Should You Keep Your Sniffling Child Away from Our Office?

Six months ago, when you scheduled your child’s twice-yearly dental checkup, you had no idea he or she was going to wake up on the designated day with a runny nose and sore throat. You have already rearranged your work schedule to take your child to the appointment and don’t want to put it off, especially because your child has been complaining about some mouth pain. But should you still go if he or she is sick?

The American Dental Association (ADA) recommends keeping the appointment even if your child has a cold. We always take precautions to avoid spreading (and catching) common viruses: We wear a mask, gloves and protective eyewear, and we thoroughly disinfect tools and equipment. A simple cold is usually not a problem, unless your child’s nose is so stuffed up that it’s impossible for him or her to breathe easily during dental work or if sedation is scheduled.

Because the flu can cause severe complications in some people (especially the very young), our illness policies may become more stringent during a particularly bad flu season. After all, your child doesn’t just sit in the dentist’s chair at an appointment. He or she also checks in at the reception desk and hangs out in the waiting room. Many people in our office, including other patients, don’t wear protective goggles and surgical masks, and we have a responsibility to protect them, too. Since it can be unclear whether your child has just a cold or something more serious (like strep throat or the flu), we may decide it’s better to be safe than sorry.

So, if your child wakes up with the sniffles on the day of a dental appointment, give us a call and ask if it would be better to reschedule. We know rescheduling may cause you some inconvenience. But remember that young children—just like all of us—can feel cranky when they are sick. Rescheduling may be in everyone’s best interest―including yours.

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Bonding Over Bonding: Straight Talk About Tooth Bonding for Children

Teeth that come in crooked. Wide gaps between teeth. Teeth that are cracked or chipped during sports or play. Childhood can be rough on those pearly whites. Your child’s imperfect smile is still beautiful, of course, and a bit of an imperfection can certainly add to one’s character. But to improve the look of imperfect teeth, dental bonding is a safe, relatively inexpensive way to fix problems such as gaps or chips. Best of all, bonding can usually be completed in one painless visit.

Dental bonding gets its name because that’s exactly what happens during the process―the material used bonds to the tooth. We use composite resin, a combination of a special type of glass and either plastic or resin, to fill in spaces and cracks. Your child may actually have some composite resin in his or her mouth already because it is often used to fill cavities. As an added benefit, composite resin actually adds strength to a tooth without damaging the structure underneath.

If you and your child decide that dental bonding is a good idea, we will choose a shade of composite resin that closely matches your child’s natural teeth. We prepare the tooth for bonding by applying a liquid that roughens its surface. After the solution is applied, we will clean and dry the tooth, then brush on the bonding liquid. The tooth is now ready for the composite resin, which needs to be applied a little bit at a time. A special light is used to harden the resin between applications.

The final step in dental bonding is to shape, smooth and polish the composite resin to make it look as natural as possible. And here’s the best part: The entire process takes only about an hour.

Your child will need to take care of the bonded teeth, because they can easily stain and chip. Although bonding doesn’t last forever, that’s actually what makes it a good choice for children, whose mouths are constantly changing and growing. Talk to us to see if your child is a good candidate for this process―it might be a great “bonding” experience.

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Thumbs Down on Thumb-sucking

Children often suck their thumbs as a source of comfort when they are bored, tired or anxious. Most experts consider this natural and say that thumb-suckers often stop on their own before their permanent teeth emerge. However, sucking after age 5 can cause problems in the permanent teeth and may affect oral and facial muscles, possibly leading to speech problems, such as lisping. For children who suck their thumbs, we know effective ways to help break the habit and avoid harm to the teeth and mouth.

School-age thumb-suckers are sometimes teased by their classmates. The embarrassment is often enough to make children stop on their own. But if your child needs some help to break the habit, here are a few tips about what to do—and what not to do:

  • Use rewards. Keep a chart and mark each day your child did not thumb suck with a gold star. At the end of each successful week, give a small reward.
  • Avoid criticizing or pulling your child’s finger out of his or her mouth. Instead, try to identify when he or she feels the need for thumb comfort and offer a substitute, such as a soft toy or blanket.

If these methods don’t work, you could try aversion therapy. Dabbing an unpleasant-tasting substance on your child’s thumb may discourage sucking.

For children not even aware they are sucking their thumbs, wearing mittens or a splint on the thumb, especially at bedtime, can serve as a reminder to keep their thumbs out of their mouths.

Some experts oppose these negative methods, believing they are cruel and will cause the child more frustration, but others think they can be effective for a child who wants to break the habit but has not succeeded on his or her own. If your child continues to struggle, we might recommend inserting an oral appliance that will prevent sucking.

With patience and encouragement, your little thumb-sucker can quit the habit and give a thumbs-up to success. Let us know if we can help before it affects your child’s mouth or tooth alignment.

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Keep It Clean: Why Your Child Needs Regular Dental Cleanings

With our expertise and instruments, we can clean your child’s teeth to a degree that simply cannot be achieved at home. From there, your child has a baseline from which to begin the next six months of brushing, flossing and rinsing until we see him or her again. But there are other reasons to ensure that we clean your child’s teeth on a regular schedule:

  • Regular visits ensure that your child is comfortable with us. Then, if a dental emergency arises, he or she will have been to the office fairly recently for a friendly, routine visit. That can reduce the amount of fear in what might otherwise be a scary situation.
  • Checkups and cleanings give us the opportunity to remind your child—and you—of the proper techniques for brushing and flossing. We also give instructions for using disclosing tablets, which give children a visual way to understand plaque’s potential pervasiveness in a way they often find delightfully “gross.”
  • At each visit, we check your child’s mouth for the beginning of potential orthodontic problems and can suggest a consultation with an orthodontist, if necessary.
  • When you come in, we can discuss developmental milestones your child has reached, and we can help you determine where your child is on the path to adult oral health.
  • During cleanings, we often take x-rays that can reveal not-yet-visible cavities, allowing us to fill them before more damage is caused. We can also apply a sealant and possibly recommend a fluoride mouth rinse to promote additional cavity prevention.

Finally, we use cleaning appointments to discuss good nutrition with both parents and children. If you have a really young one, we’ll offer some crucial advice: Switch your toddler from a bottle to a cup as soon as possible after his or her first birthday, and never let your baby fall asleep with a bottle or sippy cup of milk or juice. We look forward to talking about these topics with you and your child soon.

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Sweet Dreams: A Sweetener That Prevents Cavities

Children love sugar. It’s sweet and present in so many foods they like. But it comes with plenty of negative side effects, from tooth decay to weight gain to increased risk of diabetes. But knowing sugar is bad for children and getting them to stop wanting it are two very different things. Fortunately, sugar substitutes are available. One alternative, xylitol, is not only a sweet solution for a sweet tooth but may help prevent tooth decay.

Unlike the sugars found in molasses, honeys and nectars, xylitol is a “sugar alcohol” found in plants, including many fruits and vegetables. It comes in the form of a crystalline powder and can be purchased in bulk or in small packets, similar to sugar and other sugar substitutes. Xylitol is also found in gum, mints and hard candy.

So why is xylitol preferable to other sugar alternatives? Let’s start with calories. Xylitol actually has 40% fewer calories than traditional table sugar. Because it does not raise blood glucose or insulin levels, xylitol can be useful as a sugar substitute for people with diabetes. (However, they should still consult their physicians before use because some xylitol-based products may contain other chemicals not suitable for a diabetic diet.)

But most surprisingly, xylitol is a sweetener that may help prevent tooth decay.

  • Eating xylitol-sweetened foods between meals helps to reduce the number of cavity-causing bacteria in your child’s mouth.
  • Chewing xylitol gum inhibits the growth of plaque on teeth.
  • Xylitol helps stimulate saliva flow, which helps protect and restore tooth enamel.

One important warning about xylitol, however: It is highly toxic to dogs. If your family owns a dog, make sure your children use and dispose of xylitol products responsibly. Store any products containing xylitol in a place where your dog can’t get to it.

If you have questions or concerns about xylitol and your children’s health, be sure to ask us during their next regularly scheduled checkup.

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Keep That Saliva Flowing

Dehydration occurs when your body loses more water than it takes in, making it unable to carry out its normal functions properly. In both children and adults, dehydration can be caused by excessive sweating, vomiting or diarrhea. Symptoms of mild to moderate dehydration can include dry skin, headache, dizziness and dry mouth.

Saliva plays an important role in keeping teeth healthy. It helps wash away bits of food that might otherwise linger on or between teeth. Those food particles provide a breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to tooth decay. Saliva also carries disease-fighting substances that can prevent cavities, while keeping tooth enamel strong by providing calcium, fluoride and phosphate ions to the tooth surface. Dry mouth—a lack of saliva—can have a negative effect on teeth. We often recommend that children increase the flow of saliva by drinking water and chewing sugarless gum.

While scientific studies have identified associations between saliva and dental disease and between saliva and dehydration, the precise nature of the connection between dehydration and dental disease has yet to be firmly established. Nonetheless, it is important that your child stay hydrated, especially if he or she is sick or exercises in the heat.

Your child can avoid dry mouth by drinking plenty of water and eating water-containing foods, such as fruits and vegetables. Thirst is generally a good guide. But if your child is ill, you need to encourage fluid consumption early on, so that he or she does not become dehydrated. Use an oral rehydration solution to replace lost electrolytes, and stay away from sodas, which contain a lot of sugar.

Dry mouth may be caused by dehydration, some medications or a medical condition. If your child complains of dry mouth, call us for an appointment so we can assess his or her oral health. We can narrow down the cause of dry mouth and prescribe treatments that restore salivary function and keep your child’s teeth and gums healthy. 

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