Mouthguard Cleaning 101: Know the Score

The thought of your child using someone else’s mouthguard is pretty disgusting, right? But remember that the bacteria, yeast, fungi and other undesirable particles on your child’s own mouthguard need to be cleaned away—properly—before every use. And whether the guard is used for sports or to prevent teeth-grinding, whether it is custom-made or off-the-shelf, it needs to be sanitized regularly, no matter how clean it may look.

Rinsing with cold water before and after each use is only the first step in basic mouthguard care. For the best protection, follow these guidelines:

  • Have your children brush their teeth before each time they wear their mouthguards. 
  • Caution your children against sharing their mouthguards with teammates.
  • If the mouthguard is ready-made, wash it thoroughly after each use with warm (not hot) water and mild soap, and then rinse and dry with a soft, clean cloth.
  • If the mouthguard is customized (boil-and-bite or fabricated by us especially for your child), brush all its surfaces, especially crevices, with a toothbrush and toothpaste after each use. Rinse with cool water, and dry with a soft, clean cloth.
  • Always store the mouthguard in a hard-sided container with ventilation holes. This box, too, should be cleaned often with soap and warm water.
  • As an additional precaution, rinse the mouthguard in antibacterial mouthwash.
  • Don’t ever leave the mouthguard in the sun or use hot water to clean it. High temperatures can distort its shape.

Mouthguards also need to be checked regularly for signs of wear and damage that may not be readily apparent to you. Bring them with you every time your children visit our office, so we can inspect them.

If a mouthguard develops any pits or cracks, or if your child says it feels uncomfortable or “loose,” it probably needs to be replaced. Check for areas that feel rough. When such an area grazes your child’s gums, it can cause tiny cuts through which bacteria can enter.

Don’t know if your child would benefit from a mouthguard? If he or she participates in a contact sport, the answer is almost certainly “yes.” We’ll be happy to discuss options with you at your child’s next appointment. And if your child already has a mouthguard, stay vigilant in keeping them clean and smooth. That can go a long way to maintaining not only your child’s oral health but his or her general health as well.

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Oral Clues to Eating Disorders

Of the more than 10 million Americans currently affected by serious eating disorders, most are teenagers and young adult women. In addition to having a negative effect on self-image, relationships with family and friends, and performance in school or at work, eating disorders also affect a person’s oral health. In fact, oral clues—among them, thinner teeth, enlarged salivary glands and soft tissue ulcerations—are signs familiar to a dental professional of an eating problem such as bulimia or anorexia.

The nutritional deficiencies that accompany eating disorders can raise certain red flags. Two, for instance, are chronically irritated and sore corners of the mouth (angular cheilitis) and a swollen, painful tongue (glossitis).

Anorexia, bulimia and compulsive overeating are among the most serious eating disorders. A person with anorexia sees himself or herself as fat no matter how thin the body in the mirror appears. In bulimia, the patient fears becoming overweight, yet eats large amounts of food and gets rid of it immediately by vomiting or using laxatives. Compulsive overeaters “binge” on food but don’t necessarily “purge” the way bulimics do.

If you suspect your child has an eating disorder, do not ignore it. Engage in nonjudgmental discussions with your child about the behavior. Consult his or her pediatrician and, most likely, a mental health specialist.

While you seek help for the problem, we can suggest strategies to help prevent oral health complications. One of the most important is also counterintuitive. Although someone who has just vomited may want to brush his or her teeth immediately, the acid on the teeth makes them vulnerable to enamel loss. A rinse of either plain water or a solution of water and baking soda will help neutralize the harmful effects of stomach acids on the teeth. Brushing can come an hour later and should be done with a fluoride toothpaste. In fact, additional fluoride treatments, at home or in our office, may be recommended to help preserve tooth enamel.

Malnutrition from anorexia will often leave salivary glands swollen and less productive, leading to a tendency toward dry mouth, which in turn hastens tooth decay. In addition to fastidious dental hygiene, chewing sugarless gum with xylitol can help maintain oral moistness and preserve mouth health.

If you think your child might have an eating disorder, we can discuss the matter with you in more detail and refer you to other helpful community resources.

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Putting Your Child’s Tongue Back Where It Belongs

Does your child always have his or her mouth slightly open? Are your child’s lips dry or cracked from excessive licking? These are signs of tongue thrust, a common childhood condition that involves inappropriate placement of the tongue when swallowing or at rest. Tongue thrust can cause speech issues as well as dental problems.

Children with this condition tend to thrust their tongues forward against the lips when swallowing. This motion puts pressure on the front teeth—around four pounds with each swallow—which can eventually cause an overbite, or protruding or misaligned teeth.

Experts believe that between 67% and 95% of children ages 5 through 8 years have tongue thrust, yet the condition usually goes unnoticed until a dental or speech problem arises. While some blame heredity, a larger-than-average tongue or such habits as thumb-sucking might contribute to tongue thrusting, no one knows what causes tongue thrust. We may notice signs of the condition and bring it to your attention, but you can also ask us to check for tongue thrust if you suspect it may be present in your child.

Depending on your child’s age and whether other structural issues are at play, treatment for tongue thrust typically involves oral habit training. A speech therapist works with your child to correct the swallowing pattern and retrain the muscles in the jaw and mouth to work properly. We may also recommend that a special appliance be put in your child’s mouth to help correct the tongue’s position.

While it isn’t a serious health problem, tongue thrust can wreak havoc on your child’s bite and jaw alignment. Unfortunately, the most difficult problem is the diagnosis; usually, your child’s pediatric dentist or pediatrician can detect the problem. Tongue thrust is a major contributor to the need for further dental work. If left untreated, tongue thrusters can essentially “undo” the process of wearing braces by pushing newly straightened teeth out of alignment.

The sooner tongue thrust is diagnosed, the easier it will be to fix, avoiding future dental problems. If you suspect your child might have tongue thrust, bring it up at his or her next dental checkup along with any questions you might have.

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Keep Those Primary Teeth Intact

Children often seem to have an innate ability to find trouble in the strangest places. As a parent, you worry about scrapes, cuts and other assorted boo-boos. But too often, you don’t think of tooth injuries. Simply put, tooth injuries involve any loss, chipping or cracking of a primary (baby) tooth.

The best starting point for you as a parent is to instill a consistent daily dental regimen. Insist on having your child brush his or her teeth both in the morning and before going to bed at night. This will help prevent general decay, which has the potential for weakening enamel and causing teeth to crack.

Using a fluoride toothpaste means that your child will receive a regular infusion of fluoride that naturally strengthens tooth enamel—simply by brushing his or her teeth. Not allowing your child to chew on hard objects, such as ice or pencils, will help prevent chipped or cracked teeth.

Because trauma is generally the result of some sort of impact, it is important that a parent reduce the potential for these types of injuries. When driving, be sure that your child sits safely in an appropriate car seat and that seatbelts are used correctly. If your child is learning to walk, restrict access to staircases and make sure all hard edges are babyproofed in case of falls. Belt your child into his or her stroller or high chair, and use an abundance of caution when your child rides in a shopping cart or a wagon.

If your child participates in sports, make sure that he or she wears a mouthguard. Constructed of hard rubber and composite plastics, this simple piece of equipment will help prevent trauma to the teeth and gums. It also provides the added benefit of helping to prevent concussions.

Despite your good efforts, chances are your child will do something to surprise you. As a parent, your job is to provide the best protection against your little one’s winding up in our office with a cracked or broken tooth. Take these precautionary measures, and those primary teeth just might make it to the next stage of your child’s development.

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How Cough Syrup Can Cause Cavities

As parents, there are few things that cause us more worry than when our children are ill. We want to treat them in the most effective way possible. But while illness can be an emergency, you need to remain on guard to protect your children’s teeth. For instance, cough syrup can do a wonderful job of treating a child’s cold. Unfortunately, cough syrups filled with acids and sugars pose as much danger to teeth as any other acidic and sugary substance. By all means, give your children cough syrup to help them feel better. But follow this advice to make sure you don’t cause harm while you’re trying to help.

Because cough syrup is not tooth-friendly, it’s important to know more about our mouth’s best built-in tool for countering its harmful properties: saliva. Saliva protects teeth and gums by washing away harmful chemicals, food debris and germs. Whatever doesn’t go down your child’s throat to help with his or her symptoms will be washed away with saliva eventually once the mouth is properly lubricated. So, how do you ensure that your child’s saliva levels will be sufficient when you give him or her the medicine?

The best method: Give the cough syrup during a meal. People’s mouths naturally fill with saliva when they know a meal is imminent. By having your child take the cough syrup during the meal, you can ensure that its harmful impact is minimized.

What if your child is unable to eat or has just finished a meal? If that’s the case, your best bet is to get your child to brush his or her teeth and rinse his or her mouth immediately after taking the cough syrup.

Finally, if you have the option and your child is able, use a pill form of the cough medicine instead of the syrup version. If your child has problems swallowing pills or you have other concerns about how caring for an illness can interfere with dental care, don’t hesitate to ask us during your next visit. We can give you some tips that will help your child shake the illness without damaging his or her growing teeth.

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A “Crowning” Achievement in Pediatric Dentistry

Crowns? On a baby tooth? Crowns are for adults—right? Actually, crowns, sometimes called caps, are used by people of all ages to prevent further decay or protect an already damaged tooth. These appliances can be instrumental in getting your child’s dental health back on track if he or she experiences premature tooth decay or an unforeseen dental injury.

In children, crowns are used to protect the primary teeth. Primary teeth—also known as baby teeth—are immensely important to a child’s oral development. Besides their obvious use for chewing, these teeth assist in developing normal speech patterns, maintaining space for the permanent teeth and acting as a “guide” for the time when permanent teeth grow in. Because the primary teeth are inherently smaller than the future permanent teeth, any evidence of decay or damage means considering the use of a crown; otherwise the tooth may become brittle and crack. This is especially important if a great deal of tooth structure has been destroyed or the enamel around the decayed area has been weakened.

To act as a barrier, a prefabricated covering—a crown—is placed over the tooth. The most common type of crown used on primary teeth is a stainless steel shell that comes in various sizes and can be fitted to any tooth. The simple procedure used to install a crown should not worry you as a parent. After applying a local topical anesthetic to the gum and cheek, we will remove any decay on the tooth as well as diminish its surface area so that the crown can fit snugly over it. Once we contour the crown to fit, we apply cement and push the crown onto the tooth. As a final step, we polish the crown. All this usually can be done in one office visit.

Once the crown is in place, there will be no restrictions on your child’s daily activities. Encourage your child to keep his or her mouth clean by brushing so that the area will heal more quickly. And avoid hard and sticky foods—they can cause the crown to fracture or come off.

With a crown, your child has a new layer of protection against further decay or breakage. When that primary tooth makes way for its permanent replacement, the crown—still cemented to the tooth—will fall out with it.

The strength, durability and longevity of a crown depend on many factors. By following home care instructions and maintaining regular six-month checkups, you can ensure an attractive restoration that lasts as long as it’s needed.

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