Could Your Child’s Teeth Cause Ear Infections?

Researchers have debated whether malocclusion—a less-than-ideal bite pattern, such as crossbite—plays a role in the development of middle ear infections (otitis media). Now, a recently published study says that the two conditions may be linked after all.

Middle ear infections occur when fluid builds up behind the eardrum. Symptoms of acute otitis media include redness, pain, fever and often pus. A second type, called otitis media with effusion, is more common and can be caused by an infection, allergies and exposure to irritants such as cigarette smoke. Both types can cause hearing problems, and repeat infections can cause scarring.

The study examined 50 children between 6 and 8 years of age, including 25 children with ear infections and 25 healthy children who formed a control group. Children in both groups were given an ear, nose and throat examination, and dental casts were made of the children’s mouths so measurements could be taken.

The researchers then looked at the relationships between these measurements and the children’s tonsils and adenoids to determine whether the examination findings and bite patterns were associated. They found that 76% of the children in the ear infection group, a significant number, had posterior crossbite malocclusion (a malocclusion involving the back teeth).

Despite the results of this study, earlier research examining the relationship between ear infection and malocclusion patterns has been less conclusive. In fact, both a 1998 study of 112 children under 6 years of age and a 2010 study of 100 children from 4 to 10 years of age found no relationship between bite patterns and ear infections.

So what does this mean for you as a parent? If your child has ear infections, let us know. We can evaluate your child to see if he/she may benefit from having his or her bite analyzed. If a malocclusion does exist, you can consider options for having it corrected.

The effect of poor bite patterns can extend far beyond ear infections. Malocclusion can cause many oral health problems, including abnormal tooth wear, tooth decay and eventual tooth loss. A bite analysis performed early may prevent these more serious conditions from developing later in life.

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No Bull: The Truth About Energy Drinks and Teeth

Sports and energy drinks are popular among young people. Up to half of teens and young adults consume energy drinks regularly; more than half of them consume at least one sports drink every day. If you think sports and energy drinks are better for your child’s teeth than soda, you might want to think again, based on the results of a 2012 study published in the journal General Dentistry that looked at the effects on tooth enamel of three energy drinks—Monster Assault, Red Bull and 5-hour Energy—and three sports drinks—Gatorade Rain, Powerade Option and Propel Grape.

The researchers found that both types of beverages caused tooth enamel erosion, which can result in sensitive teeth and greater exposure to harmful decay-causing bacteria. They also found that energy drinks were twice as likely to damage enamel as were sports drinks.

The results of this study supplement data from a 2006 study that found Gatorade actually eroded tooth enamel more rapidly than did Coca-Cola. In that study, extracted teeth were placed in test tubes and exposed to Gatorade, Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Red Bull and apple juice. Beverages were refreshed every five hours for a period of 25 hours. At the end of the 25-hour period, the researchers examined the teeth and found that, while erosion had occurred to some extent on all teeth, Gatorade was significantly more corrosive to both tooth enamel and roots than any of the other beverages.

Of course, sports drinks and energy drinks typically contain significant amounts of sugar. So even without these studies, it’s pretty clear that parents should limit their children’s intake of these beverages, replacing them with milk or, better still, plain water. If you are unsure of just what else you can do, let us know. We can provide more ways you can help protect your child’s tooth enamel.

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Treating Your Child’s Broken Jaw

Children are resilient, much more so than adults, but that doesn’t mean that they are unbreakable. Accidents happen, whether at play, school, home or anywhere in between. While you might not think a broken jaw would be something that requires dental care, you would be mistaken. A child’s jaw is still in the process of growing, and the way the jaw injury is treated can have a major impact on your child’s teeth.

If you suspect a fractured jaw, take your child to the hospital emergency room immediately. Some signs that your child might have a broken jaw include

  • bruising, swelling and tenderness below the ear
  • missing or loose teeth
  • difficulty opening the mouth
  • swelling or black and blue discoloration in the gum along the jawbone
  • the sensation that the teeth don’t fit together
  • numbness in the lower lip or chin

While transporting your child to the hospital, apply pressure to the jaw with a cold compress to reduce swelling.

With less serious breaks, a child’s jaw will heal naturally. For more severe breaks, more complicated treatments are necessary. First, the jaw must be held in place and immobilized, usually with a splint or a wire. Then, the jawbone will knit itself back together.

While your child is healing, it is vital that you see us on a regular basis. A broken jaw can have a significant impact on the way a child’s teeth grow in. Sometimes the healing process can move or even dislodge a child’s teeth. The wires and splints can also lead to gum irritation and disease. Cautious and disciplined home care during the process is vital. We will tell you when and how your child can brush and floss to minimize risk of re-aggravating the injury.

As with any type of injury affecting the mouth, if your child feels any pain or discomfort, contact us right away.

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Brush On Long-lasting Cavity Protection

Among the items in the dentist’s toolkit for which we’re the most grateful is a cavity-prevention technique called “sealing.” It is one of the simplest and most effective ways to help keep tooth decay from ever forming—making life easier on child, parent and dentist alike.

Here’s how it works: The sealant is actually a safe liquid form of plastic that can be brushed onto the tooth surface. The chewing surfaces of back teeth need sealants most, because they have the deepest crevices in which food and cavity-causing bacteria can accumulate and may be untouched even by conscientious toothbrushing.

The sealant—which quickly hardens after application—acts as a colorless physical barrier so that food and bacteria cannot take up residence in the nooks and crannies in the first place. That is why it’s important for us to apply sealant to the chewing surface of each back tooth as soon as it erupts in your child’s mouth—and that can include primary as well as the later-emerging adult teeth.

One application of sealant can last for up to a decade. But sealants need to be checked during your child’s dental checkups to ascertain whether additional sealing material is needed and to apply it if appropriate.

The only downside to applying dental sealant is that it can give children—and their caregivers—a false sense of security. Sealants are very helpful deterrents against cavity formation in the crevices of back teeth, but they don’t protect all tooth surfaces. The best cavity protection for the smooth surfaces of all teeth is exposure to fluoride, via fluoride toothpaste, fluoridated water and, sometimes, a fluoride-containing mouth rinse.

So, even with sealants in place, your child needs to follow the rules of good dental hygiene just as strictly as before:

  • Brush twice a day. For children over 2 years of age, use a pea-sized bit of fluoride toothpaste on the brush, and clean each tooth thoroughly.
  • Floss once a day. Have your child use whatever type of floss is most comfortable for him or her to manipulate.

Try to have your child avoid the stickiest of candies, as well as chips, pretzels and cookies, which form residues that are among the toughest to brush away. But if your child eats them, have him or her brush as soon as possible after consumption.

If you have more questions about sealants, or cavity prevention in general, please talk to us at your child’s next visit or call our office. We can give you the most up-to-date information.

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Keep Tooth Decay at Bay

Tooth decay is one of the most prevalent diseases affecting children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 42% of 2- to 11-year-olds have cavities in baby teeth; 21% of 6- to 11-year-olds have cavities in permanent teeth. And tooth decay doesn’t just lead to cavities: When left untreated, it can lead to malnourishment, learning and speech delays, and even deadly bacterial infections.

To put it in perspective, tooth decay is actually five times as common as asthma and seven times as common as hay fever. But unlike asthma and hay fever, parents have the ability to reverse the effects of tooth decay. That’s because decay is a process in which bacteria attacks the enamel of the tooth. If you catch the decay early, you can avoid cavities or more serious problems down the road. Keep your child’s risk of tooth decay low by following these tips:

  1. Watch the snacks. Every time your child eats something sugary or starchy, the food combines with bacteria in the mouth to create acids, the precursors to decay. Saliva is the best weapon against these acid attacks, so the longer your child’s mouth gets a “break” between eating to let saliva do its job, the better. If he or she wants to snack between meals, stick to healthy, low-sugar choices such as vegetables or cheese.
  2. Skip the sodas. Sugary, acidic drinks like fruit juice, energy drinks, sports drinks and sodas are tooth decay’s best friends. Have your child stick to water.
  3. Brush regularly. If your child is less than 6 years old, assist his or her toothbrushing routine to ensure that the teeth receive a thorough cleaning. Because young children tend to swallow most of what’s on the brush, use just a dab of toothpaste. Older children can brush their own teeth, but make sure they are doing so for at least two minutes, twice a day.
  4. Visit your dentist. Professional cleanings are necessary to remove trapped food particles and monitor early signs of decay. If your child does have a cavity, it’s important to get it treated right away to prevent further complications.

Fortunately, tooth decay is preventable and treatable. By following these tips, you can minimize tooth decay and establish good oral health habits for life.

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Xylitol: The Sugar That Can Prevent Cavities

A sugar that not only isn’t bad for you and your child but can actually help prevent cavities? That’s xylitol (pronounced zahy-lit-tawl), a natural sugar found in some fruits, vegetables and other plants. It’s a safe product that has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A groundbreaking study performed recently at the University of California, San Francisco, and published in the Journal of Dental Research demonstrated that cleaning an infant’s gums three times a day with a xylitol wipe resulted in an eight-fold decrease in the likelihood that the infant would develop early childhood caries (ECC) after a year of use, compared with infants whose gums were similarly cleaned with wipes that contained no xylitol. The amount of xylitol in those three daily wipes totaled about five grams.

So far, scientists aren’t exactly sure how xylitol does its “magic.” What xylitol doesn’t do is reduce the number of caries-causing bacteria, generally recognized to be mutans streptococci and lactobacilli. However, one hypothesis suggests that xylitol affects the way those bacteria function in the standard caries-development scenario. Another suggests that xylitol works to control a previously unidentified kind of bacteria in its relationship to cavities. Investigators continue to try to find the answer.

The discovery that xylitol can reduce ECC is a major advancement in dental research. ECC is more than a little cavity in a baby tooth that will fall out anyway. The health of baby, or primary, teeth can affect the long-term health of the permanent teeth growing below them. And severely ECC-affected teeth can have negative effects on nutrition and speech development, among other problems.

In addition to wipes for infants’ gums, you can now purchase pacifiers that deliver xylitol. For older children and adults, xylitol products include chewing gums, toothpastes, mints, “gummies” and mouth rinses. For maximum benefit from these products make sure that xylitol is the only included sweetener.

We would be happy to discuss how you and/or your older children should use one or more of these products. And if you have an infant, we’ll show you how to use the wipes with the least possible chance of fussing on your little one’s part.

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