused by a number of conditions.
- A mother’s poor health during pregnancy increases the risk of enamel weakness. This can be combated by good eating and hygiene habits while she is pregnant.
- Children who are frequently in poor health run the risk of having enamel weaken as they grow older. This makes regular visits to a pediatrician and pediatric dentist important parts of a child’s dental care.
- A child’s diet can cause tooth enamel to decay. Sugary foods are the most common culprits.
No matter what a child eats, poor oral care and failure to visit the dentist can result in harm to the tooth enamel. Use of fluoride toothpaste and mouthwash is vital to keep decay at bay and the enamel hard and healthy.
Once tooth enamel is gone, it does not grow back. Therefore, parents’ knowing how to recognize and prevent enamel decay should be a part of any child’s dental care.
Don’t Give Dental Injuries a Sporting Chance
Athletic activities bestow many benefits on growing children. They can be good for children’s health and social lives, while helping to teach them important lessons that will be valuable long beyond childhood. Unfortunately, without proper precautions, many sports pose dangers to a child’s teeth—more sports than you might think.
The American Dental Association lists 29 sports for which people of any age should wear mouthguards. In addition to expected sports such as skateboarding and martial arts, mouthguards are recommended for some sports that might not be so obvious, such as
Even if your child is the only person on the team taking such precautions, it is important to make sure he or she sticks to them. Helmets with facemasks are also recommended for high-impact sports such as football, hockey and lacrosse. When your children are putting their bodies and teeth at risk, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
A child who doesn’t wear adequate head and mouth protection runs the risk of tooth loss, fracture and dislocation. Should any of these occur, the child should immediately be brought to an emergency dentist. In fact, if the tooth is recovered and the child is brought to the dentist quickly enough, under the right conditions the lost tooth can actually be reattached. Handle a dislodged tooth by the crown, not the root. Keep the tooth moist in milk or an oral electrolyte solution such as Pedialyte to keep the roots alive on the way to the dentist.
To prevent tooth injury, parents should take care of their children’s teeth. Misaligned teeth are more likely to become dislodged or to cause injury in a child’s mouth. Using braces to properly align teeth can help prevent such damage. Regular dental care can also help keep the teeth and gums stronger, thus decreasing the likelihood and severity of sports-related injuries.
With proper precaution and knowledge of emergency procedures, you can be confident that your child will be able to play safely and make the most of the benefits sports can provide.
When Should You Change Your Child’s Toothbrush?
Cars need an oil change every 3,000 miles. Knives need to be sharpened when they become too dull. Toothbrushes or brush heads need to be replaced when they become less effective. But how often is that, and how will you know when your child’s toothbrush needs to be replaced?
The American Dental Association recommends that your child’s toothbrush or brush head be replaced every three to four months (every four to six weeks for a child with gum disease). There are several reasons to do this:
- The bristles on the brushes become duller as your child brushes, making their ability to wipe away loose food and plaque less and less effective.
- Over time, bacteria wiped away by the bristles can actually begin to nest in the brush, risking the possibility that the microorganisms from a child’s mouth will go right back in the next time he or she brushes. For precisely this reason, it is important that you replace a child’s toothbrush immediately after he or she gets sick.
- There is no proven way to disinfect a toothbrush without reducing its effectiveness. Washing the toothbrush with hot water after brushing is crucial, but there is no guarantee that it will remove absolutely everything that gets into the bristles. To be safe, replace it.
It might not always be prudent to wait for the three to four months to pass before replacing the toothbrush or brush head. Some children might play with their toothbrushes or brush too hard. It is important to examine the bristles to make sure they are clean, properly aligned and show no signs of warping. A warped or frayed toothbrush will be less effective and should be replaced.
But even if the brush shows no external signs of wear, make sure to replace it regularly. Bring your child’s toothbrush with you on the next visit so we can examine it and perhaps provide a new one. Following this rule will ensure that your child always brushes his or her teeth with maximum effectiveness.
Do you ever find your child clenching his or her teeth or waking up with a sore jaw? He or she may have bruxism—a condition that causes people to unconsciously grind or clench their teeth.
Bruxism affects about 20% of children under the age of 11 years, many of whom do not even realize they are doing it. Many people do the bulk of their grinding at night, when they are fast asleep. If your child shares a room with a sibling or attends a lot of sleepovers or sleep-away camp in the summer, somebody may have mentioned that your child gnashed his or her teeth together while asleep. But most people with bruxism do not realize they are grinding or clenching their teeth until the dentist notices certain problems that show up years after the condition first appears.
Most children don’t have any serious side effects from bruxism. But over time, grinding can wear down the enamel of their teeth and, in severe cases, damage or even fracture them. And long before this type of problem occurs, your child might experience annoying issues like headaches, sensitive teeth, jaw pain or even earaches (caused by pain in the jaw that feels like it is coming from the ear). Bruxism can interrupt your child’s sleep, too, which can lead to feelings of fatigue, grumpiness and hyperactivity or distraction during the day.
So what can you do about something you are not even aware your child is doing? First of all, talk to us. We can examine your child’s mouth for signs of bruxism and figure out how severely he or she has been grinding or clenching. We might prescribe a night guard—a type of mouthguard similar to the kind worn when playing hockey or other contact sports, but much thinner and more form-fitting to the mouth—or splints that will keep the teeth from gnashing as your child sleeps.
Stress and anxiety can cause bruxism, too, so if your child is feeling worried or anxious about something, have your child talk to someone who can help find healthy ways to release stress. Even simple things, such as taking a warm bath before bed or learning some breathing techniques, can make a difference and keep the tension out of your child’s life—and out of his or her jaw!
Maintaining Good Dental Health: Easier Than You Think
Dentists use all sorts of weird, complicated-looking equipment during treatment. Keeping your child’s teeth and gums as clean as they are after an office visit would probably take as much time, work, education and expense as dentists have to go through when starting their practices, right? Wrong. Maintaining your child’s oral health is much easier and less complicated than you might think.
You don’t need any special training, tools or degrees to manage the health of your child’s mouth. Here are a few easy ways to maintain your child’s oral health.
- Set a routine: Most children’s lives are a series of routines. Once they learn them, they stick to them. If you make brushing and flossing a part of their daily schedule, over time they won’t even notice that they are doing it. It will become just another form of muscle memory.
- Use fluoride products: Easily available mouthwashes help keep your children’s teeth and gums clean and their breath fresh. A brief rinse every morning before they leave the house will not only help your children’s oral health but also make them much more pleasant to talk with.
- Watch what your children eat: Managing their sugar and carbohydrate intake is not just good for their oral health but it is beneficial for their health in general. A well-balanced diet helps their teeth and the rest of their body.
- Make sure your children pay attention to their own mouths: You don’t need to know as much as a dentist to recognize when something is wrong. Ask your child if something in his or her mouth feels uncomfortable, swollen, itchy or painful—then tell us during the next appointment. We’ll figure out what’s wrong and know how to fix it.
- Schedule regular cleanings and checkups: Don’t wait until your child’s mouth is in terrible shape to see the dentist. Bring your child to see us at least twice a year—more often if necessary.
If you follow these easy steps, taking care of your children’s teeth will become second nature in no time.
When Oral Disease Causes Low Self-esteem
As much as we’d like our children’s childhood to be carefree and innocent, we cannot control every factor that might influence their lives. One such factor is our culture’s pervasive emphasis on appearance, on looking as handsome or pretty as possible.
A medical or dental condition with visible manifestations can negatively influence how others perceive a child. In turn, that can affect the child’s self-esteem.
Unfortunately, some children have oral diseases and conditions that are either prominent to begin with or can become so over time. These include untreated tooth decay, a cleft lip, a strong overbite and severely overcrowded teeth, to name a few. In such cases, the child’s friends and classmates will likely notice the issue, and some may innocently (or not-so-innocently) make fun of him or her.
According to a recent study published in the British Dental Journal, about one in eight tweens and young teens with prominent or irregularly shaped teeth say they have experienced bullying or teasing. Such bullying has a detrimental effect on a child’s self-esteem, the study authors say. And because of poor self-esteem and other factors that can result from it, “Untreated dental disease can turn a child’s bright future into a minimum-wage blind alley,” according to the nonprofit Schuyler Center for Analysis and Advocacy, a health care advocacy group in Albany, New York. A victim of bullying may skip classes to avoid particular individuals, for instance, resulting in a downward education spiral.
And remember, if your child is subject to any but the mildest teasing—for any reason, dental-related or otherwise—get involved! Most schools have strict anti-bullying policies in place to address such scenarios.
Fortunately, most conditions that affect the teeth and mouth are preventable and—even if they do develop—treatable. Don’t be reticent about seeking help from us or your child’s pediatrician—your child’s physical and mental health may depend on it.