Dental X-rays: Seeing Beyond Your Children’s Teeth

Dental x-rays are a vital tool in our arsenal to identify potential problems in the teeth and surrounding bones. Oral problems that may be invisible to the eye alone—such as cavities, cracked teeth and certain dental diseases—become visible with the use of dental x-rays. Once problems are identified, we can address any previously hidden issues in your child’s mouth. But how often should x-rays be taken? And are they safe?

X-rays use ionizing radiation. In low doses the impact is negligible, but prolonged or multiple exposures may have serious adverse effects associated with radiation contact. With that in mind, you as the parent need to know when and why dental x-rays are taken.

How often should a child have a dental x-ray? We abide by the “as low as reasonably achievable” (ALARA) approach, meaning x-rays should be used only after a full clinical examination of the mouth and teeth, in instances when we detect indicators of conditions hidden within the teeth or bone. Taking x-rays as part of a standard office visit, regardless of whether a specific need has been identified, is not acceptable.

In addition to the ALARA approach, the American Dental Association endorses the Image Gently program—an initiative to “child-size” radiographic examination of children in medicine and dentistry. The program encourages dental professionals to

  • utilize x-rays when essential, not as a routine
  • employ the fastest image receptor possible
  • use cone beam computed tomography only when necessary
  • restrict the beam to the area of interest
  • use a thyroid collar/shield every time
  • “child-size” the exposure time, because oral structures are smaller in children than in adults

X-rays taken using the Image Gently guidelines should have a negligible cumulative effect on your child. They typically offer more benefits than not and can give us the information we need to address or prevent serious dental issues.

Advocate for your child. Always ask if we will be taking an x-ray and whether there are alternatives. We understand that the more x-rays your child has, both in our office and elsewhere, the more he or she is exposed to radiation.

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Is Vaping Safe for Teeth and Gums?

The use of electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) and vaporizers has increased among young people and adults in recent years. These electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS) are filled with a liquid generally containing nicotine, as well as other additives, that is heated into a vapor and inhaled by the user. Although sometimes touted as safer alternatives to cigarettes, e-cigarettes and vaporizers have adverse effects that are not yet fully understood.

According to statistics from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 16% of high school students and 5.3% of middle school students used e-cigarettes in 2015. Most vaping devices contain nicotine, which comes with risks any way it is absorbed. As you talk to your children and teens about the risks of smoking cigarettes, be sure they know that vaping is not a healthy substitute. In addition to its negative impact on overall health—such as elevated blood pressure, airway inflammation and impaired immune response—nicotine also damages oral health, regardless of how it is delivered:

  • Gum recession. Nicotine reduces the amount of blood that is able to flow through the blood vessels, which deprives gums and other tissues of needed oxygen and nutrients. Not only can this lead to gum disease but it may also mask the swelling and bleeding that usually tip us off to the disease’s presence. That could delay needed treatment.
  • Bad breath and tooth decay. Nicotine reduces the amount of saliva in the mouth, allowing for a proliferation of bacteria. These bacteria can cause bad breath and tooth decay.
  • Teeth grinding. Because nicotine is a stimulant, it can intensify teeth grinding and lead to chipped teeth and jaw problems.

Inhaled vapor that does not contain nicotine has the power to damage the oral tissues as well. Those who “vape” multiple times per day increase their risk of oral ulcerations and oral cancer.

These are just some of the facts that have been pinpointed thus far. All the ramifications of using ENDS are not yet known, and the devices should not be deemed safe. If you have any questions or concerns about the harmful impact ENDS can have on your adolescent, call us for an appointment. In addition to a cleaning and examination, we will gladly review with you and your teen the known effects all methods of smoking can have on oral health.

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Restore Your Child’s Sparkling Smile

Your child is running around the house, just like she does every day. She trips, falls to the ground face-first and bursts into tears. Once you’ve calmed her down, you notice that she has chipped a front tooth. She feels no pain from the accident, but you worry that her smile no longer looks as lovely as it did before. Is it possible to repair her radiant smile?

Cosmetic dentistry has become commonplace for people of all ages and backgrounds. Depending on the size of the chip and the type of tooth, we generally look at three options to fix the damage:

  • To repair a minor chip, we file the tooth down until it is smooth.
  • To repair a bigger chip, we bond the tooth, restoring its natural appearance.
  • To repair a bigger chip when bonding is not possible, we place a veneer.

Bonding a tooth involves recreating its shape using a tooth-colored resin called composite, the same resin used to fill cavities. Composite bonding can address chips and fractures as well as decayed and discolored teeth. Unlike veneers, which must be created in a dental lab and require more than one visit to place, composite bonds can be created right in our office, usually in less than an hour. The procedure is painless, and the restoration should last for years.

Although composite bonds are not as durable as veneers or crowns, they are typically less expensive and easier to place. For baby teeth that will eventually be displaced by permanent teeth, bonding is an ideal solution. A composite bond should last for the lifespan of a baby tooth.

Call us as soon as possible after any accident that affects your child’s mouth. The sooner you can bring him or her to our office, the better. We will evaluate the damage to be certain that any injuries sustained are merely cosmetic issues. Then comes the best part: Between us, we will choose the best option to return your child’s smile to its former glory.

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Dental Care for Children with Autism

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may face unique challenges when it comes to health care—including their dental health care. Because of these unique challenges, we suggest that you anticipate a few important issues before you and your child visit our dental practice. Experience has taught us that preparation goes a long way to ensure that a child with ASD has a stress-free experience with minimal discomfort. Here is what we advise:

1. Prepare your child for the visit. Most people don’t like having hands and instruments in their mouths, and that includes children with ASD. Acclimate your child to having things in his or her mouth before visiting our office. If your child is already brushing his or her own teeth, great! If not, you may want to start working with an occupational therapist or other professional to get your child used to brushing, flossing and having foreign objects placed in the mouth. It may also help to educate your child about the benefits of going to the dentist, perhaps with informative stories or articles.

2. Prepare our staff for the visit. Tell us about any of your child’s specific tendencies and reactions before the appointment so we can be as quick and effective as possible. This might involve a few introductory visits before the actual appointment. Getting accustomed to the office and our staff before any motorized or sharp instruments enter the equation can make it much easier for your child to feel at ease.

3. Establish a nonverbal communication system. If your child does not speak or has difficulty doing so, we will want to work out an alternate method of communicating as early as possible. To avoid any pain or discomfort, we will strive to understand what is being expressed. Help us establish that link in advance.

Do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns. Together, we can put a plan in place to help the appointment go smoothly and successfully.

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Summer Snacks for Summery Smiles

To maintain optimum oral health, attention to good nutrition and dental hygiene is a must. Any dentist will tell you that. Children especially need to learn the value of a nutritious diet and the associated consequences if they choose to ignore it. As their parent, try to offer your children a variety of summer snacks that are both appealing and healthy. Keep the sticky and sugary snacks to a minimum, because they can contribute to cavities and poor dental health.

The mouth contains a plethora of various bacteria that feed on sugars; the digestion of these sugars creates acid. Exposure of teeth to this acid causes weakened enamel, which often leads to other problems, such as tooth decay, dental erosion and gum disease.

When possible, try to reduce the sugar, and provide tooth-friendly summer snacks for your children, including

  • Certain fruits. Apples, bananas and pears (to name a few) are high in vitamin C and fiber.
  • Cheese. This snack and other calcium-rich dairy products help to preserve tooth enamel and generate the flow of saliva.
  • Vegetables. Those high in antioxidants and vitamins A and C are your best bet.
  • Nuts. Children who aren’t allergic to nuts can benefit from unsalted, high-protein, low-sugar options.
  • Whole-grain snacks. High in minerals, fiber and vitamins, whole-grain snacks are recommended over refined carbohydrates.
  • Water. It’s the simple, wholesome beverage choice for thirsty children. If they are looking for more flavor, add some fresh fruit to it. From a dental perspective, tap water is best, because it contains fluoride.

Summertime is a vacation period for most children, so there are bound to be slip-ups, and ideal snacking may not always be possible. That is perfectly okay. The key is teaching and practicing moderation. Ultimately, when it comes to their diets, children may benefit from certain limits. Encourage and promote mindful, health-promoting food choices. As always, should you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us for advice.

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