Don’t Delay on a Dental Abscess

Any time your child suffers from more than momentary or very mild tooth pain, you should strongly consider seeing us right away. That suggestion becomes a hard-and-fast rule in the case of a potential dental or periodontal abscess, which will likely cause your child significant pain and may be visible as a pus-filled “pimple” on the gum.

An abscess is caused by a bacterial infection that, if left untreated, can affect more than just the tooth and/or gum. The infection can reach the bone or even organs such as the heart. That’s one reason it’s imperative to treat it right away.

An abscess may be caused by

  • decay (a cavity) that quickly progresses before it can be treated, affecting the nerve and root of the tooth
  • an injury (a break or crack) to the tooth that causes the nerve to die; the resultant space becomes a place for bacteria to congregate
  • trapped food between teeth and gum, another reason flossing and brushing is so important; popcorn hulls, in particular, can be a culprit, because they can “grasp” a well-concealed tooth surface, impervious to usual food-removal techniques
  • foreign objects, such as slivers of bitten-off fingernails, becoming lodged between the teeth or in the gums and causing irritation through which bacteria can enter

Because an abscess can form quickly—within a day or two of initial infection—prompt treatment can get rid of it quickly. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication can diminish the abscess pain at home, but it does not address the infection. Proper treatment is usually accomplished, in part, with antibiotics, but often, we must physically address the infection by draining the pus. In some cases, a root canal to remove a tooth’s dead nerve or an extraction is necessary.

Whether you are certain that your child has an abscess or you just suspect he or she might, this is not a wait-and-see situation. Make an emergency appointment with us to be sure your child is treated properly and as quickly as possible.

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Healthy Teeth: Always on Duty for Your Child

Most parents know that teeth help a child bite, tear and chew food. But they do much, much more. Indeed, because they do so much, it is absolutely vital to keep your child’s teeth in good shape. While your child’s primary teeth fall out at around age 6, maintaining the health of these baby teeth is vital because they serve as placeholders for the permanent teeth that follow. Here are three of the less-well-known benefits of healthy teeth:

  • Articulation and speech—Adults may take them for granted, but healthy teeth are especially important as children learn to speak. In fact, having teeth is essential for your child to pronounce many different sounds and speak the English language correctly. For instance, try saying the words “tooth” and “floss” without touching your tongue to your teeth. You can’t do either, can you? Well, neither can your child, and while it may sound cute when a toddler mispronounces words, it can be a hindrance in school or social situations.
  • Facial expressions—Teeth provide structural support for your child’s face muscles and help them to form facial expressions that communicate to others what they are thinking. Without a mouth and its supporting teeth, a child would not be able to display emotions through facial expressions. The teeth also play an important role in facial fullness and esthetically pleasant facial shapes. Thus, absence of teeth, for any reason, not only hampers your child’s ability to chew but also impacts the facial features to great extent, affecting your child physiologically, emotionally and socially.
  • Attractiveness—A six- or seven-year-old child with missing teeth might look adorable for a while, but their permanent teeth will soon fill the gaps. It is very important to protect the health of these permanent teeth, for your child will have them for a long time to come. A healthy smile full of bright, shining teeth is not only attractive but can engage other children and draw them toward your child. And the healthier those teeth, the happier your child looks.

So, teeth are a lot more versatile than you thought, aren’t they? That’s why it is so incredibly important to teach your children to take good care of them.

You can do this by instructing, helping and reminding your child to brush with a fluoride toothpaste twice a day and floss at least once a day to keep their teeth healthy. Your child can also brush his or her tongue to help keep breath fresh. Furthermore, making sure that your child eats lots of fresh vegetables, fruits instead of sugary snacks and drinks water instead of soda or sugar-laden juices will prevent the creation of plaque, a substance on the tooth surface just waiting for sugar to arrive so decay can begin. Finally, scheduling regular visits with us to both examine and clean your child’s teeth is equally essential. When properly cared for, a set of healthy teeth will be your childen’s useful friends for the rest of their lives.

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Your Baby’s Gap-toothed Smile: Should You Worry?

Your baby’s front teeth have begun to grow in, and there’s a gap between them. Should you be worried? In a word: No. A gap is a favorable occurrence because it gives adult teeth more space to grow in. Children whose teeth are closer together are more likely to suffer from a phenomenon called “crowding” that enhances the chance that the adult teeth will grow in too close to each other and become misaligned.

Believe it or not, your baby is born with his or her baby teeth already developed, hiding just below the gum line. The spacing between them has more to do with their role as placeholders for adult teeth than for their function as primary teeth. Frequently, as your child grows older and other teeth, especially the canines and molars, start to grow in, the front teeth will slowly grow together and the gaps will decrease until the teeth are aligned properly.

There are circumstances where gaps between baby teeth can be a problem. Sometimes, a gap persists because primary teeth simply refuse to grow in. This can lead to permanent teeth growing in improperly because their way has not been “paved” the way they would be if the baby tooth had grown in as expected.

As for a gap between your child’s adult front teeth? That’s usually just a cosmetic issue and probably nothing to worry about. In fact, the eruption of molars farther back in the jaw will often help crowd the gapped front teeth together. If your child is self-conscious about a gap between his or her front teeth, a veneer slightly wider than the tooth can be bonded to each tooth’s surface. Other options involve a removable prosthesis to fit over the front teeth to change their appearance and a removable appliance, such as a plate and a fixed appliance composed of brackets and rubber bands that apply pressure to pull the teeth together.

Despite our reassurances, you should not hesitate to bring up this issue with us. Your child will one day lose his or her baby teeth, but that doesn’t mean they don’t serve an important role. Tooth problems don’t always occur all at once, and issues you or your child might not notice can be obvious to a trained eye. Bring your child to our office; we can fill in the gaps in your dental health care knowledge.

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Protecting the Oral Health of Your Child with Autism

If there’s one word to remember when you and your child with autism navigate the world of oral hygiene, it’s “gradual.” Gradually have your child adjust to the first toothbrush, or to a new toothbrush, perhaps by just having it touch the lips at first. Practice the steps of toothbrushing in a favorite room, then gradually move the activity to the bathroom. Post a follow-along series of photos showing each step involved in toothbrushing. And gradually get your child used to the idea of visiting our office, even if the first visit just involves stopping at our front door.

Because the needs of children with autism have become better understood in recent years, we know more about strategies to maintain and improve their dental health. For instance, some children with autism respond very well to a time-oriented cue such as an hourglass, timer or clock; you can utilize such a tool to show how long brushing, or eventually brushing and flossing, should take. That sense of predictability can make the task much more palatable and make the child feel calmer when doing it. So can rewards for completion, whether in the form of verbal praise, stickers or another desired item.

To make your child’s experiences in our office as stress-free as possible, we will work with you to determine the best environment to provide. Will he or she want to watch a specific video? Have you remain in the room? Wear headphones to reduce outside noise or to listen to music? Or even wear a lead apron as a sensory tool to create a feeling of calm?

We very much want your child’s visits to be successful, so please be upfront with us about your child’s current situation. We may ask pre-examination questions that cover a range of topics, from progress in the classroom to how your child responds to haircuts. With honesty, creativity and a respect for your child’s limits, we can help make dental care visits less worrisome for everyone involved.

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Give Your Child’s Teeth a Sporting Chance

As much as we don’t like to think about them, injuries can happen to children and teens when they play a sport. The typical protective precautions are well known: helmets for football players, chest protectors for softball and baseball catchers, face masks for hockey goaltenders.

But you must think ahead about protecting your child’s teeth. Consider the mouth guard. Without one, your child can be up to 60 times more likely to suffer a dental injury. And mouth protection matters as much at practice sessions as it does in actual games.

The mouth and teeth are most at risk in football, ice and field hockey, lacrosse, basketball, baseball, volleyball and gymnastics. But any activity that requires your child to make quick moves or has an object flying about can result in oral injuries. Some leagues and schools may mandate mouth guards for players.

Mouth guards protect not only the teeth but also the tongue, lips and cheeks, too. You and your young athlete can choose from three basic kinds of mouth guards:

  • Stock: This type of mouth guard (also called “universal” or “off-the-shelf”) often includes gel in the surface closest to the teeth, to accomplish something like a custom fit. These provide the least protection.
  • “Boil and bite”: The thermoplastic material of this guard softens in hot water. In that state, as your child bites down, the guard gets shaped to his individual “toothprint.”
  • Custom-fitted: We offer completely customized mouth guards that will give your child exceptional protection. While a mouth guard made specifically for your child will cost more than will the other options, the individualized fit is more comfortable, offers better protection and is less likely to fall out.

Be vigilant in helping your child keep the mouth guard intact and clean, since, of course, it goes into the mouth. Store and carry it in a durable container that allows for air circulation. Before and after each use, rinse it well or, better yet, brush it, using a toothbrush and toothpaste. Keep it out of the sun and hot water—either can distort the guard’s shape—and when it inevitably does become distorted or overly worn, replace it.

If you and your child are unsure about which type of mouth guard is most suitable, consult us. We’ll be happy to evaluate your options and guide you to the one that fits best—in every sense.

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Stand Firm on Your Child’s Oral Hygiene

If you are a parent, you may be all too familiar with the tears, tantrums and general difficulties of getting your children to regularly brush his or her teeth. As nerve-racking as it is for you, it is important that you stand firm on the daily routine. The foundation for healthy permanent teeth in children starts in the first years of life. As a parent you are responsible for building this foundation and helping your children understand the importance of oral hygiene.

The benefits of brushing teeth are fairly obvious. Perhaps the strongest component of good oral hygiene, toothbrushing protects the enamel by reducing the amount of bacteria and acid in the mouth. A healthy mouth prevents the development of oral problems and the subsequent need for expensive dental visits.

For these reasons, parents regularly need to reinforce oral hygiene techniques as positive behaviors. The amount of effort it takes to do so pales in comparison to the effort needed to get your child to and from the dentist. As a parent, you are the most influential role model in your child’s life, and most children want to be like their mom or dad. Thus, if your child sees you attending to your own oral hygiene, he or she will get the idea that it is a good thing to do regularly.

Here are three simple recommendations:

  • Set the daily routine and be actively involved in it with your children.
  • Start this routine as early as possible. The sooner your children begin to embrace the daily routine, the less friction will ensue later on.
  • Explain to your children why oral hygiene is important. Direction without explanation tends to confuse young children.

Above all, remember: They are children. Yelling, threatening or punishing them rarely works. Sometimes the best way to get them to want to do something is to make a game of it. Making oral health maintenance a fun experience will reinforce the behavior you wish to encourage. When children associate fun or laughter with the act of brushing their teeth, they will be the ones asking for “toothbrush time”!

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