Tongue Cleaners: Silly or Sensible?
They’re the latest fad. They come in many shapes and colors. You can collect them for each person in each bathroom. What are they? They are tongue scrapers, inexpensive devices designed specifically to remove bacteria-filled compounds from the tongue. Theoretically, doing so should help reduce bad breath and plaque development. But do tongue scrapers (also called tongue cleaners) actually work?
The crevices on the tongue’s rough surface give bacteria warm, wet, dark places to grow. One epithelial tongue cell can have more than 100 bacteria attached to it; a cheek or gum cell only has approximately 25. For a child with post-nasal drip, the problem can be worse—draining sinuses contribute to bacteria collecting in mucus on the back of the tongue, which can cause serious bad breath.
Reducing tongue bacteria that contribute to either bad breath or plaque formation can be beneficial. We recommend that your children brush or scrape their tongues once or twice daily. This can be accomplished with either a toothbrush or, if it is more comfortable or appealing, a tongue scraper.
The effects of tongue cleaning are time limited. Bacteria begin to congregate again as soon as your children finish brushing their tongues. So scraping the tongue once a week won’t do much good in the long term.
However, there is no downside to making tongue scraping part of your child’s daily oral health routine. For answers to any questions you may have about the specific usage of a tongue scraper, please ask us at your child’s next visit.
Ducking a Knockout Blow to Your Child’s Teeth
As many as 30 million children in the United States participate in some form of organized sports; your child is probably one of them. Participation in sports has many benefits, to both the body and the mind, but it may also put a child at risk of dental injury. The good news is that most injuries can be prevented by taking a single precaution.
Baseball and basketball have relatively high incidences of sports-related dental injuries. But many other sports, including football, soccer, volleyball, softball, wrestling and gymnastics, as well as leisure activities such as cycling, skateboarding and in-line skating, also put children at risk.
One of the best ways for a sports-playing child to avoid dental injuries—more than half of which involve the upper front teeth—is by wearing a mouthguard, a device that helps absorb and dissipate the force of any impact to the mouth. Mouthguards fall into three general categories:
- stock mouthguards that are purchased over the counter and are designed for use without any modification
- boil-and-bite mouthguards that mold to fit your child’s mouth after they have been boiled
- custom-fitted mouthguards that we fit based on an impression we take of your child’s mouth
While the vast majority of sports-related dental injuries can be minimized with a mouthguard, not all of them can be prevented. If a dental injury occurs on the field or court, call us immediately. The sooner we see your child, the better the chances we have to save the tooth. A chipped or knocked-out tooth should be placed in milk or held between your child’s cheek and gum as you transport your child to our office. Place the tooth in water only if there is no other option to keep it moist.
For child athletes, the Academy of Sports Dentistry recommends custom mouthguards fitted by a dentist. Even if you don’t choose one fitted here in our office, we can answer any questions you may have and help you choose a mouthguard for your child. Talk to us about injury prevention. We will be happy to review the risks involved and suggest the best ways to protect your child’s teeth from injury.
When to Start Your Child on an Oral Rinse
Using everything from pink bottles of bubblegum-flavored liquids to containers with characters from Disney’s “Frozen” on them, American companies work hard to market mouth rinses for children. But do children really need these products? And if they do, how young is too young to use them?
While we recommend that parents help their children start good dental care habits at a very early age—from brushing teeth as soon as they emerge to bringing your child for a dental visit around his or her first birthday—a mouth rinse is not something we recommend for very young children. In fact, we generally do not recommend mouth rinses for children younger than 6 years old.
Mouth rinse is meant to be swished around and spit out. Most children younger than 6 have not yet developed the reflexes needed to do this; instead, they tend to follow their instinct to swallow the mouth rinse. And even if your child is able to spit out the mouth rinse, too much fluoride at too early an age can lead to a condition called fluorosis, which can affect the color and texture of teeth.
Even after your child turns 6, a mouth rinse may not be necessary. In some children, we might recommend using a mouth rinse to help boost the positive effects of brushing twice and flossing once a day. When your child uses a mouth rinse that we recommend, supervise its use to ensure that your child does not swallow it. You might practice by asking your child to rinse with a sip of water, swishing it around and then spitting it out.
Although mouth rinses do have benefits, they cannot substitute for regular brushing and flossing. Children of all ages should get in the habit of brushing their teeth twice a day, flossing once a day and visiting us at least twice a year for a cleaning and examination. Establishing these good habits early on will go a long way toward a lifetime of good oral health.
If you think your child has a specific need for a mouth rinse, call us for an appointment. We will evaluate your child’s oral health and, should it be necessary, recommend an appropriate rinse to help protect and preserve your child’s smile.
Breastfeeding and Oral Health
Breastfeeding has some well-known health benefits for both mother and baby. But when it comes to oral health, some new mothers may not be aware that breastfeeding has several important benefits.
Exclusive breastfeeding can reduce the risk of baby bottle tooth decay. When a baby is put to bed with a bottle filled with milk, formula, fruit juice or any other drink that contains sugar, the baby’s teeth are bathed in sugar for prolonged periods, increasing the risk for cavities. Because breast milk also contains sugar, wipe your baby’s gums with a damp cloth after every feeding to clear away cavity-causing bacteria.
Breastfed babies tend to develop better muscle tone in the jaw from the sucking action that works jaw muscles more than bottle feeding does. One study even found that babies breastfed for six months were less likely to develop crooked teeth later on. Remember, though, that other factors, such as use of pacifiers and thumb sucking, also play a role in tooth alignment issues.
However, for the mother, breastfeeding comes with some important oral health issues.
- A mother juggling the demands of an infant can neglect her own regular oral hygiene. This can put her at increased risk for cavities and for transferring cavity-causing bacteria to her baby through sharing of spoons or similar activity.
- Stress and lack of sleep may cause busy mothers to carry tension in the jaw, which can lead to tooth grinding. We can recommend treatment options to help you avoid damaging your teeth.
- Breastfeeding mothers need to stay hydrated. Failure to drink enough water can cause dry mouth, which can lead to cavities and gum disease.
- Nursing moms may experience some bone loss during lactation, but they generally recover after weaning the child and may even find their bone density increases. Getting enough calcium, either through food or supplements, is important to maintaining bone health. Ask your physician how much you need to stay strong and healthy.
- Tell us and all your health care providers that you are breastfeeding so that you are not prescribed any medications that might be harmful for you and your baby.
Both baby and mother can benefit from breastfeeding—benefits that have big pay-offs in the future. We can provide answers to any questions you may have regarding breastfeeding your baby and oral health. Please don’t hesitate to give us a call.
Less Sugar = Healthier Teeth
Children love sweet treats. Unfortunately, most of these treats—such as candy and soda—are loaded with sugar. And sugar (sucrose) serves as “food” for the growth of bacteria in your child’s mouth. As those bacteria grow, they produce enamel-eroding acids that lead to cavities. By limiting the amount of unnecessary sugars eaten throughout the day, you can help your child maintain a healthy mouth. Although some cavities are inevitable, monitoring sugar intake and maintaining good oral health can minimize the risk and severity of tooth decay.
Some parents doubt the importance of baby teeth because they fall out anyway. But baby teeth reserve space in your child’s mouth for the permanent teeth. If a primary tooth decays and is lost early, the permanent tooth in its place might not erupt properly. This could lead to misaligned teeth, requiring orthodontic treatment and even oral surgery down the road. Thus, practicing good oral hygiene, even at a young age, is very important.
Similarly, limiting the amount of sugar your children eat at an early age can set the foundation for their lifestyle and oral health in their teen and adult years. Here are a few ways to reduce your children’s daily sugar intake:
- Be mindful of what your child eats by learning how to recreate your child’s favorite snacks using less sugar and healthier ingredients.
- Swap fizzy, sugary drinks—such as soda and sports beverages—for real fruit juices, healthy smoothies, milk or naturally flavored water.
- Serve healthy treats such as frozen grapes or baked apples for dessert during the week, and save processed sugars for special occasions.
The best way to reinforce these healthy habits is to schedule regular dental checkups. Call our office today to make an appointment and get your child on track for healthy, strong teeth.
Rooting Out the Cause of a Child’s Bad Breath
Bad breath isn’t an unfamiliar problem—but bad breath in kids? Even toddlers? Although bad breath—more formally known as halitosis—occurs more often with adults, it’s more common in children than you might imagine. Fortunately, the causes of bad breath in children are almost always treatable.
First, think about your child’s fondness for foods known to be smelly, such as onions, garlic and hard cheeses. If your child is a fan of these foods, you’ve likely found the halitosis culprit.
If stinky cuisine isn’t to blame, imperfect oral hygiene might be. Excess mouth bacteria, living on leftover sugars that a toothbrush didn’t sweep away earlier, give off rotten-smelling sulfur compounds. To fix this situation, ensure that your child brushes regularly—possibly more often than twice a day—and flosses daily.
Change your child’s toothbrush every few months to ensure that the bristles are stiff enough to do their job. Instruct your child to brush the tongue—a bacteria hideout—as well as the teeth. And while a minty mouthwash or sugar-free gum can help mask odor, they aren’t appropriate substitutes for brushing and flossing.
Less common, but not rare, causes of a child’s bad breath include the following:
- Gum disease. If your child’s tooth-brushing and flossing habits have been lax, a build-up of dental plaque can cause an incipient case of gum disease that, left untreated, can create foul-smelling breath.
- Dry mouth. If your child is a mouth-breather or is taking a medication that carries a warning about “dry mouth” as a possible side effect, your child’s saliva production has probably decreased. That means that bacteria aren’t flushed out of the mouth as well as they would be with normal amounts of saliva.
- Sinus trouble. If your pediatrician has diagnosed your youngster with repeated sinus infections, you may find that bad breath can result.
Even if you think you are handling your child’s bad breath on your own—and especially if you suspect you’re not—arrange for us to see your youngster as soon as possible. It’s in everyone’s best interest, especially the child’s, to find the root of the problem and a definitive way to fix it.