The Good, the Bad and the Ugly Side of Candy
For better or for worse, children love candy. Sweets are, well, sweet. While common knowledge says that candies aren’t good for your children’s teeth, not all candies are created equal.
Some “good” choices of sweets include the following:
- Fruit: “Fruit isn’t candy,” you might say. Well, that depends on your definition of candy. Fruits are nature’s candy. They are richer in fiber and nutrients than any other sweets you can give a child, and their sugars are all natural. If you can satisfy your child’s sweet craving with fruit instead of candy, you’ve won a major battle for their dental health.
- Sugar-free gum: Sugar-free gum increases saliva flow and doesn’t leave plaque on your child’s teeth. Some sugar-free gums are sweetened with xylitol, which counteracts acid formation on teeth.
- Citrus-free sugar-free hard candies: Similar to any sugar-free candy, these sweets are gentle on the teeth. But be warned: Lemon-, lime- and orange-flavored sucking candies are loaded with acid that can burn away tooth enamel.
Now for the “bad” and the “ugly” choices:
- Chocolate: The bad news is that chocolate is loaded with sugar. The good news is that it is low on acid and, because it melts, it won’t stick between the teeth.
- Powdered candy: These candies are basically pure sugar. The powder gets lodged in your child’s gums easily and forms plaque quickly. The purity of the sugar invites bacteria to come live on your child’s teeth.
- Sour candies: Sour candies are acidic, meaning they eat away at your tooth enamel, and sugary, which means they encourage plaque growth. And some are sticky, which means they get caught in the teeth. Have your child stay far, far away from sour candies of all types.
- Taffy, caramel and other sticky candies: These sticky disasters get caught between teeth and can stay there for a very, very long time. In the process, they leave deposits of plaque in places where it can be very difficult to remove them. Candy doesn’t get much worse than this.
This is not a comprehensive list, by any means. If you want to know more about any other snacks, ask us during your child’s next visit.
Dealing with “Shark Teeth”
Sharks, unlike most other animals, grow their teeth in rows, one behind the other. The rear teeth slowly push forward until they replace the front teeth. Most people know about that only as a fun science fact. Unfortunately, for some children it is an uncomfortable reality.
When most children begin growing their adult teeth, the roots of their baby teeth dissolve, and the new tooth pushes the loose tooth out of their mouths. Sometimes, however, the adult tooth begins to force its way through the gums before the baby tooth comes out. In this case, the adult tooth ends up behind the baby tooth, leaving one tooth in front of the other, like a shark.
Much of the time, this occurrence is harmless. Eventually, the baby tooth comes out before the adult tooth is completely in place. When the new tooth finishes growing, it moves into its final home in line with the other adult teeth. If the baby tooth doesn’t come out on its own, we may have to extract it.
In rare instances, the “shark” tooth grows in between two other adult teeth. In that case, we will have to shave the sides of the two adjacent adult teeth through a procedure called “disking.” Once that’s accomplished, we will move the permanent tooth into place, using orthodontic braces to properly align the teeth.
If you are at all concerned about the growth pattern of your child’s teeth, let us know. If we find that there is no problem, then no harm has been done. But if it turns out there is a more serious issue, it is better to catch it early. We will take dental x-rays to see if there’s any real danger or if the teeth should just be allowed to grow.
Shark teeth do not pose an emergency, but they can lead to problems down the line if not taken seriously. If you notice permanent teeth erupting behind baby teeth, make an appointment with us so we can assess the situation and take any necessary steps.
Hunt Down Plaque at Home
If your child brushes and flosses regularly, you probably feel confident that his or her oral health is under control. Unfortunately, that may not be the case. Plaque, the sticky film of bacteria that destroys tooth enamel and causes decay and gum disease, may still be lurking—and since this substance is invisible to the naked eye, you will have no idea that it is there.
Luckily, several products on the market can help identify hidden areas of plaque, so your child can focus on those areas and brush to remove the damaging film before it wreaks havoc on his or her smile.
Two plaque-identifying products can help you see what you normally cannot:
- a reddish dye that adheres to plaque
- a special ultraviolet light that reveals plaque’s hiding places
Your child brushes and flosses as usual. Then, he or she either swishes a special mouthrinse or chews a special tablet and swishes the saliva around the mouth for about 30 seconds. After he or she spits out, look into your child’s mouth to see where the dye has settled. The stains reveal areas that need to be brushed again to get rid of missed plaque.
Your child brushes, flosses and then swishes around the mouth a special fluorescent solution that colors the plaque a bright orange yellow. After your child rinses his or her mouth with water, the dentist can examine the teeth and gums with a special ultraviolet light that allows the unremoved plaque to be seen and removed by further brushing.
Both methods are perfectly safe, but the plaque-revealing light method does not leave stains on your child’s teeth. The dye method may leave some residue; it’s best to use these dyes at night, so any stains can fade by the morning.
These plaque-identifying tools will help you hunt down nasty plaque that would otherwise attack your child’s teeth. If you are unsure about how to use these products or if their use has revealed extensive plaque, we can show you how to search for this sticky substance at home. Learning good oral habits while young can lead to your child’s maintaining healthy teeth and gums for life.
Keep Molar Decay at Bay
Tooth decay occurs when bacteria in the mouth make acids that eat away at the teeth, causing a hole or a cavity that can cause pain, infection and tooth loss. Helping your child protect his or her permanent molars from the effects of decay can save a world of hurt down the road. Here are some tips to help you ensure that those hard-to-reach back teeth stay as healthy as possible:
- Make sure your child brushes his or her teeth twice each day with toothpaste that contains fluoride. You may need to help your child brush until the age of seven or eight years to ensure he or she is reaching all teeth properly. Also, make sure your child rinses thoroughly and does not swallow the toothpaste.
- Limit your child’s intake of snacks, sugary beverages and even fruit juice, which can contain acids that erode tooth enamel. Have your child rinse after drinking juice or a beverage containing sugar, or after eating a snack that contains sugars or starches, both of which can increase the amount of acid in the mouth.
- Delay brushing until at least 30 minutes after a meal. Thanks to an increase in the production of food-dissolving acids, tooth enamel can soften when we eat. It takes about 30 minutes for it to re-harden. After that time has passed, your child can brush without fear of damaging the softened enamel.
- Bring your child to us for regular checkups. Your child may not care for visits to the dentist, but you aren’t doing him or her any favors by giving in and postponing care or cancelling visits. Regular checkups can spot early signs of decay and other oral health problems that are best treated in their earliest stages. We can also provide fluoride treatments to help protect your child’s teeth from decay.
- Use dental sealants on your child’s molars. Dental sealants are clear, protective coatings we brush onto tooth surfaces. Most commonly used on molars, they can be beneficial when used on any tooth surface that’s grooved or ridged. Sealants should be applied as soon as molars emerge, before decay has a chance to get a foothold. Watch for the emergence of your child’s molars, which typically come in between the ages of five and seven and again between the ages of 11 and 14 years.
We can help you learn more about how to protect your child from tooth decay. Schedule an appointment for him or her today. Together, we can combat decay on your child’s permanent molars.
Does Parents’ Stress Lead to Child’s Cavities?
Stress—the kind that weighs heavily upon adults’ minds, no matter what its cause—is clearly not a good thing in any context. It may be a negative factor in their children’s dental health. Scientists have tried to study the nature of the relationship between parental stress and caries (dental cavities) in their children.
One factor is financial. Parents or guardians who are barely getting by are much more likely to experience stress. Usually, such parents are also pressed for time, perhaps by working more than one job or having an extra-long commute because of slow public transportation. Less time can mean less opportunity for taking children to the dentist. And less money can mean that parents, despite possible good intentions, may feel they can’t afford dental care, especially routine visits. Although low-cost options, such as dental school clinics, may well be available, researching those possibilities takes time, which, again, overly stressed parents are less likely to have.
A generational link may also exist. Parents who are stressed may themselves come from families where dental checkups were not a top priority, and so it becomes less of a priority for their children, too. Fewer checkups and fewer reminders about the importance of daily dental health routines can mean more cavities. More cavities, and more fillings, can exacerbate fear of future dental visits.
Sometimes, the cycle begins even before a child is born. Mothers who experience poor dental health while they are pregnant may give birth to children who are more likely to have caries. The prevalence, and subsequent transfer, of the cavity-causing bacteria in the mother may be at the root of that problem.
So, while ascertaining the exact nature of cause-and-effect when it comes to parental stress and children’ cavities might be significant, one practical take-away message is clear: Parents should be aware of their own stress levels and make every effort to keep their offspring stress-free. It will make life calmer while keeping your child’s teeth and gums healthier.
Keep Your Child’s Cheesy Grin
Most children love cheese for its taste; parents love cheese for its ability to help promote strong bones. But now it seems that there is another reason to love this calcium-rich snack. Not only are dairy products a healthy alternative to carbohydrate- or sugar-filled food and drink but cheese may also help prevent cavities, bad breath and gum disease.
In a study published in the May/June 2013 issue of the peer-reviewed journal General Dentistry, 68 children, ranging in age from 12 to 15 years, consumed cheese, milk or sugar-free yogurt for three minutes and then rinsed their mouths with plain water. Researchers measured pH levels in the children’s mouths at 10-minute intervals for 30 minutes. A lower pH level means the mouth is more acidic, and acid is what causes tooth enamel erosion, a major contributing factor in developing tooth decay. They found that the pH level rose in the children who ate cheddar cheese, which meant they were at a lower risk for cavities. The same study found no changes in pH levels in the mouths of children who drank milk or ate sugar-free yogurt.
The researchers suggested that chewing cheese increased saliva levels, which can help maintain a higher pH level. In addition, compounds called pyrophosphates found in cheese may stick to tooth surfaces, helping to protect teeth from the harmful effects of acid.
Although yogurt didn’t affect the pH levels in that study, ounce-for-ounce it contains more calcium than milk: An eight-ounce glass of milk contains about 300 mg of calcium while eight ounces of yogurt contains almost 400 mg of the tooth-building mineral. And yogurt contains phosphorous, which helps restore tooth enamel. If your child loves yogurt but you don’t like the sugar substitutes used in sugar-free varieties, try sweetening it with honey, which possesses additional antibacterial properties that can help keep away tooth decay.
Nutritional foods are vital for both your child’s general health and oral health. Talk to us about making good food choices at your child’s next office visit.