Straight Talk About Crooked Teeth
As your child’s teeth grow in, there’s a good chance they may not all line up neatly. As your child grows older, misaligned teeth, often the result of genetics, can benefit from orthodontic treatment. Not only can treatment boost his or her confidence and self-esteem as your child grows into adulthood but it can save your child from a variety of health problems.
Misaligned teeth can take many forms—an overbite or an underbite, too much or too little space between teeth. All these conditions can be treated with appliances such as braces, space maintainers and retainers that put gentle pressure on the teeth and the jaws to move the teeth into place. Fortunately for your child, these days many orthodontic appliances are less visible than traditional braces are. In some cases, for example, brackets are bonded to the back of the teeth.
Even if your child does need traditional braces, the long-term benefits are significant. In addition to affecting your child psychologically throughout life, crooked teeth and misaligned bites can
- interfere with proper chewing of food
- make it more difficult to brush and floss, thus increasing the risk of tooth decay and gum disease
- strain the teeth, jaws and muscles, increasing the risk of breaking a tooth
- cause abnormal wear on tooth surfaces, difficulty speaking and possibly temporomandibular joint disorders
Your child should be screened for orthodontic treatment when he or she is about 7 years old, when permanent teeth start coming in and bones are still growing. While orthodontic treatment is unlikely to start quite that early, future problems can often be spotted even at that young age. If your child has not been evaluated for misaligned teeth, call us for an appointment. With proper care, your child will grow into adulthood with a healthy, confident smile.
How Your Child’s Mouth Affects Cardiac Health
While we don’t normally think of teeth having much in common with the heart, children with cardiac issues require special dental care. Not only can certain heart medications cause side effects in the mouth but some dental procedures can be dangerous for those with congenital heart defects if proper precautions are not taken. Luckily, we know these risks well and will work with you to make sure both your child’s teeth and heart stay healthy.
Until 2007, people with any type of heart issue were told to take antibiotics one hour before dental procedures. These patients were thought to be at risk for developing infective endocarditis, a serious disease resulting from a bacterial infection in the tissues of the heart and lung, since bacteria can be introduced into the body via the mouth. Because children who contract infective endocarditis typically must be admitted to the hospital and treated with IV medications, taking every precaution to prevent this from happening made sense. However, more recent studies showed that only patients with specific types of heart defects need prophylactic antibiotics, causing the American Heart Association to revise their protocols. Now, prophylactic antibiotics are recommended only if your child has
- a heart valve repaired with prosthetic material
- a history of endocarditis
- a heart transplant with abnormal valve function
- cyanotic congenital heart disease that has not been fully repaired
- a congenital heart defect repaired within the past six months using prosthetic materials or device
- residual effects despite a repaired congenital heart defect
We can discuss the best course of action with your child’s cardiologist. Make sure we know all of the medications your child is taking, and discuss his or her medical history at every appointment.
Because there appears to be a correlation between gum disease and heart disease, healthy teeth and gums are especially important for children with cardiac issues. Regularly scheduled appointments with us, as well as regular brushing and flossing, will help keep your child healthy and smiling.
The 411 on Tooth Emergencies
Blue-chips, good. Chocolate chips, delicious. Chipped teeth, unfortunate … but not uncommon. Preparation is key for dealing with tooth trauma—from a chipped tooth to a tooth that’s been knocked out. If you know what to do in advance, the odds of the best possible outcome get a whole lot better.
The most serious event of this type—a true emergency—is a permanent tooth that’s been completely dislodged. You need to see us or take your child to the emergency room immediately because the best chance of having the tooth reimplanted successfully occurs in a one- to 30-minute window after the incident. Keep our number stored in your cell phone.
If a permanent tooth gets knocked out,
- DON’T hold the tooth by the root—touch only the chewing surface, called the crown.
- DON’T rinse the tooth unless it is dirty; then rinse it for no more than 10 seconds under cold tap water.
- DO try to replace the tooth in its socket while your child bites on a sterile gauze pad to hold it in position. If this doesn’t work, have your child bite on gauze anyway, to control bleeding.
- DO put the tooth in balanced salt solution (available at drugstores), milk or your child’s saliva, or hold it between your cheek and gum.
If, on the other hand, a baby tooth has been knocked out, DON’T try to reposition it in your child’s mouth. Doing so could actually damage the permanent tooth that will replace it. Contact us right away. To prevent it from drying out, bathe the tooth in a balanced salt solution (if available), milk or your child’s saliva, or use the cheek-and-gum method.
Contact us immediately, too, if your child chips a baby or permanent tooth. Have your child rinse gently with water, and place any fragments you can find into milk or your own mouth, as described earlier. We will evaluate the tooth to see whether the root has been damaged and if there’s any risk of infection. If so, we’ll take proactive measures. A small chip, especially in a baby tooth, will likely need just a bit of filing and smoothing, but a larger chip may require bonding or veneer work.
As in any emergency, not showing panic will help your child more than anything else. Keep calm and call our office or head to the emergency room posthaste.
How to Sweeten Your Child’s Bad Breath
An often embarrassing problem, bad breath may be caused by unhealthy teeth. If you believe your child has persistent bad breath, you need to do more than cover it up with gum or mints. The underlying cause needs to be treated.
While bad breath is frequently caused by poor oral hygiene, it can also be caused by eating pungent foods or sucking on a thumb or other object. If your child’s bad breath is caused by thumbsucking, the bad breath should go away when he or she breaks the habit.
If your child’s bad breath is persistent, consider the following tips:
- Have your child brush after each meal and floss once a day. This not only removes stray food particles that can cause bad breath but eliminates the buildup of bacteria, which can lead to tooth decay, gum disease and, yes, bad breath. Help with brushing and flossing if needed, and make sure your child gently brushes the top of his or her tongue as well.
- Make sure your child eats a good breakfast to stimulate the flow of saliva. Drinking plenty of water and chewing sugar-free gum (with xylitol) can also reduce dry mouth and the buildup of bacteria.
- Don’t give your child mouthwash that contains alcohol, which dries the mouth.
There is also a chance that your child’s bad breath could be caused by a sinus or respiratory infection, or by tonsil stones. Occasionally, a child may stick an object into his or her nose that then attracts bacteria and causes an odor.
Remember, we need to treat the underlying causes of bad breath because those causes can also lead to tooth decay and gum disease. Make sure your child sees us regularly so that we can assess his or her overall dental health. If your child has persistent bad breath or has not been to our office in a while, make an appointment to see us. We can make sure that your child has a healthy mouth, free from embarrassing bad breath.
Store Your Child’s Toothbrush Safely
Storing a toothbrush may seem simple. Many stores carry a wide array of brush holders in assorted colors and themes. But storing a toothbrush properly involves more than popping it into a case. Here are a few steps to follow when putting your child’s toothbrush away.
1. Rinse the toothbrush—What good is cleaning your child’s mouth with a dirty toothbrush? Rinse the head of the toothbrush to make sure that all the particles cleaned out of your child’s mouth don’t go right back in during the next brushing.
2. Store the toothbrush upright—This allows any water left on the toothbrush after brushing to drip harmlessly away from the brush head.
3. Store the toothbrush in an open space—You might be tempted to put your child’s toothbrush in the medicine cabinet or a closed case. Don’t. Toothbrushes dry faster in the open air. A wet toothbrush is a great environment for bacteria to collect and infect your child’s teeth and gums.
4. Keep the toothbrush away from the toilet or sink—Most children brush their teeth in the bathroom. But not everything in the bathroom belongs in their mouths. When people wash their hands in the sink, soapy water can splash on toothbrushes. And when people flush the toilet, water can launch upwards, too. Make sure your toothbrushes aren’t stored in a splash zone.
5. Keep toothbrushes separated—If toothbrushes are too close, bacteria can hop from one toothbrush to another. Make sure your family keeps their brush heads clean—not just for themselves but for everyone in your home. For the same reason, don’t share toothbrushes. All family members should have their own.
6. Replace the toothbrush regularly—When your child’s toothbrush seems worn or becomes discolored, move it from the bathroom to the trash. A toothbrush or electric brush head that has been used too long will do more harm than good. We give our patients new toothbrushes when they visit us. Consider that an opportunity to get started with a fresh brush.
Having your child brush twice daily goes a long way toward maintaining optimum oral health. Keeping the toothbrush head clean and in good condition enhances those efforts.
Start Your Child’s Oral Health Routine Early
The first year of life for your infant is an important one—with rapid development that sets the stage for health later in life. While you might already be thinking about routines such as sleeping, make sure you don’t neglect the importance of establishing an oral health care routine with your child.
Research suggests that the earlier you start the better. In fact, studies show that a large number of 2- and 3-year-olds already have cavities; some of these children will require invasive treatment and hospitalization. However, good dentist-led education during pregnancy and throughout your child’s first year will give your toddler the best chance for a cavity-free mouth.
If you are pregnant, schedule a visit with us. A scientific study conducted in Australia in 2008 and repeated in 2014 found that a mother’s meeting with a pediatric dentist during pregnancy and again when the child reached 6 and 12 months went a long way toward preventing early childhood cavities.
Because the Internet and other sources of information can be unreliable, it is critical that you receive information from a qualified pediatric dentist. Topics we discuss will range from nutrition and oral hygiene to the use of pacifiers.
Dental care has a significant, positive impact on your child’s quality of life. Conversely, a lack of dental care can have a negative impact. Research shows that early childhood cavities can lead to
- physical symptoms, such as pain, that can lead to malnutrition and delayed growth from a reluctance to eat
- functional problems, including poor chewing and limited communication due to poor speech and a loss of space in the mouth
- psychological effects from the low self-esteem that results when a child’s mouth and teeth don’t look their best
- a higher risk of future cavities
Don’t wait until your child experiences problems before visiting our office. Infancy is a critical time when it comes to laying down a foundation for good oral health. Setting up an effective oral health routine early is easier than changing unhealthy habits later on.