Eating and Drinking for a Healthy Smile
Even though many children seem to be born with a sweet tooth, the detrimental effects of sugar are well-known and well documented. Sugars and starches, when left on or between teeth for any length of time, are a feast for decay-causing bacteria, leading to plaque, acid and, eventually, tooth decay.
We know that sticky, sweet candies that can get stuck in the teeth—as tempting as they may be for children and adults alike—are harmful. What are some healthier alternatives? Consider the following for your child:
- Fruits and vegetables: Not all fruits and vegetables are created equal. Those with a high water content, such as cucumbers, melons, pears and celery, are especially good for oral health. On the other hand, limit those with concentrated sugars, such as bananas and raisins.
- Cheese: Again, some options are healthier than others. When choosing a cheese snack for your child, try to stick to aged cheeses such as cheddar, Monterey Jack and Swiss. These trigger the flow of saliva, which helps keep your child’s mouth healthy by washing away food particles.
- Water: Soda, juice and even milk contain sugars that will stay in your child’s mouth and encourage decay-causing bacteria. While milk has an important role in your child’s development, replace juices and sodas with water, which is not only sugar-free but helps wash away food particles that can lead to the growth of bacteria. Fluoridated water also helps prevent tooth decay in children younger than 13.
Of course, excessive snacking itself can lead to tooth decay by increasing the amount of time your child’s teeth are exposed to food particles. Try to limit snacks to one or two a day; if snacks contain sugar, brush your child’s teeth about 20 minutes after snack time.
Healthy eating is only one component of keeping your child’s teeth free of decay. Proper oral hygiene and regular dental examinations are also key. If your child hasn’t been in to see us for a while, call and make an appointment. We will evaluate your child’s oral health and review with you all the components of a healthy mouth, from brushing and flossing to what he or she is eating and drinking.
Dental Care for Immunodeficient Children
The body’s immune system is made up of lymphoid tissue, which includes bone marrow, lymph nodes, parts of the spleen and gastrointestinal tract, thymus and tonsils, as well as proteins and cells in the blood. This system works to fight bacteria, viruses, cancer cells and other foreign antigens that may enter the body. Certain disorders can compromise the immune system, leaving your child at a higher risk for infection.
Once diagnosed with a compromised immune system, your child and you will work together to ensure that he or she adopts a healthy lifestyle. A healthy diet, regular hand-washing and nutrition supplements along with enough exercise and sleep are all keys to maintaining the health of your child with a compromised immune system—as is regular dental care.
Children with an immunodeficiency may be more prone to tooth decay and infections that stem from decayed teeth. In addition, immune deficiencies can make your child more prone to staph abscesses, viral infections such as herpes simplex, and oral fungal infections, all of which can lead to gingivitis and periodontitis. Many patients with a compromised immune system also take medications that can cause decreased saliva flow, which encourages dental cavities.
For all these reasons, regular visits to our office need to be a key part of your child’s health regimen. We can treat tooth decay before it progresses to something more serious, and we will review best practices for dental hygiene with your child—including the importance of brushing twice a day and flossing once a day. And if your child suffers from dry mouth, we can talk about the importance of drinking more water, chewing sugar-free gum or sucking on sugar-free lozenges to stimulate the flow of saliva.
Bring your child in for regular visits. We will review his or her health history with you, while engaging in regular communication with your child’s physician. Together, we will all form a team to ensure that your child’s teeth, gums and body remain healthy.
Double Tooth―Double Trouble?
The appearance of your baby’s first tooth is usually an exciting time―a major milestone in your child’s development. But sometimes the teeth do not appear as expected. In a very small percentage of cases, a “double tooth”―either a fused tooth or geminated tooth―appears. While parents of a child with a double tooth may have concerns about the esthetics of their child’s smile, they need to understand that this condition pops up primarily in the baby teeth, with incidence rates of a double tooth among permanent teeth much, much lower―less than 0.5%.
Gemination and fusion are two different conditions.
- A geminated tooth begins as a single tooth and then partially splits into two (the term “geminated” comes from the Latin word geminus, meaning twin).
- Fused teeth are two teeth that have joined together to form one.
Geminated teeth are more common in the upper front teeth, while fused teeth are more common in the lower front.
Although it may be possible in a few cases to surgically divide double teeth, such surgery will also require root canal treatment. Most often, the best course of action is for us to monitor the teeth closely throughout your child’s development. A groove in the middle of a double tooth might be difficult for you or your child to brush, thus leaving it susceptible to decay. If this is the case, we may add a sealant to the tooth to protect it from decay.
Our primary concern with double teeth is that crowding or irregular spacing could affect the incoming permanent teeth. For this reason, we will likely use x-rays to keep a close eye on your child’s permanent teeth. In some cases, we may recommend orthodontic treatment to ensure proper spacing between the teeth.
Though the presence of this anomaly is a relatively minor condition, call us and make an appointment if you notice that your child has a double tooth. Because the exact nature and course of treatment can only be determined by x-rays, your child needs to see us for regular visits. We can monitor that double tooth to ensure that your child’s permanent teeth come in healthy and properly spaced.
Epstein Pearls: Unsightly but Harmless
The sight of whitish or yellowing protruding bumps in your newborn’s mouth may be alarming. But rest assured that they are common, harmless and will go away in a few weeks. Known as Epstein pearls or gingival cysts, they appear in up to 80% of newborn babies.
During the first trimester of pregnancy, when the two halves of your baby’s jaw and palate fuse, mucous membranes can become trapped along the midline within pockets of skin, leading to these tiny bumps after birth. No more than about a tenth of an inch in size, they appear on the roof of your baby’s mouth, just behind the gums. If they appear in other parts of your baby’s mouth, they are known as Bohn nodules―which are also harmless. All of these cysts contain epithelial cells and mucous membranes, the same moist tissues that line your baby’s urogenital, digestive and respiratory tracts.
While these cysts are harmless and painless, you need to point them out to your child’s pediatrician so that the doctor can rule out other conditions, such as thrush, a yeast infection that can cause irritation and may require treatment with an antifungal solution. An examination will also rule out natal teeth—actual teeth present at birth—that can be irritating to babies and nursing mothers.
While no treatment is necessary for Epstein pearls, let their appearance serve as a reminder to care for your child’s oral health beginning at a very young age. Although the basics of brushing and flossing will come later, it’s never too early to learn about conditions that may have an impact on your baby’s oral health. Schedule a dental appointment with us before your baby’s first birthday, so we can ensure that your child’s teeth and gums are properly cared for right from the start.
Smokeless Tobacco―Not Harmless Tobacco
For years, chewing tobacco was associated with professional athletes. Baseball-loving children saw images of players in the dugout with wads of tobacco in their cheeks. Today, the harmful effects of smokeless tobacco are well documented; however, with so much attention devoted to the dangers of smoking, some teens may erroneously believe that smokeless tobacco is a safer alternative.
New forms of smokeless tobacco frequently evolve, as do marketing techniques. One of the newer products, called snus, comes in small, teabag-like pouches that don’t require the user to constantly spit excess saliva. Tobacco companies have also developed flavored tobacco products that contain sweeteners and may look like candy. Regardless of how it’s packaged, smokeless tobacco still comes with the following risks:
- bad breath and tooth discoloration
- increased risk of cavities and periodontal disease
- 28 cancer-causing chemicals that may increase the risk of cancer of the mouth, lip, tongue, cheeks, gums, pancreas, voice box, esophagus, colon and bladder
- high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke
All of these risks make it clear that smokeless tobacco use is not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes. And there is no documented proof that smokeless tobacco helps people quit smoking.
When you talk to your child about the dangers of smoking, it’s important to tell them that smokeless tobacco can also be deadly. If, despite the health risks, you or your teen uses smokeless tobacco, regular dental examinations become more important than ever. Cancers in the mouth usually start as precancerous lesions, which we can spot during a dental examination.
Call us for a dental appointment if you discover your teen is using smokeless tobacco. We can perform a full oral health evaluation and talk to him or her about the dangers of all forms of tobacco. This important message warrants repeating regularly from parents and health professionals alike.
Lip Sucking: As Harmful as Thumb Sucking?
While much attention is devoted to the issues of thumb sucking and pacifier use, some children develop the habit of sucking their lower lip. Like thumb sucking, this habit can have harmful, lasting effects. It’s one of the many reasons we encourage parents to bring their children for dental visits starting at an early age.
Children with a lip-sucking habit repeatedly hold their lower lip between their front teeth. In the short-term, this can lead to red, chapped and irritated lips. In the long-term, it can lead to an overbite and other conditions similar to those associated with thumb sucking, including misaligned teeth, misaligned jaw and speech problems.
Children may suck their lips to provide a sense of emotional security or comfort, much like some children suck their thumbs. For this reason, negative reinforcement, such as scolding the child, is rarely effective at getting them to stop. Instead, it will likely drive a child to continue the habit. A better course of action is to praise the child for not engaging in the practice, perhaps even offering rewards for not doing it for a certain length of time.
Consider whether external stresses are driving your child to the practice of lip or thumb sucking. Often, removing stresses from your child’s life can help solve the problem. In some cases, however, if the lip sucking continues, we might prescribe an appliance for your child to wear in his or her mouth to curtail the habit.
If your youngster is in the habit of sucking his or her lip—or thumb—be sure to schedule an appointment sooner rather than later. We will evaluate your child’s oral health and talk with you about the problem, its causes and, since every child is different, the best course of action to break your child’s habit. Working with you and your child, we will gently end this habit before it leads to any serious oral health issues. That way, your child can maintain a healthy, confident smile for a lifetime.