Taking Care of Toothaches

Toothaches can be painful for kids and stressful for parents too. If your child has a toothache, there are some approaches you can use to help alleviate pain at home. Where the toothache is severe, your child will need urgent care, and you shouldn’t wait to see us.

What Is a Toothache?

Toothaches involve pain and discomfort in the tooth. There are many causes, but the main ones are

  • tooth decay
  • food lodged between the teeth
  • tooth injury
  • abscesses
  • gum infections from gingivitis

Sometimes a child will mistake a toothache for another problem, such as a canker sore. Ask your child to describe the pain, and make sure you look inside his or her mouth for red spots and bumps.

Caring for Toothaches at Home

The majority of toothaches are minor and temporary—largely due to a sensitive tooth. Reassure your child, and provide comfort as needed. Try to floss, or have him or her floss the tooth on both sides to remove any food lodged between teeth. Offer over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen for pain relief, according to the manufacturer’s instructions for child age and weight. You can try ice packs wrapped in cloth to soothe the affected area of the mouth and jaw.

When to Seek Immediate Help

While some toothaches can wait, others require urgent attention. Contact our emergency line or a doctor if your child looks or acts very sick. The presence of a fever is another warning sign. A swollen face and no pain relief two hours after taking medicine are other reasons to seek urgent care.

When to Wait

In other cases, contact us within 24 hours if the toothache has lasted for more than a day. Also get in touch with us if you can see a brown spot on the tooth or a lump at the gum line of the sore tooth. 

While most minor toothaches will resolve within a day, it is still good practice to follow-up with our office during the week for peace of mind. You can also learn more strategies to prevent and deal with toothaches.

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Regular Dental X-rays for Little Mouths

Most adults have received dental x-rays at some point in time. Many, however, may not be clear on how often their children should get x-rays, or what the benefits are to regular dental x-rays.

Benefits of Dental X-rays

Dental x-rays help dentists to visualize diseases of children’s teeth and surrounding tissue that can’t be seen by looking in the mouth. These x-rays also allow dentists to find and treat dental problems earlier on, helping to prevent them from worsening. This means that x-rays can save you money, while reducing unnecessary pain for kids. Dental x-rays enable dentists to

  • check for decay
  • find out if there’s enough space for all incoming teeth
  • assess wisdom teeth development
  • learn whether primary teeth are being lost fast enough for permanent ones to come in

How Many X-rays Are Needed?

On average, children tend to need dental x-rays more often than adults. That’s because their teeth and jaws are still growing and changing. Their teeth are more likely to be affected by tooth decay compared with adults. But just like with adults, your child’s age will affect how often they need x-rays. Other factors that influence the frequency are

  • signs and symptoms of oral disease
  • current oral health
  • personal risks for oral disease

Usually, new patients will need x-rays if teeth are touching and the dentist can’t see and touch all surfaces. If your child is considered high-risk, then x-rays may be taken at subsequent visits every six months until there’s no decay present. If your child has no decay or major risks for decay, then x-rays are taken every 12 to 24 months.

Talk to Us

During your child’s first visit to our office, we will look at your child’s history, examine his or her mouth and determine how frequently x-rays are needed. During a first visit in particular, x-rays are often important to determine baseline oral health. We will only use x-rays when truly needed, such as when a visual examination can’t capture everything. Using x-rays as needed will help keep your child’s mouth healthy and keep costs lower for you.

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Are You Passing Tooth Decay on to Your Child?

Certain streptococcal bacteria are considered largely responsible for tooth decay (caries), and studies have shown that they are transmitted from parent to child. How this happens isn’t clear. Sharing of utensils has been suggested as a possible cause, but studies investigating the association have produced contradictory results.

One of the most recent and larger studies was carried out in Japan, where the Japanese Society of Pediatric Dentistry has advised caregivers not to share spoons with their children or feed them mouth to mouth. More than 3,000 caregivers of 3-year-old children who agreed to follow this recommendation participated, but no significant association was found between the presumably preventive behavior and caries in the children.

Other factors shown to affect the spread of the streptococci in children include a parent’s poor oral hygiene, the presence of periodontal disease and frequent snacking. Children’s preference for sweetness has been found to be affected by the mothers’ preference, and it is well known that sugar consumption affects the growth of bacteria in the mouth.

To prevent caries in your child, then, it’s wise to look at your own oral hygiene and health behavior, and how you take care of your child’s dental health. Visit the dentist regularly, and have any oral problems treated promptly; both you and your child should follow recommendations about toothbrushing and limit the consumption of sweets.

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Staying Up-to-date with Dental Visits

Most kids need to see the dentist twice a year, even if they have never had a cavity. Those who do have cavities may need more frequent visits to monitor oral health and prevent new decay.

Seeing the dentist regularly keeps teeth clean and cavity-free. Cleaning removes debris that can accumulate on teeth, causing gum irritation and decay. Visits twice a year are critical for us to

  • monitor changes in your child’s mouth
  • assess the condition of teeth and gums
  • advise parents about good oral hygiene strategies

Visits are also important to help children learn how to

  • brush and floss properly
  • minimize decay from sugary drinks
  • avoid lifestyle habits that cause decay

Every Tooth Counts

The condition of each tooth in your child’s mouth can change rapidly. Even when all teeth are checked out as healthy in one visit, this can change six months later during the next visit. For example, any changes to your child’s diet or health can have a major impact on his or her teeth and gums. A habit like thumb sucking can have a significant effect on tooth alignment over several months.

Stopping Problems Before They Start

Regular dental visits aren’t just to clean teeth but also to apply preventative measures to deter decay and disease. We may take x-rays, apply dental sealants or use fluoride.

Some dentists will use the oral health of the parents to help predict whether problems will arise with a child and if more frequent checkups can help. Babies with dental conditions due to disease, injury or developmental problems should see us right away. Another reason for visits twice a year is to allow us to identify orthodontic problems so that teeth can be guided into position.

Visiting a dentist at least twice a year is important to help your child maintain good oral health. Even if your child has good oral hygiene habits, seeing us regularly is key to removing all plaque on tooth surfaces—especially hard-to-reach ones. Talk with us about the best schedule for your child, and be sure to keep all of your appointments.

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Why Baby Teeth Matter

Your child’s primary teeth (also called baby teeth or milk teeth) perform several important functions before the permanent teeth emerge in various stages, usually between ages 6 and 12 years. Baby teeth help your child

  • chew and digest food
  • speak clearly
  • develop her jaw bones and facial muscles
  • look her best

But an often overlooked function of baby teeth is that they reserve space for the permanent teeth and help guide the permanent teeth into position.

In normal development, a primary tooth remains in place until the permanent tooth that will replace it is ready to erupt. Then the roots of the primary tooth begin to break down and dissolve. Gradually, the permanent tooth pushes the primary tooth out and occupies the space that the primary tooth has reserved for it. And your child has a tooth to put under her pillow for the tooth fairy to redeem.

But what happens if the primary tooth has been lost too soon? Then the permanent tooth has no guide to follow as it emerges through the gum. It may erupt in the wrong position. Or the remaining primary teeth may “drift” into the empty space, which may prevent the primary tooth from emerging in the correct spot. Either of these problems can cause crowding and misalignment of the permanent teeth. That can increase the chances of teeth becoming diseased. And crowded or misaligned teeth frequently require expensive and time-consuming orthodontic treatment.

Sometimes a child prematurely loses a baby tooth due to an accident, like a fall, or during rough play. But often the tooth loss comes about because of cavities or gum disease. If your child loses a tooth too early—before the permanent tooth is ready to erupt—we may recommend placing a space maintainer to take the place of the missing tooth until the permanent tooth is ready to come in.

You may not be able to prevent an accident that knocks out one of your child’s teeth. But you can help avoid premature loss of baby teeth by starting your child early on the road to proper dental hygiene. Make sure your child’s teeth are brushed and flossed regularly. And regular dental visits can catch the beginning of any cavities or gum disease before tooth loss becomes inevitable.

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Nighttime Grinding: Getting to the Root of the Problem

While many kids and adults might clench their teeth when they’re awake, nighttime grinding can do a lot more damage. That’s because it often goes undiagnosed. Dentists refer to this kind of tooth grinding as bruxism. Why do kids grind their teeth? A recent study looked into what lies behind tooth-grinding and found that personality can play a part. But first, it’s important to look at what happens if tooth-grinding is left unchecked.

Damage from Tooth Grinding

If undetected, children who grind their teeth at night can end up with problems relating to

  • facial muscles
  • teeth
  • joints

The sideways, back-and-forth movement of tooth-grinding can ultimately wear down teeth, leading to more costly measures down the road. As a result, the children who grind their teeth can suffer from pain, functional issues and problems with their self-esteem.

Why Tooth-grinding Starts

Research suggests that children who suffer from nighttime grinding start the habit for a variety of reasons, such as stress. Other possible factors are social class and even your child’s personality. If your child is experiencing anger, sadness, anxiety, impatience or irritability, he or she could be twice as likely to suffer from nighttime tooth grinding. It’s thought that this may be a way for kids to release tension they experience during the day.

Treating Tooth Grinding

We are the primary contact when treating tooth grinding. In fact, we can assess whether it is happening in the first place. Your child will receive a thorough examination of his or her teeth and will be checked for any jaw tenderness or pain. Treatment may involve a special guard to prevent wear and tear on teeth. We will also talk about any potential forms of stress that might be contributing to the grinding.

Nighttime tooth grinding is common and treatable. Talk to us about whether your child is suffering from tooth grinding. Together, we can address why it’s happening to make sure your child’s teeth and emotional health get the attention they deserve.

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