Do Early Dental Visits Pay Off Down the Road?

Your baby is never too young to have his or her first dental visit. An early dental visit gives us an opportunity to educate you about your child’s oral health. The American Dental Association recommends that all children visit a dentist before their first birthday—ideally within six months of their first tooth coming in. Children introduced to dentistry early have a much better chance of continuing to receive regular dental care through adulthood.

Dental decay is the most prevalent, and preventable, disease of childhood. Early prevention can translate into significant cost savings on future dental care, along with fewer follow-up procedures. On average, dental costs for children through their fifth birthday are nearly $300 less for those who see the dentist before their first birthday compared with children who don’t have their first preventive visit until age 4.

Some parents may think that their baby doesn’t need to visit the dentist unless an oral problem occurs, especially because baby teeth eventually fall out anyway. However, primary teeth are very important to a child’s overall health and development. Not only do they help your baby chew, speak and smile but they also hold space in the jaws for the permanent teeth that are growing under the gums. If baby teeth are not properly cared for, they can fall out too early, making it difficult for permanent teeth to grow in correctly.

Early dental visits also reduce your child’s future dental and overall health risks. Pediatric dental disease can lead to serious health problems, such as significant pain, interference with eating and speaking, and lost school time. With regular checkups, we can monitor and help prevent such problems.

Starting infants off with good oral care can help protect their teeth for years to come. The earlier your child starts establishing good oral health habits, the better. Call us today to schedule an appointment for your child.

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The Teething Pain Solution That Could Be a Problem

It’s natural to want to soothe your baby’s teething pain and discomfort. So it might seem natural to turn to commercial over-the-counter products manufactured specifically to address that pain. But there is a potential danger to your baby’s health from the active ingredient—benzocaine—in such products.

That risk is a serious, brain-injuring, possibly fatal condition called methemoglobinemia. Although the reaction is rare in young children, it’s significant enough that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) strongly recommends that benzocaine products not be used for children under 2 years of age.

In methemoglobinemia, normal oxygen-carrying hemoglobin is replaced by a form called methemoglobin that carries only a fraction of the oxygen needed. This condition can occur minutes after using benzocaine, but it can occur hours later, too, when the connection with benzocaine wouldn’t seem obvious. It can also happen suddenly in a child who has had no previous problem with benzocaine.

According to the FDA, the symptoms of methemoglobinemia warrant calling 911 immediately and accessing emergency medical treatment. These symptoms include

  • skin, lips and/or nail beds turning pale, gray or blue
  • shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • confusion
  • light-headedness
  • rapid heart rate

In addition, prescription preparations of viscous lidocaine—a gel-based topical anesthetic prescribed to chemotherapy patients suffering from mouth ulcers—should never be given to children unless it has been prescribed for them. To safely soothe teething pain, try giving your baby a teething ring that’s been chilled in the refrigerator; a cool, wet washcloth; or your finger—not to chew on, but to gently massage swollen gums.

Fortunately, normal teething is a transient period of infancy. For any questions about medications labeled to ease teething pain or how to best help your infant or toddler through the trials of teething, please don’t hesitate to ask us.

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Smoothies: Healthy for Your Children’s Teeth?

All parents want their children to live healthy lives, a feat often accomplished by encouraging a healthy diet. One of the best ways to do this is to limit the intake of soda and other sugar-rich drinks and foods. So, when choosing between a root beer and a commercial fruit smoothie, the fruit smoothie should be the easy choice, right? Not necessarily. Although smoothies are generally the healthier choice because they have fewer artificial additives, chances are their sugar content may rival that of some popular soft drinks.

Some smoothies contain as much as 2½ teaspoons of sugar per 3.5-ounce drink—almost two-thirds of a child’s recommended daily sugar intake. Smoothies made with pure fruit juice can contain high concentrations of acids that attack and weaken tooth enamel. Couple the regular consumption of smoothies with poor dental hygiene, and children (adults too!) may begin to experience dental erosion, tooth decay or gum disease.

Another factor to consider is the way smoothies are consumed. Often, children slowly sip the smoothie, causing it to stick to their teeth, which exposes them to the sugar for a longer period of time. These longer exposures often equate with an increased level of plaque and its acid-generating bacteria. Generally speaking, the mouth can be under “attack” for up to an hour after sipping a smoothie. As an alternative, have your child drink the smoothie through a straw. That way, the liquid does not have direct contact with the teeth.

In the end, moderation is key. Your child can have a smoothie every now and then. However, smoothies should not be a staple of a healthy lifestyle; think of them as a “treat.” And as always, encourage your children to brush their teeth on a regular basis. Don’t hesitate to talk with us about healthy eating habits for your child.

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Type 1 Diabetes and Your Child’s Dental Care

It’s not easy to be a parent of a child with type 1 diabetes. Even with conscientious management, the disease can affect many parts of the body, including the mouth, gums and teeth. Children with type 1 diabetes are more prone to tooth decay, gingivitis and dry mouth. Just as with your child’s overall health, blood-sugar management is the single most important way to maintain oral health. That means maintaining insulin levels and learning to prevent both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia.

Common diabetes-related oral problems in children, and their most effective preventions and treatments beyond blood-sugar management, include

  • Cavities. A child with diabetes must maintain a strict oral-hygiene routine, brushing with fluoride toothpaste at least twice daily. To keep teeth as cavity-resistant as possible (and to keep all bones strong), include lots of calcium and vitamin D in your child’s diet.
  • Gum disease. Because people with diabetes are more susceptible to infections, including those caused by gum-dwelling bacteria, flossing daily is especially important. So are regular dental cleanings, possibly more often than the usual twice per year.
  • Dry mouth. Salivary gland dysfunction can accompany diabetes. Dry mouth, which is uncomfortable and contributes to the development of tooth decay and gingivitis, may occur. Chewing sugar-free gum and using special mouth rinses can help alleviate the condition.
  • Other conditions. Some children with diabetes are prone to cold sores; treat them promptly to minimize pain. Thrush, a fungal infection, is a common oral problem caused by too much sugar in the saliva. Treat it with a sugar-free medication and therapeutic mouthwashes.

Most children with diabetes exhibit their best glucose control in the morning, so schedule dental appointments at that time. Ensure that your child has eaten breakfast and taken any morning medications before arriving at our office.

To help your child cope with all aspects of type 1 diabetes, including oral hygiene, visit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation www.jdrf.org and the American Diabetes Association www.diabetes.org Web sites. If you have specific questions about how type 1 diabetes can affect your child’s oral health, just ask us.

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No Wiggle Room: What to Do About Loose Baby Teeth

Most of us remember the weird satisfaction we got from using our tongue or our child-size fingers to wiggle loose teeth in our mouths. Our children go through the same process, of course, for each of their 20 primary—or “baby”—teeth.

Have you wondered if there’s ever a time when it’s better to pull your child’s loose baby tooth than let it fall out on its own? Here are some loose-tooth questions and answers:

  • What makes a tooth loose? When a permanent tooth begins to make its way into the spot it will eventually inhabit, the roots of the baby tooth currently there start to dissolve. As the roots get resorbed by the gum, less and less tissue holds the baby tooth in place. Ideally, when the baby tooth has no more natural anchor, it falls out with little or no blood or discomfort.
  • When is a loose tooth not a good thing? When teeth become loose in an unnatural way—partially knocked out in an accident of some kind, for example—see us as soon as possible. We’ll manage the situation to both prevent infection and protect the still-unerupted permanent tooth.
  • What if you or your child is impatient? In this situation, patience really is a virtue. Yanking out a tooth that’s not yet ready to go can result in damage to the arrangement of the permanent teeth—meaning orthodontic work in your child’s future. More immediately, rough removal of a baby tooth still rooted in the gum could damage gum tissue, causing pain, excessive bleeding and risk of infection.
  • Is it really the right time? If you and your child can tell the tooth is truly ready to fall out, but it’s being stubborn, hold the tooth firmly with a piece of gauze. Gently pull (try not to pull too quickly or too forcefully) and quickly twist it at the same time.

Because baby teeth play an important role in future oral health, it’s important that they remain in your child’s mouth for as long as possible. For answers to any questions you may have about your child’s loose tooth or teeth, give us a call. We’ll be happy to provide guidance.

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Chew on This: Guilt-free Bubble Gum

If you think that chewing gum is unequivocally bad for your child’s teeth, we’re about to burst your bubble. It’s not. However, we recommend only sugarless gum, bubble or otherwise. By chewing (sugarless) gum, your child actually becomes part of a historic tradition. The ancient Greeks chewed gum from the mastic tree; the ancient Mayans chewed chicle, derived from sapodilla tree sap; and Native Americans chewed gum like sap from spruce trees.

Why let your child chew gum at all? For one thing, it stimulates the flow of saliva, which physically helps remove food particles from the teeth, getting those morsels away from the acid-producing bacteria that feed on them. And saliva’s chemical makeup acts as a neutralizer of those acids, which otherwise contribute to tooth decay.

Sugarless gum gets its sweetness from ingredients such as aspartame, sorbitol, mannitol or xylitol, none of which contribute to decay. Under normal circumstances, your child can chew sugarless gum frequently. Some sugarless gums, in fact, have earned the American Dental Association (ADA) Seal of Acceptance because their manufacturers have demonstrated the gums’ safety and efficacy in reducing plaque acids or helping remineralize the tooth’s enamel. One such product even offers a bubblegum flavor.

If gum is not sugarless, the drawbacks of chewing it far outweigh the benefits. Sugar-containing gum gives those decay-causing bacteria plenty of nutrition, encouraging them to stick around (literally) on your child’s teeth. Your children should brush their teeth after chewing gum with sugar in it, just as they should brush after eating candy, cookies, chips or any other snack.

However, the ADA does not recommend any gum, even sugarless varieties, for children under 4 years of age. Younger children may not yet understand that gum should not be swallowed. While the occasional swallowed piece isn’t usually dangerous, making a habit of swallowing gum could cause digestive problems ranging from diarrhea to constipation to abdominal pain.

So feel free to let your child be part of a historic tradition by chewing sugarless gum, the treat you can offer guilt-free. In addition to the joy that comes with gum chewing, your child may see a benefit to oral health as well.

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