Watch for Changes in Your Child’s Mouth

As a parent, it is your responsibility to promote and reinforce a healthy lifestyle for your child—including a daily oral hygiene routine. Not only should a parent reinforce the routine, but he or she needs to be aware of the development of the child’s mouth and teeth. Understanding what a healthy mouth looks like will make it easier to identify any abnormalities or concerns.

There are several obvious changes in the mouth that require you to contact us: cracked or broken teeth, discolored gums, discolored teeth, bleeding gums, misaligned or crooked teeth, or a misaligned jaw. While the above changes all seem fairly obvious, the key is to call our office as soon as they become evident.

  • These changes can lead to serious complications, especially infections.
  • Any misshapen, crooked or misaligned tooth has the potential to cut into the tongue or side of the mouth.
  • An open wound in the mouth is a magnet for bacteria.
  • Bleeding or discoloration of the gums can be symptomatic of several conditions, such as gingivitis or impacted teeth.

Such changes are important to address in an adult’s mouth; they are magnified when it comes to children. Even simple bulges, spotting or other discolorations should be noted and discussed with us.

If you are a new parent, it is also important that you not overreact. An infant cutting his or her first teeth will endure a certain level of discomfort and swelling of the gums. This is normal and not an emergency.

The best time to conduct a proper inspection of your child’s mouth and teeth is during his or her daily oral hygiene regimen. As a parent, be actively engaged in this process and ask to look into your child’s mouth regularly. Remember, taking the time to do this now may save your child a considerable amount of distress—and you a considerable amount of money—later.

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Treating Your Mouth-breathing Child

Does your child routinely sleep with his or her mouth open? Does he or she breathe during the day through the mouth rather than through the nose? Both are clear indicators that your child is a mouth breather. While mouth-breathing might sound, from its name, like a rather innocuous problem—or even just a natural variation, like left- and right-handedness—it is a serious situation. Over time, mouth-breathing can result in major ramifications. In fact, surgery may be necessary to remedy it—and putting a child through surgery is never an easy decision for a parent to make.

First, the facts. Mouth-breathing can be caused by several factors, including

  • enlarged, infected adenoids and/or tonsils
  • seasonal or other allergies that cause frequent upper respiratory infections
  • choanal atresia (a congenital blockage of the rear opening of the nose by tissue or bone)
  • deviated or twisted nasal septum (the tissue that separates the two nasal passages)
  • polyps or chronic irritation of the nasal lining

When it continues for a prolonged period, mouth-breathing can cause

  • abnormal dental development (a “gummy” smile, gum disease, crooked teeth)
  • abnormal facial development (a long, narrow face and mouth)
  • poor sleep (and resultant fatigue, possibly leading to poor grades and discipline issues in school)
  • deficient blood-oxygen levels, which can lead to hypertension and sleep apnea

If an identifiable blockage, such as enlarged adenoids or choanal atresia, is at the root of your child’s mouth-breathing, you need to consider surgery. Of course, when it’s your child having surgery, it never feels routine, but we can help you find a qualified, experienced surgeon with whom, along with your child’s pediatrician, you can discuss your child’s options.

In the vast majority of cases, surgical procedures undertaken to reverse mouth-breathing proceed smoothly. The problem is resolved, and the difficulties either disappear or can be resolved with additional nonsurgical measures. If you are not sure if your child is a mouth breather, make an appointment to talk to us about your concerns.

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Baby Teeth: Keep Them in Their Place

Sooner or later, your child will lose all of his or her baby teeth. So if your child has a cavity or loses a baby tooth, it may seem pointless to pay for it to be filled or replaced, right? Wrong. Baby teeth serve a very important purpose. Aside from helping your child chew food and flash you an adorable smile, every one of the 20 primary teeth “saves a spot” for 20 permanent teeth, which will start coming in around the age of six. If your child is missing a tooth due to decay or loses one in an accident, the new permanent tooth will have nothing to guide it into the correct space. As the new tooth erupts, it can drift into the wrong spot, crowding out other teeth as they attempt to come in. This leads to crooked or misaligned teeth that may require extensive orthodontic or other dental treatment.

In addition, ignoring a decayed or missing tooth in a young child can cause problems with speech development, nutrition and self-esteem. That’s why regular dental visits are so important, beginning as soon as your child’s first tooth appears. The sooner decay is discovered, the quicker it can be dealt with. Filling a cavity is far less traumatic than allowing the decay to get to a point where it causes your child pain or becomes a more serious issue such as an abscess. Decay in one tooth can also spread through the mouth, affecting other teeth—even the permanent ones, still lying dormant under your child’s gums.

This information isn’t meant to scare you. Instead, it’s meant to make you proactive about your child’s dental health. Baby teeth can be filled just like permanent teeth can. And our office is equipped to handle the special needs of young children. Remember: The best way to handle dental issues is to avoid them in the first place. Help your child brush and floss regularly, avoid sugary foods and drinks, and see us on a regular basis!

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Banish Your Child’s Bad Breath

Bad breath, also known as halitosis, might seem like a benign irritant, but it can actually be a sign of something much more severe. In most cases, halitosis is simply a result of poor oral hygiene. If you want to describe it as vividly as possible for purposes of motivating your children to take better care of their mouths, say that bad breath comes from all the decomposing food left in their mouth that they didn’t brush and floss away, as well as the bacteria that came into their mouths to eat all that food debris. In addition to being a good motivator, that explanation has the advantage of being true—in most cases.

Here are some oral care tips that will help to reduce the risk of halitosis:

  • Schedule brushing time after meals.
  • Brush the tongue with a soft-bristled brush.
  • Drink more water.
  • Suck on sugar-free candies.
  • End each meal with a crunchy fruit such as an apple to help expel bad food particles and freshen the breath.

If your child improves his or her oral hygiene and the bad breath persists, there’s a very real chance that the bad breath is a leading indicator of something far more serious. In some cases, depending on the smell of the child’s breath, he or she may benefit from seeing a doctor. If your child’s breath smells fruity, it’s a possible sign of diabetes or a number of critical conditions that might require urgent care.

While in most cases better dental hygiene is enough to fight halitosis, we can help determine if the cause is something more serious. As with any issue related to oral care, make sure to raise the issue of halitosis with us during your child’s next visit.

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Formula, Fluoride and Fluorosis

Everyone agrees that the best source of nutrition for an infant is breast milk. The next best thing? Infant formula. However, despite its nutritional value, some types of infant formula have the potential to foster a condition known as dental fluorosis that involves changes in the appearance of the tooth’s surface. The tooth enamel is degraded due to an overexposure to fluoride before teeth erupt. Generally, fluorosis is not noticeable; it usually shows up as little white spots that are visible only to dental professionals. In its most severe form, fluorosis can cause brown stains on the permanent teeth.

Formula comes in three formulations: powder, liquid concentrate and ready-to-feed. Major infant formula brands have very little if any fluoride. The problem is not with the formula—it is with the water used to mix the formula. Because fluoride helps prevent tooth decay in the general population, approximately 72% of all public water systems in the United States adjust the fluoride levels in the water to obtain the optimal dose for everyone age eight and older. But that means that if you are mixing powdered or concentrated formula with tap water, you will increase the fluoride in the formula to a level that may be too high for infants. Because formula can be the primary source of an infant’s nutrition, it is easy to see how this can contribute to the onset of fluorosis.

There are two easy ways to remedy this, but they take a concentrated effort by the parent. Use ready-made formula—that’s the best option because you won’t be adding any additional fluoride to your child’s diet. However, if you do use a powdered or concentrated formula, use bottled water labeled demineralized, distilled, purified or de-ionized to reconstitute or dilute the formula. That will reduce the level of fluoride your infant is being exposed to and help secure the development of his or her esthetically pleasing smile.

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Keep Your Teen’s Teeth in Tip-Top Shape

While the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your adolescent child’s mouth is eating—or kissing his or her sweetheart—the challenges of adolescence extend beyond these two activities. In fact, teenagers face specific dental problems, most of which can be managed as long as someone stays on top of them. If you have a teen in the house, be aware of the following dental concerns.

Healthy, straight smile

Most teenagers are preoccupied with their physical appearance, and their smiles are no exception. Your child may become conscious of bad breath, or of stained or crooked teeth. Brushing twice a day with an American Dental Association-approved toothpaste, flossing regularly, eating healthy foods and visiting us every six months can help keep your teen’s smile healthy and bright. We may recommend orthodontics for your teen, and not only for aesthetic reasons. Crowded or misaligned teeth can lead to gum disease, cavities and jaw problems.

Wisdom teeth woes

You thought your teething woes were over when your child got his or her permanent teeth, but there’s one more round of it heading your way. The third molars, commonly called “wisdom teeth,” emerge in the teenage years. If there isn’t enough room for them to come in properly or they become impacted, they can cause pain, infection and damage to the surrounding teeth. In that case, they may need to be removed.

Smoking, drug use and eating disorders

Despite our best efforts, many teenagers engage in dangerous behaviors during adolescence. Smoking can cause bad breath, gum disease and stained teeth; certain street drugs can wreak havoc on your child’s mouth. Bulimia, an eating disorder that strikes a large number of teenagers and involves purposeful, repeated vomiting, severely damages enamel from acid exposure. While these problems require the intervention of other health care professionals, we can help minimize their impact on dental health. Be sure to alert us if your child is struggling with an eating disorder or substance abuse.

As the parent of an adolescent, you probably have a lot of issues that require your attention. While you may put your child’s dental health lower on your list, it’s in your child’s best interest to make it a top priority. Be sure to schedule an appointment at least twice a year.

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