A Diet That Is “Teeth-Safe”
Getting children to eat a healthy, balanced diet can be a challenge. Beyond preventing childhood obesity lies another reason that parents need to pay attention to their families’ eating habits: dental health. Everything your children eat affects their teeth as well as their overall health. Even some healthy foods can be detrimental to their mouths if eaten too frequently or without brushing immediately afterwards.
Timing Is Everything
The longer sticky, carbohydrate-rich foods hang around in the mouth, the more hospitable the mouth becomes to the plaque that can lead to tooth decay. Oatmeal, whole grain cereals and dried fruit are all great choices, but they tend to stick to the teeth. Instead of cutting them out of your children’s diet, have your children brush their teeth right after eating starchy foods. As for sweets, offer them as desserts after a meal rather than on their own; there’s more saliva production happening at mealtime, which can help wash away the sugars and residue. Avoid frequent snacking: The longer your children go between eating, the more time their mouths will have to produce bacteria-fighting saliva.
The Worst Foods for Your Children’s Teeth
Obviously, sugary and sticky foods are the worst offenders—lollipops, sugary gum, candy and dried fruit. But also be aware of highly acidic drinks that can eat away at tooth enamel, such as citrus juices and sodas. Pickles and honey may also lead to decay.
The Best Foods for Your Children’s Teeth
Cheese and apples are a mouth’s best friend—and a great snack option for children. Cheese offers a dose of tooth-strengthening calcium and encourages saliva production to wash away lingering food particles. A crisp apple or carrot is nature’s toothbrush, naturally scrubbing away plaque.
Your best bet for oral health, however, is a balanced diet, including lots of antioxidant-filled fruits and veggies. Not only will this enhance your children’s overall health but it will benefit your children’s mouths by protecting gums from cell damage and infection.
Save That Knocked Out Tooth!
If your child comes running to you with a bloody mouth and hole where a front tooth used to be, don’t panic. Take a deep breath. If your child lost a baby tooth, let it go. If your child lost a permanent tooth, that is a dental emergency. But teeth can often be re-implanted. You can increase your child’s chances of keeping the tooth by taking the following steps.
- After ensuring that your child has no other serious injuries, do your best to find the tooth. If the tooth is whole, pick it up by the crown (the top part that you use to chew) instead of the root. This is very important—holding it by the root can damage the most fragile part of the tooth, which needs to be in good condition for the tooth to be implanted successfully.
- Rinse the tooth gently in saline or milk. (Tap water can be used if these aren’t available, but the chlorine in the water can damage the tooth; use water only if you have no other option.) Rinse your child’s mouth with warm water.
- If your child is old enough to keep the loose tooth in his mouth without swallowing it, reinsert the tooth into the socket, and have your child bite down gently on some gauze. If the tooth is broken or fragmented, or your child can’t keep it in his mouth for any reason, you can either place the tooth in a glass of milk or keep it inside your own mouth, between your lower gum and cheek. This will keep the tooth “alive” until you can come to our office.
- Come directly to our office (or the emergency room if the accident occurs when we aren’t available). We will place the tooth back into the mouth, along with a “splint” that will hold it in place.
Sometimes, the body will reject the tooth and it can’t be saved. But if you take these measures, you are giving your child the best chance to remember the accident as a funny story rather than as a permanent injury.
Nerve Treatment in Primary Teeth
It may seem odd to imagine a crown on a baby tooth. After all, the primary teeth are your child’s “practice set,” right? Unfortunately, that’s not really the case. The primary teeth serve a very important purpose, as the placeholders for future permanent teeth. If a child suffers from an infection or abscess in a baby tooth that is left untreated, the tooth may eventually be lost altogether. And if this happens before the permanent teeth are ready to come in (typically beginning around a child’s sixth birthday), the space that tooth is reserving for its permanent counterpart can close up. When the adult teeth begin to erupt, there’s no space for them to come through properly, leading to crooked teeth, bite issues and even speech problems.
This is why, for an infection or abscess, we may recommend nerve treatment, also known as pulpotomy (removal of the infected nerve in the crown) or pulpectomy (removal of the nerve tissue in the crown and roots). The good news is that these procedures are typically no more painful or traumatizing than a simple filling. After we clean out the infected pulp, we cover the remaining portion of the tooth with a stainless steel crown to allow for a normal bite and to prevent further infection.
There are situations where it may be advisable to remove the tooth altogether rather than trying to salvage it with nerve treatments. This depends on the location of the affected tooth, whether the infection has spread to the bone or gum tissue, and your child’s overall health. Sometimes, infection can recur after nerve therapy. If further infection could endanger your child’s health due to other medical conditions, it may be a better option to simply extract the tooth and fix the spacing issues later in life with orthodontia.
Don’t hesitate to call us if your child is complaining of pain or temperature sensitivity or if you notice a broken tooth with exposed root. Dental infections can be quite serious if left untreated. The first step is making an appointment; then we can discuss treatment options together.
Every Six Months: The Importance of Routine Dental Care
Most children need to be seen by a dentist at least every six months for regular cleanings and checkups. Good oral health requires professional cleaning and observation, especially as children grow. It can be difficult for little children to learn to brush properly, and older children and teens may engage in habits like chewing sugary gum or candy that can lead to plaque build-up. And even the best brushers and flossers can’t get rid of tartar, a hard substance that forms on the teeth when plaque isn’t removed completely. We remove plaque with special tools, helping your child to maintain a healthy smile. Regular examinations also help to make sure teeth and jaws are developing properly and that there are no cavities or other problems that might need immediate attention.
For some children, though, twice-yearly appointments may not be enough. Certain dental issues are hereditary, putting children at higher risk for oral health problems, no matter how well they care for their teeth. Children with special needs may need a little extra attention and help keeping mouths free from decay. Past habits such as pacifier use or thumb-sucking might have created problems that require monitoring. And children entering the preteen years and requiring orthodontia may need to be seen more frequently to ensure that food particles and bacteria aren’t hiding under braces.
At our practice, we treat every patient as an individual, which means that we might recommend an individualized schedule for visits. Untreated dental problems can lead to speech, confidence and general health issues down the line; rest assured that we are doing all we can to keep your child healthy.
Going to the dentist doesn’t have to be a chore. We provide a fun, educational, relaxing environment. Coming in for a visit, regardless of the frequency, can become a pleasant tradition instead of a dreaded experience, especially if you practice good oral health habits at home.
Tobacco: Bad News in Any Form
As if you didn’t have enough reasons to hope your child never smokes or chews tobacco, add another to the list: Tobacco use can lead to gum disease, oral cancers and a host of other dental problems.
Unfortunately, most children have a weak grasp of long-term consequences. If their peer group sees smoking as “cool,” chances are that vague warnings of lung cancer risk—especially coming from a parent—will do little to sway them. But since tweens and teens are very self-conscious, you can try appealing to their vanity. Showing your child photos of the mouths of smokers and tobacco chewers can be quite effective. Tobacco users are prone to yellowing of the teeth and tongue, gruesome mouth sores, gum disease and bone loss in the jaw. Smokers and chewers also have bad breath and a higher risk of oral cancers, which can strike at any age.
When talking to your tweens and teens about tobacco use, keep in mind that young people often believe that chewing tobacco is somehow safer than smoking cigarettes. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only does tobacco chewing carry with it a four to six times greater risk of oral cancer but it can also cause an additional dental problem: cavities. Chewing (or “smokeless”) tobacco is often flavored with sugar to improve the taste. Frequent chewing of this sugary, chemical-filled substance can lead to tooth decay as well as the gum disease, tooth discoloration and inflammation caused by other forms of tobacco.
We all know that nicotine is highly addictive, so the best way to protect your child from the detrimental effects of tobacco use is to stop them from smoking or chewing tobacco in the first place. Talk to them honestly and clearly about the risks, and feel free to enlist our help. Tweens and teens are often more willing to listen to authority figures who aren’t their parents, so a conversation in our chair may aid in your efforts to keep them away from tobacco.
Why Is a Mouthguard Important?
With approximately 25 million young people engaging in competitive sports every year, children and teens have become a high-risk group when it comes to dental injuries. And we’re not just talking about hockey and football. Even noncontact sports, such as gymnastics and volleyball, involve some risk of injuries to teeth, lips, cheeks, jaws and past dental work such as crowns or bridgework.
Luckily, there’s an easy, inexpensive and effective solution that can help protect your child’s oral health. More than 200,000 oral injuries could be prevented every year if children wore mouthguards. And mouthguards also help reduce serious concussions in young athletes.
Finding the Right Mouthguard
We can help you determine the best mouthguard for your child, depending on the type of sport he or she plays and comfort level. The most comfortable mouthguard is also the most effective, for a simple reason: An uncomfortable mouthguard is less likely to be worn! Custom mouthguards (made from molds taken of your child’s teeth) tend to be the easiest to wear, but even store-bought “boil-and-bite” guards can do the trick, provided they fit well. What defines a good mouthguard?
- It allows the wearer to speak and breathe normally.
- It doesn’t have tears or holes.
- It fits snugly in the mouth (a loose mouthguard does not fit properly).
- It is easy to clean.
- It provides adequate protection for the sport being played.
Who Should Wear a Mouthguard?
The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that children—and adults—wear a protective mouthguard when practicing or competing in 29 different sports, including basketball, boxing, field hockey, football, gymnastics, handball, ice hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, racquetball, skateboarding, skiing, soccer, surfing, volleyball, weightlifting and wrestling, as well as field events such as shotputting. You can’t go wrong wearing a mouthguard. If your child participates in any sport, let us help you find the right protective gear. It’s an easy way to protect your child’s smile from harm.