Your Child and Tobacco Use: Something to Chew On
If your child is just entering elementary school, you probably haven’t yet thought of our role—or even yours—in making sure he or she never touches a tobacco product. But if your child is approaching middle school or beyond, discussions about the dangers of tobacco use could mean the difference between life and death.
According to a 2013 study, a majority of American parents agree that dental professionals should speak to teens and preteens about the dangers of cigarettes, cigars and smokeless tobacco products. While we know that our influence with your children will likely never match yours, we believe it is our responsibility to present young adults with the facts.
We may tell them, for instance, that smokeless chewing tobacco is just as addictive as cigarettes, because the chemical stimulant nicotine is present in any tobacco product. What’s more, there are more than 30 known carcinogens in chewing tobacco that can cause oral and other cancers. And oral cancer is so lethal that half of those with it die within five years of diagnosis.
Because death from cancer can seem remote to young people, we inform teens about the other effects of oral cancer—losing parts of their face, tongue and jaw. We also tell them, if by some chance they escape cancer (temporarily or permanently), smoking or the use of chewing tobacco leads to stained teeth, chronic bad breath and increased rates of tooth decay and gum disease.
Unfortunately, many children and adolescents continue to believe that tobacco is “cool.” Nationally, more than 14% of high school boys chew tobacco―a behavior reinforced by images of professional sports figures (particularly baseball players) who do so. In 16 states, that rate rises to more than 20%. The result: About half of those teen boys develop precancerous white patches in their mouths.
If we haven’t done so already, ask us to speak to your child about the dangers of tobacco at his or her next visit. It’s a conversation that needs to take place.
Toothbrushing? There’s an App for That
Nagging your children to brush their teeth can get tiresome for both you and your children. Wouldn’t it be nice to have something that made them look forward to toothbrushing—something that could get them excited about the two minutes they need to spend on their oral health?
We live in an age of smartphones and tablets, when “there’s an app for that” is a fact of life. These days, there are several apps available (most of them free) that turn brushing into a game, a rock concert or an opportunity for a reward.
One of these apps, the award-winning Brush DJ, was developed by a British dentist. It works as a “toothbrush timer,” using two minutes of the user’s favorite music to measure the length of an effective brushing session. In addition, parents can set reminders for brushing and flossing, as well as when to make an appointment to see us.
Another app uses music and animation to entertain children for the two minutes they spend brushing. Each brushing session earns the user a “sticker” that can be used to unlock albums featuring their favorite Disney and Marvel characters as rewards for brushing. And Toothsavers, a gaming app from the Partnership for Healthy Mouths, Healthy Lives, employs funny characters and interactive play to encourage children to brush.
Considering that most of us (adults included) don’t brush for the recommended two-minute period, these apps can be extremely helpful. One caveat, however: Children may become too distracted by the app to focus on their teeth. And while they may be brushing for long enough, they may not be brushing well.
Adult supervision is recommended to ensure that your children are using good technique and actually brushing, rather than just holding the brush in their mouths while they watch the game or listen to the music. As long as you keep an eye on them as they keep an eye on the app, though, it’s a definite win–win situation for everyone.
Orofacial Crohn Disease in Children
Say Crohn disease and most people think of gastrointestinal issues, not oral problems. But orofacial Crohn disease is a specific disorder, associated with Crohn disease of the bowel, frequently found in children. It may occur simultaneously with bowel symptoms, or it may precede them, usually by a few months.
The connection between the two is unclear. Experts think the inflammation from “traditional” Crohn disease may be a possible factor. Other possible causes include immunity problems, infections and nutritional deficiencies.
Signs of orofacial Crohn disease include swollen or bleeding gums, mouth sores, lip swelling, and ulcers in the fold between the cheek and gum. Facial skin may be affected by ulcers, nodules or persistent swelling. Topical anti-inflammatory agents and an antibacterial mouth rinse can often ease the discomfort of mouth and gum soreness.
Sometimes the signs of orofacial Crohn disease are not troublesome, so children and parents may be unaware of them. However, in many cases, symptoms can cause pain when affected areas are touched, discomfort when eating spicy or acidic food, and difficulty eating, speaking or swallowing. Children may also become self-conscious if their facial appearance has been affected.
If your child exhibits any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with us for an evaluation. Ultimately, we may take a biopsy to determine whether bowel disease is present, and we may prescribe steroids for the inflammation. Fortunately, the symptoms of orofacial Crohn disease generally resolve once the bowel disease has been treated.
Always make sure your child’s diet is rich in nutrients. Crohn disease can prevent the digestive tract from absorbing enough vitamins from food to maintain nutritional balance. We may suggest consulting a dietician to help plan your child’s meals for maximum nutrition. Limit greasy or fried foods, and be sure your child drinks enough water to stay hydrated.
If your child complains of soreness in the mouth, bring him or her in to see us. We can discuss options to relieve your child’s symptoms and minimize flare-ups of orofacial Crohn disease.
Keep Your Child’s Smile Beaming
As adults, we know that few things in this world are as beautiful as a child’s smile. But if those pearly whites are not well taken care of, tooth decay and misaligned teeth can take their toll. By the time your child reaches adolescence, he or she may avoid smiling or laughing because of unsightly or misaligned teeth.
A smile communicates positive qualities. People who smile are perceived as more sociable, trustworthy and intelligent, not only in social situations but in job interviews as well. The good news is that most dental health problems are fully preventable with good oral hygiene. But it is important to start at an early age.
The following tips can help your child develop a long-lasting, healthy smile:
- Do not share eating utensils with your baby, and never let others put your baby’s pacifier in their own mouth. These practices can spread bacteria and lead to tooth decay.
- Do not feed juice or soda to your baby, and do not let your baby go to sleep with a bottle. This, too, increases bacteria in the mouth and can lead to tooth decay.
- Bring your child in for a dental visit before his or her first birthday. We can help you establish good oral health habits from an early age, such as brushing your child’s baby teeth.
- As your child grows up, we may find that his or her teeth are not properly aligned. We will refer you to an orthodontist, who can more fully assess your child’s teeth and determine whether orthodontic treatment is needed. Although the prospect of braces is rarely welcome, orthodontic care has come a long way over the past generation in terms of esthetics. More importantly, it is a short-term investment with lifelong benefits.
Remember: An attractive smile contributes to a person’s self-esteem and self-confidence. If your child is embarrassed or ashamed of his or her teeth, let us know at his or her next appointment. We can assess your child’s oral health and recommend treatment that will have your child smiling proudly.
The Asthma–Tooth Decay Connection
The dental health of a child with asthma who is taking anti-asthmatic medication needs careful attention. According to a recent study, asthma and tooth decay are the two major reasons children and adolescents are absent from school. What’s more, there may be a connection between the two.
Experts say that children who use anti-asthmatic medications may have a higher rate of cavities in both primary and permanent teeth, as well as more severe decay. A 2007 study compared the dental condition of a group of children aged 6 to 14 years taking anti-asthmatic medication with that of a similar group of children without asthma. The results showed that children taking these medications, whether in inhaler or tablet form, had more cavities in their primary teeth and increased periodontal disease.
In addition, children with asthma tend to breathe through the mouth―that reduces saliva flow, causing dry mouth. Anti-asthmatic medications, such as corticosteroids, also affect the level of saliva. Because saliva has a cleansing effect, a reduction in saliva flow can lead to bad breath and increase the risk for cavities.
Be vigilant regarding your child’s oral health by adopting precautionary hygiene practices. Be sure your child brushes and flosses, ideally after every meal. Regular use of a suitable mouth rinse can also help prevent decay. Both the rinse and toothpaste should contain fluoride for added protection. And encourage your child to rinse his or her mouth with either water or an oral rinse after every inhaler use.
Relaxation techniques, such as focused breathing, can keep your child calm and anxiety-free, possibly preventing an asthma attack that might require medication. A balanced diet with plenty of protein can also have a calming effect. Limit the amount of sugary or sticky foods your child eats. Sweets can lead to cavities and leave him or her feeling overstimulated. A relaxed and well-nourished child is less likely to experience the anxiety that can trigger an asthma attack.
Finally, be sure to bring your child to us for regular dental checkups, so any signs of decay can be treated before serious damage occurs. Everyone will breathe easier.
Childhood Oral Health Brings Lifetime Benefits
Want to give your children a great advantage in life? Then be sure they receive regular dental care and develop good oral habits from a young age. Dental problems in early childhood can negatively affect oral and general health in later years, as well as the quality of life of the children and family. Oral health is a major factor in overall health and well-being.
Experts say that children with early dental decay are at greater risk for cavities, gum disease, malocclusion and even general health problems. Poor oral health can have an impact on a child’s ability to chew properly, resulting in limited food choices and affecting his or her nutritional level. And limited food choices can contribute to excess weight and obesity.
Furthermore, children whose teeth affect their appearance or speech may feel embarrassed and avoid social interactions or classroom participation, establishing a negative pattern that could continue into the future. Studies show that children and adolescents who suffer from dental pain often perform poorly in school. They are absent more frequently and have difficulty concentrating when they are in the classroom, seriously affecting their grades and influencing future opportunities for college and career.
Starting your child early on the road to good oral health can lead to a happier, healthier individual, saving the family the stress and cost of extensive treatment later. Here are some things you can do:
- Establish a relationship with us by the time your child’s first tooth erupts. Then bring your child in for checkups twice a year.
- Encourage good oral hygiene. Teach your child effective brushing techniques and have him or her brush at least twice a day. Using toothpaste that contains fluoride can also help reduce decay.
- Watch your child’s diet. Sugary drinks and other sweets that children enjoy encourage decay. So can frequent snacking, which causes sugars to remain on the teeth and cause damage. Be sure your child eats a healthy, balanced diet.
The payoff for such dental diligence on the part of you and your child? A healthy mouth that can lead to a lifetime of feeling and performing better—academically, socially and professionally.