The Two-Minute Toothbrushing Game

One of the more rewarding moments in parenting may occur when you are able to inspire your children to do something willingly that you need them to do … and what a relief if they actually do it happily! How can you get twice-daily toothbrushing accomplished in such a cooperative way? Put on your child psychologist cap and use a few positive reinforcement strategies.

  • Play. If your child is quite young, consider letting him or her play with the brush (as long as it stays clean) before actually using it for brushing. Or have a second brush he or she can play pretend with, turning it into a microphone or an animal or doll that “lives” in the bathroom.
  • Sticker chart. Kindergarten teachers know this trick well. The mounting collection of stickers truly provides motivation, and most children are thrilled to watch it grow. Let your child choose the stickers you’ll use for reward every time he or she brushes, or perhaps make them a surprise. Your child should amass about 60 stickers in a month—a pretty dazzling array!
  • Music. Hit the right brushing notes. A quick Internet search will turn up Web sites featuring songs and videos about toothbrushing, with familiar characters and new ones. Other sites feature songs—mainly just entertaining ones—timed to be two minutes long, the exact length of one ideal child toothbrushing session. You can play them on a device in the bathroom for some friendly company. For starters, try “7 Toothbrushing Tunes Kids (and Parents) Will Love.”
  • Companionship. Consider brushing your teeth right alongside your child. You’ll have something crossed off your own to-do list while setting an example of healthy behavior, and you and your child may gain some silly or serious bonding time, to boot.
  • “Be like _____.” Never underestimate the lure of emulating an older sibling, cousin or family friend. Get someone else (with nice teeth) involved if your child can be somewhat strong-willed in opposing your efforts.

At your child’s next appointment, if he or she is still resisting thorough toothbrushing, we’ll try our best to solve the problem. It won’t be the first time we’ve encountered stubbornness—or the last.

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My Sweet Child Has Sour Breath

Tiny babies smell so wonderfully sweet, especially right after a bath. How in the world does that baby grow into a toddler or child with bad breath? We usually associate bad breath—halitosis, in scientific terms—with adults.

Actually, bad breath arises fairly often in children for a number of reasons that can almost always be successfully addressed. An affinity for traditionally stinky foods—garlic, onions, hard cheeses and so on—needs to be ruled out first.

The next most likely culprit is less-than-ideal oral hygiene. If too many bacteria exist in the mouth, living on leftover proteins and sugars that weren’t brushed away, they emit sulfur compounds that, well, smell pretty bad.

Get your child on a regular schedule of brushing—possibly even more than twice a day, if necessary—and he or she should definitely floss daily. Be sure your child’s toothbrush is no more than a few months old; it needs bristles that are up to the task. Make sure his or her tongue gets attention, since it can harbor bacteria. Mouthwashes and sugar-free gums may cover some odors and provide moisture, but they are no substitute for flossing and brushing.

If neither of those issues is the cause of the problem, it could be

  • Dry mouth. Is your child a mouth-breather or taking certain medications with “dry mouth” warnings? When saliva production decreases, bacteria cannot be washed away as effectively.
  • Sinus trouble. You probably know already (from a history of infections) if your child has sinus problems. That can result in bad breath.
  • Gum disease. If your child’s oral health habits are better now but were not effective in the past, he or she may have developed gum disease from the presence of plaque, a condition that will, if untreated, cause odor.

If you’ve noticed that your child has persistent bad breath that you can’t seem to conquer, please bring him or her in as soon as possible. We will do our absolute best to get to the root of the problem—and a solution.

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Tot Toothache Troubles

When your children have toothaches, all you want to do is help them feel better. But it can be difficult, especially with young children, to know what’s causing the pain. Sometimes there’s a clear reason; other times you’ll need professional help to determine the cause. But even if you can’t stop the pain altogether on your own, you can help minimize the discomfort until you can bring your child to our office.

Tooth pain in children can have many causes. Cavities are usually what spring to mind, and these can definitely be the cause of a pretty intense toothache. Having food stuck between the teeth or a piece of sharp food embedded in the gums can also be very uncomfortable. Shifting teeth under the gums might bother children who still have baby teeth. And sometimes what children describe as a toothache is actually a canker sore or ulcer, or swollen gums due to gingivitis.

Ask your child to point to where it hurts and describe the pain to the best of his or her ability. Is it sharp, dull or achy? Does it hurt more when chewing, or is the pain constant? These questions can help us figure out what’s going on when you call us.

You can also try flossing around the painful tooth in case stuck food is causing the problem. Have your child swish and spit using warm salt water. If these efforts aren’t effective, you can give your child an over-the-counter children’s pain medicine to take the edge off.

If your child develops a fever or swelling, or you think there’s a possibility he or she has a broken tooth, call us immediately.

Most minor toothaches go away within a day. Still, you should call our office to find out if your child needs to see us. The last thing you want is an unaddressed problem that might cause more toothaches in the future.

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Sugary Medicines: Not So Sweet

We spend a lot of time talking about the detrimental effects that soda, candy and other sweets can have on your child’s teeth. What about the sugar contained in some medications? While taking medication prescribed by your child’s physician can be critically important, taking a few simple steps can eliminate or reduce the negative effects their sugar content may have on your child’s oral health.

Our mouths are home to thousands of bacteria, many of them beneficial to the body. But when we consume sugary foods and drinks, the sugar left behind becomes food for harmful bacteria. As these bacteria feed, they create acids that destroy tooth enamel. That is why we encourage brushing after a meal or, if that’s not possible, drinking water or chewing sugarless gum to wash away bits of food left behind.

Unfortunately, sugar is often part of liquid medications, vitamins and cough drops. Frequently, the amount of sugar in the medication is negligible when compared with your child’s overall sugar intake. But you still need to be aware of sugar content, especially since children who take sugar-containing medications over a long period of time could be at greater risk for tooth decay. If your child is taking a medication that contains sugar, you can minimize the impact by taking the following steps:

  • Look for a sugar-free alternative. This option is available for cough drops, many of which now come in sugar-free varieties.
  • Have your child take the medication with a meal, if it may be taken with food.
  • Have your child rinse his or her mouth with water after taking liquid medications. This will help wash away any sugars left behind, and it will also help eliminate any unpleasant aftertaste.

Even with these concerns, it is still of primary importance that you follow the instructions of your pediatrician, since the benefits of medications—with or without sugar—outweigh any increased risk of cavities. If you ensure that your child adheres to a regular oral hygiene regimen—brushing twice a day, flossing once a day and visiting us twice a year—his or her risk of developing cavities will be kept to a minimum.

If you have concerns about your child’s sugar intake, call us for an appointment. We will be happy to answer any questions you may have about ensuring that your child has a healthy smile free of cavities.

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An Electric Toothbrush for Your Special-Needs Child

Maintaining oral health for your child with a developmental disability can be a challenge. According to the Maternal and Child Health Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children with special needs are twice as likely as other children to have unaddressed dental issues. Your child needs to brush and floss daily to avoid developing ongoing dental problems.

If your child has difficulty holding or using a toothbrush—or being motivated to brush effectively twice a day—an electric toothbrush can help keep cavities and gum disease at bay. Advantages of this type of toothbrush include the following:

  • Larger handles may be easier to grip for children with special needs.
  • Less effort and time are needed to properly brush the entire mouth, usually with less pressure and abrasion than with a manual toothbrush.
  • The feel of an electric toothbrush may be more comfortable.
  • The novelty of the toothbrush being an electronic gadget may make toothbrushing more appealing.

For many parents of children with developmental disabilities, an electric toothbrush is an ideal solution. You still need to monitor your child’s brushing to ensure that he or she is reaching every part of the mouth and spending an adequate amount of time brushing—two minutes, twice a day, preferably after meals is ideal.

Experts have found that how you brush is more important than the type of toothbrush used. And even using an electric toothbrush is no substitute for daily flossing and semi-annual visits to our office.

We have been trained to work with children who have a range of abilities, so we know that maintaining the oral health of your child can be challenging. If it has been more than six months since your child was in for a dental visit, call our office for an appointment. We will not only clean and examine your child’s teeth, but we can have a conversation with you and your child about dental care and offer tips for keeping your child’s teeth clean and cavity-free between appointments.

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The Impact of Impacted Wisdom Teeth

Around age 17, long after most of your child’s permanent teeth have come in, the third molars—more commonly known as wisdom teeth—will begin to emerge. While the wisdom teeth may fit neatly into place for some people, in other people they are either misaligned or impacted. If that occurs, we usually recommend their removal.

Wisdom teeth are considered impacted when they remain enclosed within the gum or jawbone, or only partially break through the gums. In most cases, an impacted wisdom tooth is painless. In fact, most people do not realize the teeth are there. However, if impacted wisdom teeth are not removed, they can lead to the following problems:

  • The flap of gum above the wisdom tooth can become infected and painful; if left untreated, the infection can spread.
  • Because they are in areas difficult to reach with a toothbrush and floss, impacted wisdom teeth can develop cavities.
  • Impacted wisdom teeth can exert pressure on neighboring molars, leading to pain, tooth decay or crowding.

The good news is that these potential problems can be prevented or alleviated by removing the wisdom teeth, a routine procedure. In fact, the earlier the wisdom teeth are removed, the simpler the procedure is. In many cases, wisdom teeth are removed before they begin to erupt, when the roots are not yet fully developed, the bone is less dense and the tissues in the mouth can heal faster. Wisdom teeth removal is usually done with a local anesthetic to numb the area; sometimes, a sedative such as nitrous oxide is used as well.

Dental hygiene and regular visits to our office are important at every age. As your child approaches age 16 or 17, we will begin to monitor the wisdom teeth more closely. If your child has not been in for an appointment recently, call us to schedule one. We can assess your child’s oral health and, if appropriate, discuss the wisdom of removing the wisdom teeth.

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