Is This Injury a Dental Emergency?

From toothaches to chipped teeth, unexpected dental health issues in children arise when you least expect them. It is best to know ahead of time what constitutes a dental emergency, how to handle these situations and when you should call us.

Any trauma to the mouth usually constitutes a dental emergency and warrants an immediate call to our office or a visit to the emergency room. The following are five common dental conditions and injuries and how best to handle them:

  • Knocked-out tooth. Retrieve the tooth and call us immediately. A primary (baby) tooth should not be reinserted into your child’s mouth, but a permanent (adult) tooth should be (after rinsing it thoroughly) by holding it in place with gauze. If reinsertion is not possible, place the permanent tooth in milk, saliva or saline. Regardless of whether the lost tooth is primary or permanent, make an appointment with us and bring any tooth pieces you can find. Although primary teeth will eventually fall out on their own, it is important to come to our office right away because a traumatic accident may damage the permanent tooth underneath.  
  • Chipped or broken tooth. Recover the chipped piece and, if possible, wrap it in a wet paper towel. Have your child rinse with warm water to clear any debris from the mouth, and apply a cold compress to your child’s face to reduce swelling. Call our office promptly.
  • Bitten tongue or lip. Rinse the area with warm water, and apply a cold compress. If bleeding does not subside quickly, contact our office or head to the emergency room.
  • Toothache. Cleanse your child’s mouth with warm water and administer an over-the-counter pain medication such as acetaminophen—or whatever you would normally administer for pain. Never apply aspirin directly to the tooth or gum; in fact, do not give your child aspirin at all unless your pediatrician prescribes it. If the pain persists, call us for an appointment so we can determine the cause.
  • Object stuck in teeth. If you cannot remove the object with dental floss, notify our office. Do not use any sharp or pointed tools in your child’s mouth.

Should you suspect a dental emergency, please reach out to us or visit the emergency room. It is always better to see a dental professional sooner rather than later—especially if your child has sustained a traumatic injury.

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The Link Between Oral Health and Self-Esteem

We pay close attention to the observable effects of a lack of good oral hygiene: plaque, tooth decay, inflamed gums. But are there other effects that we cannot see so easily? A growing body of research shows a link between poor oral health and low self-esteem. This negative self-image can profoundly affect a child’s social life and education.

According to a recent study from the University of Southern California, inadequate oral hygiene has been linked to unsatisfactory performance in school. Some measurable effects include the fact that, on average, students with oral health problems miss up to three days a year more than do students with healthier mouths. Below-average academic performance can lead to feelings of inadequacy and failure that may create distorted self-perception.

Low self-esteem has been connected to several significant mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. These issues can create a vicious cycle of negative feelings leading to negligent self-care, which may stir up further negative feelings. Reduced self-esteem can also cause a lack of confidence, a tendency to avoid difficult situations, bouts of anger and an unwillingness to stand up for oneself.

Poor oral health has also been linked to social problems. Children who are careless about their oral health are more likely to develop bad breath, which may lead to social aversion and isolation. It may also cause them to smile less often, making them seem less friendly and approachable to other students.

A healthy smile is important. Your children should want to feel proud of their smiles. Monitor your children’s oral hygiene habits, and motivate them to work toward beautiful, healthy smiles. That means brushing twice a day—in the morning and the evening—and flossing at least once a day. It also means making regular visits to our office for professional cleanings and checkups. A healthy smile can be just the thing children need in order to view themselves in a more positive light.

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Protect the Teeth of Your Low-Birth-Weight Child

As many as one in six infants worldwide is born with low birth weight—less than 5 lbs., 8 ozs.—which puts them at risk for medical and dental problems as they grow into childhood and adulthood. In the United States, the prevalence is lower: About one in 12 babies is born with low birth weight, and seven out of 10 low-birth-weight babies are also born prematurely. If your child was born prematurely or with low birth weight, it is important that you be vigilant about his or her oral health—starting in infancy.

Low-birth-weight babies are at higher risk for a condition called enamel hypoplasia, meaning they lack protective enamel on their teeth. It can be caused by illness, insufficient calcium levels, difficulty absorbing nutrients, or lifesaving respirator tubes pressing against the baby’s gums. Enamel hypoplasia not only puts children at higher risk for stains but it can also increase the chances of tooth decay.

Children born with low birth weight are also at increased risk for the following conditions:

  • delayed tooth eruption caused by infection, poor nutrition or intubation
  • tooth discoloration caused by high bilirubin levels
  • palatal groove—a narrow groove in the roof of the mouth—caused by long periods of intubation

The American Dental Association recommends that parents and guardians bring their child to a pediatric dentist before his or her first birthday. This is especially crucial for children with low birth weight because we can help prevent dental decay from an early age. For instance, while we cannot replace tooth enamel, we can prevent tooth decay in children with enamel hypoplasia through the use of sealants or other treatments.

Give us a call and schedule an appointment for your child. We will examine his or her mouth and newly erupted teeth and work with you to prevent any long-term dental health problems. You will also learn best practices to optimize oral hygiene, including how to brush your baby’s teeth. Along with your consistent and proper care between visits, we can help ensure a healthy smile for your baby.

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Common Sense and Tooth Sensitivity

When your child says “NO!” to toothbrushing, it can be tough to tell why. Is he being stubborn? Is she in pain? If it’s pain, is it major or minor? Real or imagined? If your child complains of oral discomfort, you certainly want to alleviate his or her suffering as soon as possible.

To stop the anguish of tooth sensitivity, bring your child in for a dental checkup and we will perform a thorough examination to determine the source. In some cases, such as injury, immediate care is needed. Other instances are less serious and may simply require that your child change his or her brushing technique. To give you an idea of what might be the source of your child’s discomfort, here are the most likely causes of tooth sensitivity in children.

  • Worn enamel from incorrect brushing. Some children brush too frequently and/or aggressively, or use a toothbrush with bristles that are too hard. Those habits can erode enamel and gum tissue.
  • Worn enamel from cavities. Untreated tooth decay usually causes pain and sensitivity, especially to toothbrushing and cold food.
  • Dentin exposure from injury. Dentin is the soft inner part of the tooth, located under the enamel and gums. When it is exposed, triggers like cold painfully arouse the tooth’s nerves. Dentin gets exposed through injury—a football tackle that results in a chipped tooth, a “misbite” of hard candy, prolonged teeth grinding, etc. Misaligned teeth may also develop enamel cracks, exposing dentin.
  • New teeth on the block. Stimuli ranging from food and air to hot or cold temperatures can hurt newly emerged teeth; such sensitivity should subside after a while.
  • Sinus issues. Tooth sensitivity often affects children with chronic sinus problems. An acute sinus infection can cause temporary sensitivity, especially in upper molars.
  • All that glitters. Silver amalgam fillings conduct heat and cold quickly, potentially making the teeth they fill extra sensitive. Even with non-silver fillings, a recently fixed cavity can temporarily be very sensitive.
  • Non-dental causes. A child with autism may react strongly to particular smells, tastes or sensations, including those involved in toothbrushing. Such sensitivities don’t reside in the teeth, per se, so the source of discomfort should be explored.

What is the solution to your child’s tooth sensitivity? It depends on the cause. If aggressive brushing is the culprit, have your child scale back on the enthusiasm. If your child’s toothbrush has hard bristles, replace it with a soft-bristle brush.

It is important to explore all the potential causes of your child’s tooth sensitivity. Generally, we don’t recommend desensitizing toothpaste for children younger than age 12; however, we can discuss this option at your child’s next dental visit. Let us know any time your child experiences sensitivity that doesn’t resolve in a few days—a quick recovery is our goal.

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The Everlasting Season of Sweets

Holidays can be a never-ending feast. Just when we thought one holiday was behind us, supermarket shelves are once again filled with sweets. We’ve gone from candy corn to candy canes to heart-shaped candy boxes, with chocolate eggs and Peeps on the horizon. In a world where sugar seems to be everywhere, how do you ensure healthy teeth for your children?

We see parents and young children every day, so we understand the challenges very well. On one hand, it’s important to remember that bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar and create acids that wear away tooth enamel. On the other hand, we know that it might not be realistic to keep sweets completely out of your children’s diets. But we can offer the following tips:

  • If your children are going to indulge in sweets, try to keep them away from anything sticky, like caramels. Foods that stick around increase the chance that acid-causing bacteria will form on teeth. This is also a good reason to avoid soda and hard candies, because they remain in contact with teeth for a long period of time.
  • Give children their sweet snacks immediately following a meal, when they are producing saliva at a higher rate; this practice can help wash away sugars and neutralize acid production. Chewing sugar-free gum can also help stimulate saliva production.
  • Have your children drink water after eating anything sweet. Similar to saliva, a glass of water helps eliminate food particles and bacteria.
  • Keep a toothbrush and toothpaste handy, and ensure that children brush their teeth after eating anything sweet. If they have consumed anything acidic, say, oranges or orange juice, have them wait about 30 minutes before brushing to avoid damaging tooth enamel.

Finally, if the rush of the holiday season has led you to postpone a dental appointment for your child, now is a good time to reschedule it. We can take a good look at your child’s teeth and gums, clean them professionally and reinforce the importance of taking care of them to enjoy years of beautiful, healthy smiles.

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Dental Care for Children with Cerebral Palsy

A neurological disorder that usually develops before birth, cerebral palsy (CP) results in a loss or impairment of body movement, muscle control and balance. Each case is unique; some people may be completely paralyzed, while others may require little assistance. Though CP is not yet curable, most children with the disorder can be expected to live well into adulthood.

As the parent or guardian of a child with CP, you’re no doubt busy with a multitude of treatment and therapy appointments—but it is important to be vigilant about your child’s oral health, too. And we can help.

Depending on your child’s condition, the following CP symptoms may put him or her at higher risk for dental problems:

  • Children who experience seizures are more prone to grinding their teeth, which can wear away enamel and lead to jaw problems.
  • Children who have difficulty chewing or swallowing are more likely to experience tooth decay, because food stays in their mouths longer, giving bacteria more time to colonize on their teeth. These children may also have difficulty brushing or rinsing.
  • Children with CP often take medications that contain sugar, which can attach to the teeth and increase the likelihood of cavity development.

As a caretaker for a child with CP, know that brushing, flossing and rinsing daily are crucial to your child’s optimal oral health. It may also be helpful to wrap your finger with gauze and run it through your child’s mouth to remove food or medicine that might otherwise remain there awhile.

Caring for a child with CP may at times feel overwhelming, and we are here to help. At our office, your child will receive a thorough examination and cleaning, and we will review with you best practices for caring for your child’s teeth between visits. In some cases, a special mouth rinse, mouthguard, or application of topical fluoride or sealants may be recommended.

Your child’s oral health is especially important because tooth decay and gum disease can lead to more serious health problems. Let us know at your next appointment if you have concerns about your child’s oral health.

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