Does Your Child Have “Dentist Visit Anxiety”?
When it is time to visit the dentist, many children are fearful and anxious. Some of these fears are derived from previous experiences, such as having received a shot or having had a tooth drilled or extracted. Others are often based on anxieties about the unknown and what might happen. Even when previous visits haven’t resulted in discomfort, many children find the sounds and sights, such as loud drills and suction machines, sharp metal tools and bright lights, scary.
As a parent watching your child struggle with these worries, you may feel helpless, but you can take several steps to encourage your child to feel more comfortable about the checkup. Here are a few things you can do to help your child cope:
- Try not to take your child with you to your own dental visits. You could wind up transferring your own fears—even subconscious ones—to your child.
- Discuss the visit and your child’s fears before coming to our office. But don’t give your child too many details or make any promises about what will or will not happen.
- Do not talk about shots, drills, extractions or other potentially frightening aspects of dental care.
- Practice what you preach: Go to the dentist regularly, without talking about fears or worries or demonstrating anxiety.
- Understand that fear is not an uncommon emotion in children. Many children may feel separation anxiety, and fear of the unknown is especially common.
- Emphasize the role of going to the dentist in keeping teeth healthy and smiles bright.
- Do not cave in and cancel or postpone appointments; your child should understand that going to the dentist is a necessity, not a choice.
Let us know about your child’s worries. As a pediatric dental practice, we are trained in treating scared children. We know how to help worried children calm down once they sit in our chair. And that can help your child feel more in control.
Could Tooth Grinding Cause Your Child’s Headaches?
Childhood headaches are always concerning to parents, especially when they occur on a regular basis. Headaches can occur for a variety of reasons, including anxiety over schoolwork or peer issues and even uncorrected vision problems. But one of the most common sources of childhood headaches is also one of the most commonly overlooked, and it starts right in your child’s mouth.
Chronic bruxism—tooth grinding and clenching—is a common habit that affects about a third of children, often persisting into adulthood. What’s worse, tooth grinding or jaw clenching often occurs at night, making it difficult to self-diagnose. While no one is entirely sure why children tend to grind their teeth, many researchers believe it may occur as a response to anxiety, stress or pain such as an earache. Bruxism also appears to be strongly associated with misaligned teeth that do not fit together properly. Headaches result from jaw muscles that clench tightly while grinding, resulting in muscle tension and soreness.
We have experience in treating bruxism successfully. If your child’s teeth do not line up properly, we may be able to gently grind the surfaces of the teeth to eliminate any raised spots that may keep teeth from meeting as they should. We may also prescribe a mouthguard for your child to wear at night that can protect teeth and keep jaw muscles from becoming sore.
There are five steps you can take as well:
Step 1: Listen closely. You may actually be able to hear grating sounds coming from your child’s mouth during sleep.
Step 2: Gently massage your child’s jaw to help loosen stiff muscles.
Step 3: Reduce stress before bed by reading a funny story or engaging in another relaxing ritual.
Step 4: Make sure your child drinks lots of water during the day; some experts believe that dehydration can cause tooth grinding or exacerbate headaches.
Step 5: Have your child visit us regularly. Even when you cannot hear or see evidence of grinding and clenching, we can recognize subtle signs, like tooth wear, left behind by bruxism.
Everyone gets headaches, and an occasional bout is probably nothing to worry about. But if your child suffers from headaches regularly, talk to both your pediatrician and us to rule out more serious underlying conditions and to help your child be as healthy and pain-free as possible.
Drink Well While Protecting Your Child’s Tooth Enamel
“If you’re thirsty, drink orange juice rather than soda.” You’ve probably said that more than once to your child. But did you know that too much citrus juice can actually harm the enamel coating on your child’s teeth? It is true, but that does not mean your child should avoid orange juice and other citrus altogether. It simply means that he or she needs to take a couple of steps to make sure the damage is avoided.
Citrus juices pose a threat to enamel because they contain high levels of citric acid, and acid can erode tooth enamel over time. While all citrus fruits contain citric acid—including lemons and grapefruit—orange juice is more commonly consumed by children than, say, grapefruit juice.
Everyone needs vitamin C, and if your child loves orange juice, there’s no reason to prevent him or her from enjoying the health benefits of 100% orange juice. But you should take a few precautions.
- Don’t let your child overindulge. One 8-ounce cup of orange juice contains 82 mg of vitamin C. If your child has reached his or her recommended daily allowance of vitamin C (from 15 mg to 75 mg, depending on your child’s age), consider encouraging him or her to drink water instead.
- Once your child is finished drinking, encourage him or her to drink water or rinse with water to remove residue.
- If your child can’t rinse after drinking orange juice, consider offering sugar-free gum to increase production of saliva, which can help neutralize acids and wash away food particles.
Finally, be aware of the signs of enamel erosion. Pain or discomfort when eating hot or cold foods is the most common, but yellowed teeth and cupping or shiny spots on tooth surfaces are also signs. If your child exhibits any symptoms of erosion, come into our office right away.
Skip the Soda—Save the Teeth
Most parents understand that the combination of sugars and acids in sodas and other soft drinks are bad—really bad—for children’s teeth. Here’s why: In the mouth, soda causes a buildup of harmful acids that eat away at tooth enamel, making teeth far more prone to decay. While most parents understand the dangers of drinking an excessive amount of soda, several studies show just how dangerous drinking any soft drinks can be when it comes to maintaining healthy teeth. And don’t be fooled into thinking that sugar-free drinks are much better. They may not contain sugar, but they still bathe the teeth in acids that soften and break down enamel.
Of course, drinking soda causes more than tooth decay. It has also been linked to childhood and adult obesity, diabetes and other health issues. Yet despite its unhealthy side effects, soda consumption is on the rise in the United States. Studies estimate that between 50% and 80% of school-age children consume at least one soft drink each day, with 20% drinking at least four soft drinks daily. Serving sizes have also grown larger over the years, adding to the potential health risks posed by soft drinks.
An occasional glass of soda is fine, but if you are worried that your child may be overindulging, here are a few steps to take.
- Make sure that your child rinses with water after drinking any sugary beverage or acidic fruit juice.
- Be sure your child gets enough calcium to help keep teeth strong.
- Use fluoride toothpastes and mouth rinses to help strengthen tooth enamel.
- Ask us about fluoride treatments; we provide them regularly for children, so be sure to inquire at your child’s next visit.
- See us regularly, and report any concerns about acid erosion so we can check for telltale signs that your child’s enamel has been compromised.
- Make sure your child gets two or more servings of dairy foods every day.
- Limit your child’s intake to four to six ounces of 100% fruit juice per day for children younger than 7 years old; eight to twelve ounces per day for older children.
- Limit your child’s consumption of soda and other sweet drinks to occasional use.
Similar to any other sugary snack, an occasional soda may be fine for your child. Just be sure it doesn’t become a regular habit, or your child’s teeth may wind up paying a heavy price for a little sweet indulgence.
The Hidden Dangers of Flavored Waters
Flavored waters seem harmless enough. After all, they are not sodas, and drinking plenty of water is an important part of staying healthy. And some of them even contain vitamins! Sounds like a smart way to keep your child hydrated, right? Not so fast. While flavored waters may seem like healthy choices at first glance, studies have shown that many ingredients in flavored waters—including high fructose corn syrup, ascorbic acid and artificial colors—actually contribute to tooth decay and the erosion of tooth enamel.
Sure, getting plenty of vitamins is important, but combining vitamins with sugary drinks is not the best choice. What’s more, the vitamin C contained in many flavored water drinks can cause the protective enamel on the tooth’s surface to wear away over time. Vitamin C (often added as ascorbic acid) attacks tooth enamel, causing it to break down. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should avoid vitamin C, but bathing your child’s teeth in ascorbic acid isn’t the best way to do it. A better option: Feed your child foods high in vitamins and skip the vitamin-enriched waters. Getting vitamins from natural food sources also allows them to be better absorbed by the body.
The same goes for corn syrup. Although, ounce for ounce, corn syrup has been shown to result in less tooth decay than refined sugar, drinking flavored waters on a regular basis poses a much more serious cavity risk than plain water or even unsweetened fruit juices. And despite their healthy hype, flavored waters contain a lot more sweetener than you might imagine. Many bottles of flavored water contain as much sugar as a doughnut. What’s more, studies have shown that regular consumption of flavored waters increases the risks of both obesity and diabetes.
The bottom line is this: While an occasional bottle of flavored water may not be harmful, turning it into a habit is not a good idea. Teach your child to drink plain water when thirsty, and provide lots of vitamin-rich natural snacks, like fresh fruits and vegetables. If you let your children indulge in flavored water as a treat, make sure that they rinse well once they finish drinking to remove traces of ascorbic acid and to reduce the risk of dental erosion.
Get the Vitamin D Needed for Healthy Teeth
Despite the increased intake of food, today’s children still lack many vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy growth. The reason is simple: Children love snacks, and many of the snack foods they eat today are devoid of meaningful nutrition, packed instead with sugar and sugar substitutes, fats, additives and other nutrient-poor substances.
Vitamin deficiency can have a significant effect on a child’s overall health, including playing a major role in the development of strong, healthy teeth. One nutrient that’s critical for strong teeth—vitamin D—is also frequently lacking in children’s diets. In fact, according to a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, vitamin D deficiency is startlingly common among children of all weight classes, with one in five “healthy weight” children deficient in this critical nutrient. The risk of deficiency increases as children become heavier. According to the study, 29% of children considered overweight and 34% of obese children do not get enough vitamin D.
Here’s what you can do to make sure your child is getting the vitamins and minerals they need for healthy teeth:
- Make sure your child eats plenty of healthy foods, such as dairy products (some studies have shown cheese is especially good for teeth), lean proteins, leafy vegetables, fresh fruits and whole grains.
- Get a double-dose of nutrients by including foods that provide both vitamin D and calcium, such as fortified low-fat dairy products, fortified soy and rice beverages, and canned sardines or salmon.
- Sunlight is important for the production and absorption of vitamin D, so make sure your child gets moderate exposure to sunshine on a regular basis.
- Avoid fast food and sugary snacks filled with empty calories.
- Avoid high consumption of carbonated beverages, including soda, that can actually remove vitamins and minerals from your child’s bones and other tissues.
One more important caveat: If your child is a vegetarian or has specific health issues, such as diabetes or digestive problems, he or she may need additional nutritional supplements to stay healthy. But instead of trying to decide on your own which supplements your child needs, ask your child’s pediatrician and us for guidance. Together, we can help you select the best supplements to ensure that your child receives all the vitamins and minerals he or she needs to stay healthy.