Five Tips for a Healthy Winter Mouth

During the winter months, you may find that your children spend more time indoors, eat different foods or engage in new sports. The needs of your children’s mouths and teeth may change, too. While the usual rules of dental care apply 12 months out of the year, wintertime brings some additional dental challenges. The following are five dental care tips to keep in mind this winter:

  • Take care of chapped lips. Exposure to winter elements—such as wind, cold and sun—can lead to dry, chapped lips. To prevent or treat chapped lips, keep your children hydrated, and regularly apply a lip balm that offers protection from the sun.
  • Protect against cold sores. Are your children prone to cold sore outbreaks? If so, they may be more likely to experience one during the colder months. Protect children’s mouths and lips with sunscreen, and encourage them to wash their hands often to prevent the spread of infection.
  • Pay attention to sensitive teeth. Just as ice cubes or ice cream can trigger pain in sensitive teeth, so, too, can breathing in cold air. Make sure your children are extra diligent about oral hygiene, and consider getting them a toothpaste designed for sensitive teeth (and accepted by the American Dental Association). At your children’s next appointments, we will make sure that their sensitive teeth are not a sign of any chipped or cracked teeth.
  • Guard against injuries. If your children snowboard, play hockey or engage in other winter sports, protect their teeth with a mouthguard. There are several different types of mouthguard; your best bet is one custom made in our office.
  • Watch the sugar. From sipping hot cocoa to sucking lozenges to treat coughs, wintertime can mean more sugar on your children’s teeth. Look for healthier options, such as hot tea or sugar-free lozenges. And when you just cannot part with the cocoa, consider using real milk and dark chocolate.

As always, be sure to instill good dental care habits in your children—habits that will last a lifetime. Should you have questions about any of these tips, call our office or ask us at your children’s next appointments.

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When Your Child Loses an Adult Tooth

A major part of being a child is playing. It’s good for their mental and physical health, and aids in social development. Unfortunately, playing too rough, even during organized activities, carries a risk of injury—which includes tooth loss. While a knocked-out baby tooth is a problem, losing an adult tooth is an emergency. Sports like hockey and basketball sometimes result in facial injuries that cause teeth to be knocked out, but something as simple as slipping and falling can do the job just as well. What’s important, and perhaps surprising, to know is that a lost adult tooth can be reattached if you act quickly and decisively.

On the off chance that your child loses a permanent tooth, the first thing to do is recover the tooth. If the tooth is intact, make sure to pick it up by the crown (the top of the tooth), not the root (the fleshy part at the bottom). Then, give it a brief rinse in a sterile solution—a saline solution and milk are good options. But only rinse, do not scrub; scrubbing can damage the tissue that allows the tooth to reconnect in the mouth. After rinsing, try to put the tooth back in its gum socket. If it doesn’t fit properly, place the tooth in a container of saliva, milk or saline. Water is never a good option, because it will kill the cells that connect the tooth to the jawbone.

Because this is an emergency, treat it as such: Call us immediately. After reinserting the tooth in the gum, we will apply a dental splint to an adjacent tooth with a thin piece of plastic or a metal wire. This splinting process should keep the tooth in place and increase the possibility that the ligaments connecting the tooth to the jawbone will grow back. Over the next several appointments, we will check to see whether the tooth is reconnecting properly. Should reconnection fail, we can replace the tooth with a bridge or implant.

Once a lost tooth reattaches, you will need to schedule regular follow-up appointments so we can take x-rays, monitor the tooth for complications, and protect and preserve your child’s overall oral health.

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Dental Care During Cold and Flu Season

Teaching your children good dental health habits is a year-round task, but it becomes a bit more complicated than usual during the winter months. With the winter comes cold, damp weather…and cold and flu season along with it. While the most visible symptoms might be coughing and sneezing, changes are occurring in your children’s dental health, too. Here are three suggestions to help children protect their teeth and gums during cold and flu season:

1. Keep hydrated. Although it’s always important for children to stay hydrated, it is especially important during cold and flu season. Medications taken for colds, flu and allergies often result in dry mouth, so children need to drink a lot of water to keep hydrated. Regularly drinking water helps to keep saliva flowing, which is one of the body’s best natural defenses against harmful oral bacteria that can cause cavities and gum disease.

2. Use sugar-free lozenges. Sore throat is one of the most common symptoms of a cold or flu, and throat lozenges are an inexpensive and popular method of treatment. However, lozenges are often very high in sugar, a key culprit in tooth decay. Use sugar-free throat lozenges instead of the high-sugar, candy-like options.

3. Replace those toothbrushes. The harmful bacteria that made your children sick in the first place linger on their toothbrushes after they get better. Rather than risk reinfection, simply change their toothbrushes (or toothbrush heads on electric toothbrushes) once they are better to protect their health going forward. Even though it might not always be necessary, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You should be in the habit of replacing your children’s toothbrushes every 3 to 4 months regardless.

The common cold can have an impact on oral health, but with proper preparedness, the germs, dry mouth and discomfort that come along with it can be abated. We will gladly address any questions or concerns you may have about your children’s dental health in the midst of cold and flu season at their next dental appointments.

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Teach Your Children (to Brush Their Teeth) Well

You’ve been brushing your teeth all your life. You know what you’re doing, right? And you’ve taught your children the right way to brush their teeth, right? Maybe. But then again, maybe not. Here are five common mistakes you—and your children—may be making when it comes to toothbrushing:

Using the wrong brush. Toothbrushes come in a variety of sizes and degrees of stiffness. You and your children need toothbrushes with heads that are small enough to fit comfortably in the mouth but with handles that are long enough to reach the back teeth. And go for soft bristles; the American Dental Association states that soft bristles combine cleaning efficiency with the lowest risk of damaging gums and tooth enamel.

Brushing too hard. Because plaque is soft and loose, you don’t need to press hard to get it off your teeth. Aggressive toothbrushing can lead to receding gums. Think massage, not scrub.

Applying the wrong technique. How you brush your teeth matters. Too many people brush in long side-to-side strokes. Instead, focus on brushing just a few teeth at a time using short, circular strokes. Hold your brush at a 45-degree angle to clean the teeth at the gumline.

Keeping your brush too long. Toothbrushes wear out. Their bristles bend and fray, interfering with their ability to get teeth clean. Take your children toothbrush shopping every 3 to 4 months—and make it a special occasion.

Stopping too soon. This is probably the most common mistake people make. You need to brush your teeth for a full 2 minutes to thoroughly clean all the surfaces on every tooth. Typically, people—especially children—do not approximate time very well. Use a timer or play a 2-minute clip of your child’s favorite song; you’ll both be surprised by just how long 2 minutes is.

It can be easy to fall into bad toothbrushing habits. To guarantee that your children are doing all they can to keep tooth decay and gum disease at bay, supervise them when they brush and floss. And check your own toothbrushing regimen periodically, too, to keep the whole family’s teeth clean and healthy.

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When You Spot Spots on Your Child’s Teeth

Your child is a dental hygiene whiz. He brushes twice a day, he flosses daily, and you bring him to our office for checkups twice a year. But you’ve noticed spots on his teeth that appear whiter than the typical tooth color. Could there be a problem? While it may seem contradictory, the most frequent culprits behind white spots are tooth decay, which can result from too little fluoride, and fluorosis, which results from too much fluoride.

Chalky, pale white spots along the gumline are often early signs of tooth decay in children. If the decay is not treated, these spots will eventually turn brown or yellow as a cavity develops. But any trouble coming from those white spots on your child’s teeth can be stopped in its tracks.

In our office, we will remove any plaque or tartar that has accumulated on your child’s teeth. Once the affected teeth have been thoroughly cleaned, we will apply a fluoride treatment that works to reverse the decay by strengthening tooth enamel and preventing the formation of acid that wears away the teeth over time.

Sometimes, however, white spots on baby teeth can be a sign of too much fluoride, a condition called fluorosis. Frequently, these white spots are barely visible; you may not even see them before we point them out. They may look like blotches or streaks rather than spots. Only children younger than 8 years can develop fluorosis; once the permanent teeth are fully formed, they cannot be harmed by too much fluoride. And fluorosis in baby teeth causes no permanent damage.

In some cases, white spots on the teeth are a sign of a more serious health issue, such as enamel hypoplasia caused by nutritional deficiencies, high fever or side effects of medication. The good news is that white spots on your children’s teeth are most likely harmless, easily treatable or both.

Should you notice the appearance of white spots on your child’s teeth, point them out to us at his or her semiannual visit. We will uncover the cause and suggest the best possible treatment options.

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Childhood Cancer Treatment and Oral Health

Every year, more than 15,000 children in the United States are diagnosed with cancer. With modern medical care, the 5-year survival rate for these children exceeds 80%. That’s nearly 400,000 survivors of childhood cancer in the United States, many of whom have undergone chemotherapy or radiation. Because the mouth is highly susceptible to the side effects of these therapies, dental visits are strongly encouraged before, during and after cancer treatments.

If your child is diagnosed with cancer, his or her physician will likely recommend a full dental examination, including x-rays, before treatment begins. We will identify and eliminate any oral infections, communicate your child’s oral health status to the oncology team and review with you the importance of dental hygiene during treatment.

During cancer treatment, it is important that your child floss daily and brush (gently) at least twice a day with a soft nylon toothbrush. We may also recommend an alcohol-free mouth rinse. For children who have dry mouth as a result of cancer treatments, we may suggest a sugar-free gum or candy to stimulate saliva production. Pay special attention to the inside of the mouth, and report any changes to us or your child’s physician immediately.

After cancer treatment, the same standard rules of oral hygiene apply. Depending on the type of therapy your child received, your child’s physician may recommend more frequent dental examinations. Because cancer care can affect tooth development, salivary function, craniofacial growth and temporomandibular function, childhood cancer survivors are at an increased risk of future dental complications. This is especially true for children who were treated at a young age, before their permanent teeth had fully formed.

Vigilance is key. Early detection of any dental care issue usually leads to a better outcome. If your child is undergoing cancer treatment or is a cancer survivor, be sure to bring him or her to see us for regular cleanings and examinations. We can identify and address potential problems early, while reinforcing with your child the importance of maintaining good oral hygiene habits.

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