Breathe Easy and Avoid Tooth Decay

Asthma medications play a critical role in helping children manage their symptoms. But, as a parent, you should also realize that the same medications that help open your child’s airways—so he or she can breathe more freely—can also increase the chance your child will develop tooth decay.

Several studies examining children’s use of asthma medications have found an increased risk of caries (tooth decay). A study conducted in Saudi Arabia from 2010 to 2011 found that children with more severe asthma, those who used their medications more frequently (three or more times per day) and those who used combination therapy were more likely to have decreased levels of saliva and increased levels of bacteria associated with decay. A 2012 Slovenian study of 220 children between 2 and 17 years of age returned similar results, with medicated asthmatic children having significantly more decay in both baby teeth and permanent teeth, as well as decreased saliva production. More decay was seen in children who used higher doses of medication.

Saliva plays a key role in helping prevent tooth decay by neutralizing acids and washing away food particles that can feed harmful bacteria. In addition, many inhaled asthma medications contain lactose or other sugars that can promote bacterial growth.

Fortunately, there are easy solutions. If your child uses asthma medication, here are some things you can do to help lower his or her risk of decay:

  • Have your child chew sugarless gum, drink water or rinse after using an inhaler; avoid brushing after each inhaler use since that can damage enamel.
  • Ask us about using mouthwash if your child is old enough to use mouthwash without the risk of swallowing it.
  • Ask your child’s physician about alternative medications that may be less harmful to teeth, including medications without lactose or other sugars.
  • Let us know about your child’s asthma.
  • Make sure your child sees us regularly.

If your child suffers from asthma, you already have lots of concerns about his or her health. Let us know about your child’s asthma and we can evaluate the risk of tooth decay so you and your child have one less thing to worry about.

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Dental Checklist: Check Your Child’s Teeth

A lifetime of good dental health starts at birth. In fact, regular dental care should begin by your child’s first birthday, followed by a dental check-up at least twice each consecutive year. This checklist from the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry can help you know the whats, whens and hows of your child’s dental health.

Birth to 6 months old

Even though your baby has a gummy smile, you still need to think about his or her teeth. Clean your infant’s mouth by wiping the gums with a soft piece of gauze after every feeding and at every bedtime. Ask your pediatrician about the need for fluoride supplements. As your baby starts to get on a more regular schedule, implement better feeding habits (i.e., avoid nursing or bottle-feeding throughout the night, and make sure to wipe your baby’s gums after the last feeding of the evening).

6 months old to 2 years old

During this period, your baby will begin teething. Now is a good time to start a dental health routine, brushing after meals and at bedtime with a soft-bristled toothbrush and bringing your child to see us when the first teeth erupt. Because children begin toddling around during the same time these first teeth appear, you also need to be on the lookout for chipped or damaged teeth after your toddler stumbles and falls.

2 years old to 5 and 6 years old

Most children will have their complete first set of teeth by the age of 3 and will begin to lose them to make way for the permanent adult teeth between 5 or 6 years old. Baby (or “deciduous”) teeth play an important role in ensuring future dental health: They hold space for future permanent teeth. Infected baby teeth can cause problems long into adulthood. To keep your child’s smile healthy, see us every six months or as directed, and instill good dental habits in your child. Children this age usually may start using fluoride toothpaste (under a parent’s supervision) and should begin flossing.

Around the age of 12, your child will have his or her full adult smile (aside from wisdom teeth, which come in later). Encourage healthy eating and regular brushing, and see us regularly, so that we—and your child—can keep those teeth pearly white for years to come.

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Get Your Child Flossing Every Day

Flossing removes plaque between the teeth where a toothbrush can’t reach and should begin when any two teeth touch. Flossing is just as important as brushing, but it is often more difficult, less comfortable to teach. Fortunately, there are a few fun and effective ways to help get your children flossing every day.

  • Do it for them: This is especially important for younger children. According to the American Dental Association, you should first help them learn how to floss by doing it for them. Take an 18-inch string of floss, wrap it tightly around one finger on each hand and leave about an inch or two of spare floss pulled taut. Now gently slide it between your child’s teeth and move it toward the gum line. Gently slide it back and forth against the edges of the teeth. At first, children often don’t like the sensation of flossing, but they need to learn to accept it. Odds are, you will be gentler than they will.
  • Give them a floss holder: While they’re a touch more expensive than continuous-thread floss, floss holders are much easier to use—and children are less likely to unspool an entire floss holder for fun.
  • Floss with them: Children learn by imitation. They need to floss every day— and so do you. When you floss with your children, not only do you help them pick up a good habit but you reinforce your own.
  • Use a progress chart: Children like to feel a sense of growth and reward. One way to reward them for flossing is to put a weekly flossing and brushing chart on the bathroom wall. When they floss a predetermined appropriate number of times, give them a small reward.
  • Use music: Children (and adults) enjoy doing things to a beat. Find a piece of music they enjoy and make it their “flossing song.” Teach them to floss to the beat, and turn off the music when they finish. (Just make sure the beat is not too fast.) This can help turn flossing from a chore into a fun way to develop a healthy habit.

When you visit us, be sure to mention how much better your child has gotten at flossing. A little praise from the tooth expert can go a long way.

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Children’s Mouth Rinses—Are They Safe?

From breath freshening to cavity prevention, mouth rinses and mouthwashes claim to improve your child’s oral hygiene. But are these products really a good choice for your family?

For children under the age of 6, the answer is usually no. Youngsters can’t really handle the responsibility of properly swishing and spitting, and may end up swallowing more of the mouth rinse than is safe. Considering the fact that many mouthwashes contain fluoride, alcohol or other substances that can be harmful if swallowed, the risks outweigh the benefits.

For older children, however, mouth rinses and mouthwashes specifically for children are a great option. These typically do not contain alcohol. There are even products made from naturally derived ingredients for those who are trying to avoid chemicals. Children’s products also come in child-friendly flavors, making the mouth rinse and mouthwash portion of your child’s dental routine a treat.

These children’s products usually fall into one of three categories: fluoride/anticavity mouthwashes, breath-freshening mouthwashes, and mouth rinses that color the teeth to make brushing more fun and effective. The latter type is usually used before your child brushes, turning the teeth a colored hue so your child can see where he or she needs to brush.

Mouthwashes are made to act as a final, thorough step in the dental routine, rinsing away any leftover debris or bacteria. They also may contain fluoride and other anticavity, antibacterial ingredients that help prevent decay. Children undergoing orthodontic treatment may find mouthwashes especially beneficial, because they can reach spots that brushing alone cannot.

To make sure your children are using mouth rinse and mouthwash safely, stick to products designed for their age group. Show your children how to use mouthwash by demonstrating how to swish and spit, rather than swallow, and let them know why it’s unsafe to ingest the rinse. The major risk of using these rinses is fluoride overdose, which can result in white stains forming on the teeth, or in the worst case, severe illness. By monitoring your children’s mouth rinse and mouthwash use, you can avoid accidental ingestion and make them a positive addition to your children’s oral health routine.

Using mouth rinse and mouthwash is an easy way for your children to achieve and maintain good oral health. Just be sure to choose the right ones. We can help you show your children how to use them and avoid risk.

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Keep Those Baby Teeth Healthy

As adults, we understand and accept that good oral hygiene is necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Poor oral hygiene in adults often leads to drastic complications over the long run. Why, then, would you not want to consider the health of your child’s teeth from their very first appearance? Even though these “baby teeth” will one day be replaced with a second set, there is no need to risk the quality of your child’s life because of poor oral hygiene.

It is easy to be a little lazy as a parent and allow your child to use a bottle or sippy cup as a secondary pacifier. You may not realize that those drinks you put in the bottle or cup are extremely high in sugar. Believe it or not, those drinks we think are the healthiest—fruit juices, sugar water, honey, even formula and milk—can coat your child’s newly growing teeth with sugar.

Sugar breeds bacteria, which in turn breed acid. Acid is the ultimate villain here; it erodes the outer layers of the teeth, weakening them and leading to the dreaded cavity. Cavities can cause severe pain while eating and talking and, in severe circumstances, require the teeth to be removed. This process alone has its own set of possible repercussions: infection, gum disease and misalignment of the adult teeth when they begin to grow in.

Your child’s baby teeth sometimes need to last him or her into early adolescence. For this reason, avoid contributing to the decay from the teeth’s very first appearance. Even at a very young age, it is important that you rub the gums and teeth with a damp gauze pad or washcloth. Once the teeth appear, start teaching and reinforcing the need to brush them. Most importantly, start bringing your child to us when his or her first tooth appears; once all the teeth are in place or by age 2 or 3, start scheduling regular visits with us.

Being a parent isn’t easy. Maintaining your child’s oral health is simply another added responsibility. But good oral health helps ensure that he or she grows up happy, healthy and strong!

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When Your Children Grind Their Teeth

If you have ever looked in on your sleeping child, expecting the sounds of easy breathing and an occasional sigh that accompany sweet dreams but hear grinding and gnashing sounds, your child may be exhibiting bruxism, the scientific term for what dentists call teeth grinding. Teeth grinding is a very common occurrence. About 30% of babies and children do it in their sleep. But why? There is more than one answer to that question. Known causes of teeth grinding include

  • feelings of tension or anxiety
  • pain—frequently from earaches or teething, but also potentially from other causes
  • malocclusion—dental talk for teeth that aren’t properly aligned
  • breathing problems—stuffed noses and allergies are the primary culprits here
  • inheritance—if you were a grinder, chances are your kids will be too
  • night talking—children who talk in their sleep are more likely to grind their teeth

Some of these causes are preventable or treatable. Some of them are not. Most children will outgrow this habit by the time they reach their sixth birthday.

Now for the inevitable follow-up question: Is teeth grinding harmful for children? It can be, but the effects are usually minor and treatable. Among the possible side effects of teeth grinding are

  • Chipped and flattened teeth: If your child outgrows teeth grinding before his or her adult teeth grow in, this isn’t a big deal. But if it happens later, teeth grinding can lead to more severe consequences, including teeth flattening, chipping and breaking.
  • Facial and jaw pain: If teeth grinding persists long enough, children can develop temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disease.
  • Poor sleep: Grinding can make it much harder for children to get enough restful sleep.

Just because your child will probably outgrow it doesn’t mean that you should treat teeth grinding as anything less than an important issue. If your child grinds chronically, make sure you tell us the next time you visit our office. We will check for tooth damage, determine a course of treatment and prescribe a mouth guard, if necessary, to prevent the more damaging side effects.

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