Guard Your Child’s Mouth During Sports

Does your child participate in a contact sport such as football, boxing, hockey, lacrosse or rugby? If so, you can greatly reduce the risk of traumatic injury to your child’s mouth by having him or her wear a mouthguard while playing and practicing. In fact, experts recommend mouthguards for youth involved in noncontact sports, such as gymnastics or recreational activities, that might pose a risk of injury to the mouth.

Also known as a gum shield, a mouthguard helps cushion any impact to the mouth, reducing the chances of trauma to the teeth, gums and lips. A participant who does not wear a mouthguard during a contact sport is 60 times more likely to sustain an injury to the teeth than someone who wears one. A coach could—and should—keep your child from playing or practicing without a mouthguard.

Mouthguards come in three varieties:

  • ready-made mouthguards purchased at a drugstore or athletic equipment store
  • boil-and-bite mouthguards that, when softened after heating, conform to the shape of your child’s mouth
  • custom-made mouthguards from impressions we take in the office

Custom-made mouthguards are generally considered the safest, most comfortable option. For some families, however, the cost may be a factor in their choice. If you decide to purchase a mouthguard elsewhere, we will still be happy to talk to you about the other available options. You need to select a mouthguard that is not only resilient and protective but that fits properly so your child is comfortable when wearing it. 

To get the most out of your investment, have your child rinse the mouthguard before and after each use. Caution your child to avoid chewing or biting on it, and don’t let him or her share it with others. Keep the mouthguard out of hot water and direct sunlight, which can distort its shape. Finally, be sure your child wears it every time he or she plays a sport, including during practices.

If your child is involved in a recreational activity or contact sport that involves risk of injury to the mouth, be sure to discuss appropriate safety measures with us at your next appointment. We can review options with you and help you select the best one. Whatever option you choose, be sure to bring your child’s mouthguard to his or her next appointment so we can evaluate its fit and effectiveness.

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TMJ Disorders: Nothing to Yawn At

Though it is more common among adults, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders can and do occur in children. The most-used joint in the body, the TMJ is located where the jaw meets the base of the skull. You can feel the joint when you place your fingers in front of your ears, and open and close your mouth. The muscles and ligaments around the joint facilitate its movement and enable chewing and talking. Whether caused by an injury to the chin, clenching or grinding the teeth, or a misaligned bite, TMJ disorders need to be treated by your child’s pediatric dentist.

Trauma, overextension of the joint and other factors, including stress and anxiety, can lead to TMJ disorders in adults and children. Symptoms of TMJ disorders include

  • difficulty opening or closing the mouth
  • pain while talking, chewing or yawning
  • a popping or clicking sound when opening and closing the mouth
  • earache or headache
  • pain or swelling around the joint

In some cases, TMJ disorders can be a sign that your child needs orthodontic treatment. Usually, however, there are several things you and your child can do to alleviate TMJ pain and prevent it from worsening:

  • Rest the jaw when it becomes tender.
  • Apply moist heat to relax the muscles surrounding the joint.
  • Have your child perform jaw exercises.
  • Protect your child’s jaw with a mouthguard or splint to stabilize the joint and reduce any clenching and grinding at night.
  • Avoid hard and chewy foods that can strain muscles.
  • Monitor your child’s stress and anxiety levels.

If your child or teenager complains of any symptoms of TMJ, let us know and make an appointment at your earliest convenience. We can evaluate your child’s symptoms and propose a course of treatment that will ease the pain and ensure a healthy future for his or her mouth.

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Make Toothbrushing Fun for Your Child

Getting your children to brush their teeth can be a lot like, well, pulling teeth, and it is a challenge many parents list among their greatest difficulties. But getting children to brush—and do it correctly—may require a change of perspective. Dentists have spent decades helping children view taking care of their teeth not as a chore to be dreaded but as a game to be enjoyed. Here are a few of their techniques you might want to try with your children.

Musical molars: Brushing the teeth requires a certain amount of time. Most electronic toothbrushes have built-in timers to make sure that at least two minutes are spent brushing teeth. But what if, instead of counting up to two minutes, you used music to pass the time? Pick a favorite children’s song at least two minutes long. Challenge your child to thoroughly brush each tooth before the song ends. If he or she manages to brush every tooth with time left, challenge the child to brush each tooth twice! Remember to monitor the toothbrushing. They cannot win the game if they don’t brush each tooth thoroughly or if they neglect their gum lines!

Harry Potter and the Plaque of Peril: Why not take advantage of your child’s love of make-believe? Turn toothbrushing time into a story featuring their favorite characters. Perhaps you could say that Lord Voldemort (of Harry Potter fame) put plaque on the teeth to help the Death Eaters control your child’s mind and that he or she must brush that plaque away before it becomes dangerous. For children who are easily scared, use a less-threatening villain.

ChoreMonster: An app for iOS, Android and Windows smartphones and tablets called “ChoreMonster” creates a reward structure for children who complete their chores. You set a schedule for how often a task needs to be completed, and assign from 5 to 5,000 points for completing it. When a certain point level is reached, the child can choose an appropriate reward that you have created. Many parents find that using the app helps motivate their offspring to become more disciplined about their personal responsibilities. Why not add toothbrushing to the to-do list?

Seasoned parents know that the best way to turn a child off from toothbrushing is to make it a struggle. We have many other easy tips and tricks to get children to brush their teeth in our oral care toolbox. Let us know if you need additional suggestions at your child’s next visit.

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Watching Those Baby Teeth Disappear

Losing a primary (or baby) tooth is a significant milestone in your child’s development. Typically, at around age 5 or 6—for some children as early as 4—your child will probably notice a loose tooth. Generally, the younger the child was when the teeth erupted, the earlier the teeth will fall out. While some children are excited to lose their first tooth and look forward to a visit from the tooth fairy, others (and their parents) may be nervous about whether it will hurt.

Fortunately, losing baby teeth shouldn’t hurt at all. Baby teeth are usually pushed out by incoming permanent teeth, which cause the roots of the baby teeth to disintegrate. Typically, the two bottom front teeth (central incisors) are the first teeth to go, followed by the two top front teeth. Any pain your 5- or 6-year-old complains about in the back of the mouth is probably caused by the 6-year molars coming in; there are no baby teeth there to fall out. A child-appropriate dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen (but not both) can ease the pain.

If your child has a loose tooth, encourage him or her to wiggle it around with the tongue to gently loosen it bit by bit. Depending on how loose it is, the tooth may even turn around. When a tooth is ready to come out, encourage your child to give it a gentle twist—with clean hands, of course. Avoid doing this yourself—your child has a better sense of how loose the tooth is and whether or not it hurts. If the loose tooth does not come out easily or the child feels pain, don’t force the issue. If necessary, bring your child to our office. On very rare occasions, we may need to extract the tooth.

When a tooth falls out naturally, there is rarely much bleeding. A quick rinse with water usually takes care of the issue. But if the tooth was knocked or wiggled out, it may bleed more. When this happens, have your child bite down on a clean towel or gauze pad to apply some pressure. That should be enough to stop any bleeding.

Although we encourage good dental hygiene even before the eruption of the first baby teeth, brushing and flossing as the permanent teeth erupt become more important than ever. Make sure that your child brushes twice a day and flosses at least once a day. You might even help your child with brushing and flossing to ensure that he or she is doing it correctly. If the habit of brushing and flossing has not been instilled by now, this is the time to do it.

If you have any questions about the process of losing baby teeth, make an appointment with our office. We can assess your child’s oral health and answer any questions you or your child may have about losing primary teeth.

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The Calming Truth About Sedation

For some, the idea is frightening: You are going to sedate my child? While this inherent fear comes from deep parental instincts, it often results from miscommunication, misunderstanding and confusion. We employ a variety of techniques to make your child’s dental care less painful. The decision about which technique to use should take into account the type of procedure being performed and what works best for your child.

Whenever possible, we opt for a nonpharmacological approach, choosing noninvasive techniques rooted in psychology. One method is “Tell, Show, Do.” Simply put, it is a step-by-step explanation of the procedure and instruments used so that the child understands what is going on and does not fearfully anticipate the unknown.

If that approach will not succeed in your child’s particular situation, we may employ a conscious sedation method, such as nitrous oxide—more commonly known as laughing gas. Administered through a flavored nosepiece, nitrous oxide allows the child to remain conscious and responsive throughout the procedure while all but eliminating the nervousness and pain associated with dental procedures. Nitrous oxide use is considered safe by dental and medical professionals alike. We may also employ a relaxant, administered through a pill, injection or intravenously. Regardless of the type of sedation, we will remain vigilant throughout the procedure to ensure that no ill effects occur.

Occasionally, we may recommend general anesthesia. In this instance, an anesthesiologist administers a sedating drug, rendering the child totally unconscious. This method is often used in cases where an extended procedure is to be performed, the child is simply incapable of relaxing or the procedure is one the child would not be able to tolerate otherwise. This method does come with the possibility of certain risks and associated side effects. General anesthesia can, in some cases, cause vomiting, confusion or memory loss, as well as more serious complications such as difficulty breathing.

Ultimately, we use sedation for your child’s benefit. Our goal is to make sure that the work necessary to maintain your child’s dental health is completed correctly and safely. Current sedation methods are meant to calm your child, and lessen or eliminate pain. Don’t hesitate to ask us questions about sedation or any other health concerns. If you understand the process, you can keep calm—that may be the best way to help calm your child’s nerves, too.

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Know When to Take Away the Bottle and Sippy Cup

To a parent, the bottle and spillproof training cup (often called a sippy cup) are two essential tools that ensure your child is happy and content. We see these two innocuous objects, when used incorrectly, as the root cause of early-onset tooth decay in infants and toddlers.

So what is the problem with bottles and sippy cups? Both require a sucking motion, resulting in the liquid coating the six upper front teeth. That prevents the normal cleaning effects of saliva and promotes tooth decay. Because “baby teeth” hold the place for permanent teeth to grow in, this early childhood tooth decay can be highly detrimental. Movement or loss of the baby teeth from decay affects the way the permanent teeth grow into the gum.

The worst damage can come from the choice of liquid in the bottle or cup. Fruit juices or formula filled with sugar increase the amount of bacteria and acid generated around the teeth. In addition, these drinking aids do not develop any special oral motor skills and actually support the suckling habit detrimental to proper tooth development.

As children learn to walk, they often carry a bottle or sippy cup in their mouths. When they fall, the bottle or cup can be jammed into the mouth where it hits the teeth and gums, causing oral trauma. Think it can’t happen to your toddler? A 2012 study by Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, reported that every four hours another child ends up in the emergency room due to an injury from a sippy cup, bottle or pacifier.

The following are some simple measures you can take to limit the detrimental effects of the bottle and sippy cup:

  • Wean your child off the bottle by the age of 1 year.
  • Use a sippy cup as a transitional, not permanent, solution.
  • Fill the sippy cup with only water unless it’s being used at mealtime.
  • Have your toddler use a straw and an open cup when drinking fruit juice or sugary drinks.
  • Begin a regular oral hygiene routine at a very early age.

Bottles and sippy cups may be a simple and easy way for a toddler to experience a small degree of independence, but easy and convenient do not always equal healthiest. If you are concerned about the effect on your child’s teeth from using a bottle or sippy cup, bring your toddler to our office for a checkup and advice about how to keep those baby teeth healthy.

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