Asthma Medications and Cavities

Could your child’s asthma medication cause cavities? The answer is somewhat unclear. Some scientific studies have suggested that anti-asthmatic medications may increase the risk of tooth decay and erosion, while others claim that there’s no link at all. Unfortunately, these conflicting studies don’t offer much reassurance when your child’s teeth and lungs are in question.

What we do know is that inhaled asthma medications can create conditions in the mouth that may increase the risk of dental problems. When your child inhales the medication, a powdery substance washes over the teeth, reducing the level of saliva and increasing the amount of acid in the mouth. These two factors can contribute to tooth erosion and decay.

In addition, many asthmatic children breathe through their mouths, which also reduces the level of saliva, resulting in dry mouth (xerostomia). Saliva is the body’s natural defense against decay, diluting the acids in the mouth that break down the tooth enamel; anything that reduces saliva encourages cavities.

Nebulizers utilize a type of sugar called fructose; other oral anti-asthma medications use sugars to make them more palatable to children. Frequent use of these types of medications creates more exposure to sugar, which we all know can lead to decay. However, there is no conclusive proof that taking these medications puts your child at increased risk.

The best solution is to pay special attention to the dental health of a child who takes asthma medications. Be extra vigilant with brushing and flossing, and have your child chew sugarless gum, rinse with water, or brush after taking his or her medication. See us regularly, and discuss your child’s asthma medications at each appointment. This way, we can watch for signs of acid erosion or decay, catching any problems before they become more serious. Together, we can ensure that your child’s teeth stay healthy―that will allow everyone to breathe a little easier!

Return to top

More Calcium Equals Better Dental Health

Good nutrition is an important component of good oral health. We all know that children should avoid sugary snacks, especially soda and candy that stick to the teeth. Calcium consumption may play a significant role in maintaining your child’s healthy smile. In addition to milk, there are several other foods that will add calcium to your child’s diet.

Most of us were told as children that milk helps to build strong bones. That is true—and it builds strong teeth as well. Milk is one of our primary sources of calcium, and while milk does contain lactose, a form of sugar, lactose is one of the least-damaging sugars to teeth. Experts routinely recommend that milk and water be the only drinks offered to children between meals.

However, there is an important caveat here: While milk may be good for your child’s teeth during the day, it can be detrimental at night. Letting your toddler go to sleep with a bottle of milk encourages prolonged exposure to the sugars in the milk and can actually cause decay.

But milk is not the only good source of calcium. Consider adding the following to your child’s diet:

  • Yogurt contains calcium and the added benefit of probiotics, encouraging the growth of “good” bacteria in your child’s mouth and digestive tract. Check the ingredients on the yogurt you purchase, however, and make sure it does not contain large amounts of sugar.
  • Cheese, too, has added benefits. Many studies have found that cheese stimulates the flow of saliva in the mouth, which washes away decay-causing food particles and lowers the level of acid in the mouth. Consider adding cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack or another cheese to your child’s meals or as a snack.
  • Dark, leafy greens such as kale, collard greens and spinach are also good sources of calcium. While children may not get excited about eating green vegetables, include them in your meals when your children are young, and they are more likely to become fans.

When you encourage healthy eating early on, your child will develop good habits that last a lifetime. For more tips on encouraging a healthy diet, call us for an appointment or ask us at your child’s next checkup. We are always happy to discuss foods that can help keep your child’s teeth healthy for years to come.

Return to top

Fillings Don’t Have to Be Noticeable

Although parents don’t want to hear that their child needs a dental filling, restorations are often necessary to treat a tooth that has experienced decay. This simple procedure restores your child’s tooth to its normal shape and function.

Today, dentists have options when it comes to selecting what material to use for fillings. While metal amalgam has been used to fill teeth for more than a century, we increasingly use tooth-colored composite resins for this procedure.

The advantages of using composite fillings include the following:

  • Composite fillings blend in well because they match the color of teeth.
  • Composite fillings bond to the teeth, helping to seal them and prevent additional decay.
  • Some composite fillings release fluoride, contributing to the prevention of decay.
  • Composite fillings can usually be placed in a hole smaller than that needed for amalgam fillings.

Composite fillings are durable. Because everyone wants healthy-looking white teeth, composite fillings are usually the material of choice for the front teeth; they can also be used on the back teeth.

One of the difficulties of placing a composite filling in a child’s mouth is that the tooth must be kept clean and dry throughout the procedure. Thus, the process takes a little longer than placing an amalgam filling, but we can keep most children still and comfortable during the procedure.

Of course, the ideal filling is no filling at all. That is why we stress the importance of proper brushing and flossing, as well as regular visits to our office for checkups and cleanings. If your child is due for a dental visit—or if you feel he or she needs some help or encouragement with dental hygiene—call our office for an appointment. We will work with you and your child to improve dental hygiene and reduce the chances that he or she will need any fillings—composite or amalgam—at all.

Return to top

Mouth Ulcers and Your Child

Seeing an ulcer in your child’s mouth can be disconcerting, especially if the sore causes pain. A relatively common condition, mouth ulcers in children typically are either canker sores, cold sores (caused by the herpes simplex virus) or hand-foot-mouth (HFM) disease (caused by the Coxsackie A-16 virus). The first step in helping your child deal with mouth ulcers is diagnosing the underlying cause.

Canker sores—one to three small, white ulcers that usually pop up on the inside of cheeks and lips, as well as on the tongue and gums—are the most common mouth ulcers in general but are rare in children under the age of 10. There’s evidence that heredity might play a role in the development of canker sores. Other culprits are vitamin deficiencies, stress and food sensitivities. While canker sores can last up to two weeks, they aren’t contagious. There’s not much anyone can do about them other than trying home remedies.

If your child is prone to canker sores, you can try to reduce outbreaks by avoiding abrasive, salty, spicy or acidic foods; choosing dental products without sodium lauryl sulfate, a chemical that has been linked to canker sores; and brushing with a soft-bristled brush to minimize trauma to the mouth. If canker sores become a chronic problem, we may also recommend testing for food allergies or vitamin deficiencies.

If your child suddenly develops numerous mouth ulcers accompanied by fever, it might be cold sores or HFM disease. Since these viral conditions are contagious, call your pediatrician if you suspect your child has one or the other.

As long as no underlying health issue needs to be addressed, caring for a child with mouth ulcers is all about comfort. Ask us about home treatments like baking soda salves, as well as over-the-counter analgesics for pain. Offer a soft diet, and make sure your child stays hydrated. And, as always, if you have any questions or concerns, or if you think your child’s ulcers might be related to a dental problem, don’t hesitate to call us.

Return to top

The Obesity–Cavity Correlation

One has been called a public health crisis; the other is the most common chronic infectious disease occurring in children. But both can affect a child’s growth, health and self-esteem. We’re talking about obesity and dental caries (cavities). The two are not only growing health concerns but may be related.

Within the past decade, several studies have shown a possible correlation between obesity and dental decay in children. Experts aren’t sure why or how―or even if―the two conditions are related. One study by researchers from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio found that as body mass index went up, so did the risk of cavities. Another study, published by the National Institutes of Health, suggested that childhood obesity may cause premature permanent tooth development, which can lead to decay and jaw problems. These findings are concerning, especially because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that one in seven low-income preschoolers is obese and at risk for dental caries or periodontitis.

The long-term health effects of childhood obesity are well known, but many parents might not be as familiar with the problems caused by dental caries. Severe caries can have an impact on a child’s speech and language development, as well as sleep, learning and eating habits. The good news is that the same dietary changes can help reduce your child’s risk of both conditions. A healthy diet, emphasizing fresh foods (fruits, vegetables, proteins and complex carbohydrates) over processed foods and a reduced sugar intake (especially from sugary sodas and candy), can be a great start.

We may not be sure why children who are overweight tend to get more cavities, but we can make a healthier lifestyle a priority. If you’re not sure where to start, ask us for nutrition recommendations that can benefit your children’s teeth—and their waistlines!

Return to top

Sealing Out Dental Cavities

If your child’s permanent teeth have started to erupt, we may have discussed dental sealants with you. This invisible coating routinely applied to the teeth protects all of their ridges, grooves, nooks and crannies from decay-causing bacteria. We usually recommend dental sealants for children as soon as their permanent molars are in, before the teeth have a chance to decay. Not only is this treatment simple but it can save a lot of time, money and discomfort in the future.

Sealants are applied in our office, using a quick and comfortable process―your child will not even see or hear a drill.

To apply this protective coating, we will usually do the following:

  • Thoroughly clean and dry the teeth to be sealed.
  • Put a special acid gel on the chewing surface of the tooth that roughens the surface and helps the sealant bond to the tooth.
  • Rinse off the gel and dry the tooth.
  • Paint the sealant onto the tooth, where it will bond to the tooth’s surface. Sometimes a special light is used to help the sealant harden in place.

Once a sealant is placed, it can last for up to 10 years. At each subsequent dental appointment, we will check the sealants to ensure that they are intact. In some cases, we may have to reapply the sealant so that it continues to protect against decay.

While sealants protect the top surfaces of the tooth most likely to decay, your child still has to brush and floss regularly. Regular brushing (twice a day) and flossing (once a day) are critical to protect all surfaces from decay and gum disease throughout a child’s and adult’s life.

If your child’s permanent teeth are starting to come in, it is very important that he or she comes in to see us. Call our office for an appointment so we can assess your child’s oral health and, if the time is right, apply sealants to protect the chewing surfaces of the teeth from bacteria and decay.

Return to top