Vital Nutrients for Healthy Teeth
Baby teeth pop out of your child’s gums naturally—and adorably—but keeping them healthy requires some serious thought, especially about vitamins and minerals known to be tooth heroes. Finicky eaters, vegetarians/vegans and those with digestive issues may benefit from the addition of a daily, physician-approved multivitamin, but ideally, children get the vitamins and minerals they need through a wholesome, well-balanced diet. Keep these nutrients in mind when you plan your family’s next meals and snacks:
- Vitamin C. Although vitamin C may sound innocent, it’s actually deadly to decay-causing bacteria. It also helps build collagen in your child’s gums, and keeps muscles and skin healthy. This vitamin is found in citrus fruits, such as oranges and limes; many non-citrus fruits, including cantaloupes, papayas, kiwis and strawberries; and some vegetables, such as broccoli, tomatoes, yams, and red, yellow and orange peppers.
- Calcium. This important mineral strengthens teeth and bones. It can protect teeth from harmful acids, restore damaged enamel and make your child’s teeth less susceptible to periodontal disease down the line. Dairy products, especially milk, cheese and yogurt (all low-fat for children ages 3 and older), canned fish with bones such as salmon and sardines, tofu, fortified orange juice, almonds and dark green leafy vegetables are all excellent sources of calcium.
- Vitamin D. In order to absorb that calcium, your child’s body needs vitamin D, which also strengthens teeth and bones. The best way to get vitamin D is through moderate sun exposure. For food sources, give your child egg yolks, or fortified milk or cereal. If he or she is an adventurous eater, certain fatty fish provide vitamin D, too.
- Vitamin A. Another big-time builder of bone and tooth strength, vitamin A boosts immune responses while improving skin and eye health, too. The body makes vitamin A from beta-carotene, found in orange-colored fruits and vegetables (think carrots, squash and sweet potatoes), dark green leafy vegetables, milk and cheese.
- Phosphorus. This mineral helps build healthy tooth enamel. It is found in abundance in meat, fish and eggs, which also contain protein—important in a growing child’s diet—and B vitamins, which help maintain the circulatory and nervous systems among other important functions.
- Magnesium. This one is an enamel strengthener and, similar to vitamin D, helps the body absorb calcium. You’ll find it in bananas, spinach, yogurt, fish and whole grains.
Ideally, your child obtains these vitamins and minerals from a well-rounded diet. If your pediatrician agrees, though, a supplement might be in order, especially if your child is a picky eater, has food sensitivities or other health conditions, or consumes lots of processed foods. Ask us about vitamin-packed foods that provide extra strength boosters for your child’s baby and adult teeth—we love to share!
How Puberty Affects the Mouth
There’s no question that your child’s body changes as he or she enters puberty, but you may not realize that hormonal changes during this time can also affect dental health. As children approach puberty, a rise in female and male hormones increases the risk of a form of gum disease called puberty gingivitis.
Some studies suggest that hormones present at puberty change the composition of microorganisms in the mouth, while other studies suggest that these hormones change the blood vessels and increase blood flow to the gums. Either way, because it is possible for gingivitis to emerge at this stage of your child’s growth—usually between ages 11 and 13—you need to be aware of this risk. Symptoms of gingivitis include red and swollen gums that may bleed more easily.
The good news is that puberty gingivitis is unlikely to stick around for long if it is treated promptly, especially with proper oral hygiene. Remember these basics:
- Make sure your child brushes his or her teeth twice a day for two minutes at a time and flosses at least once a day.
- Bring your child to our office for an examination and cleaning at least twice a year.
- If your child has braces, check to see if he or she is cleaning around them properly. This includes removing rubber bands and carefully maneuvering the brush around wires and pins.
A child with a good oral hygiene routine is less likely to develop puberty gingivitis and more likely to reverse it if it does occur. And remember: This is a great time to reinforce lifelong healthy dental habits in your child. We would like to help build those healthy dental habits.
Anytime your child has gone more than six months without a dental visit, call us and make an appointment. In addition to performing a routine examination and cleaning, we will discuss with you and your child the importance of oral hygiene during this significant time of life.
Red, White and Blue (and Black) Tongues: What Do They Mean?
A healthy tongue should be pink to red in color. Because it is not covered in skin, the tongue’s hue is mainly dictated by its tissue composition and the blood that runs through it, making the human tongue generally a pink-red color. A child’s discolored tongue may indicate an underlying condition. For clues about what your child’s tongue color signifies, simply ask him or her to stick it out so you can take a look.
A white coating or white spots on your child’s tongue could be nothing more than poor oral hygiene. But if the coating doesn’t easily wash away with a wet washcloth, those white patches could be a sign of something more serious, such as
- Oral thrush. A yeast infection that develops inside the mouth and often resembles cottage cheese, oral thrush is common among infants, those with weakened or immature immune systems, and asthmatic children who use a corticosteroid inhaler. It is contagious but easily treated.
- Oral lichen planus. While it occurs for unknown reasons, this inflammatory condition has been linked to certain allergies, infections, medications and some flu vaccines.
- Fever and dehydration. These ailments may be marked by a temporary whitish discoloration of the tongue.
A bright red tongue may signal a more serious condition, such as
- Vitamin deficiency. Often involving vitamin B12, folic acid or niacin, these deficiencies may cause the tongue to appear strawberry red.
- Scarlet fever. This disease causes the tongue to have a red, bumpy appearance and may develop in a child with strep throat. If your child has a red tongue and a high fever, seek medical attention.
- Kawasaki disease. This very rare but serious condition in which the blood vessels become inflamed typically affects children younger than five years old. A bright red tongue is one of its first symptoms, followed by high fever, sore throat, diarrhea, and redness or peeling on the palms and feet. Call your pediatrician as quickly as possible to avoid possible lasting damage.
A blue tongue, a serious warning sign of cyanosis, is caused by an insufficient amount of oxygen in the blood and warrants immediate medical attention. A purple tongue may precede a blue tongue and signals the need for urgent medical care, as well.
A black tongue may occur when food debris collects in elongated fibers on the tongue, causing bacteria to grow. Tongue color may start off as yellow and progress to brown and then black discoloration. The condition is not serious, and it is treatable with improved oral hygiene.
Because some colors indicate more serious conditions than others, alert your pediatrician and our office as soon as you notice any abnormal discolorations of your child’s tongue. Contact us, too, to learn optimal oral hygiene practices.
Oral Piercings: The Hole Truth
The popularity of oral piercings continues to grow. While your teenager might like the look and find it a stylish form of self-expression, it is important to be aware of the risks involved. From infections to chipped teeth, oral piercings sometimes come with unwanted adverse effects. If your teen is considering piercing his or her tongue or lip, be mindful of the following potential repercussions:
- Infection, pain or swelling. The mouth is a breeding ground for bacteria. Piercings that puncture the mouth provide those bacteria an opportunity to enter the bloodstream, which could lead to infection. In rare cases, the tongue may swell and block the airway.
- Chipped teeth. Jewelry attached to the lip or tongue will frequently hit the teeth, especially because people with piercings tend to play with or bite down on them. This potentially results in chipped or cracked teeth.
- Nerve damage. Piercings can injure nerves in the tongue, leading to temporary or even permanent numbness and a change in sense of taste.
For these reasons and more, our practice and the American Dental Association advise against oral piercings. If your teenager does get a piercing, make sure he or she takes the following precautions:
- Keep the piercing site and jewelry clean, and only touch the piercing with clean hands.
- Avoid clicking the jewelry against the teeth and gums.
- If possible, remove jewelry before eating, sleeping and playing sports.
As always, teens should practice regular oral hygiene. They should continue to floss daily, brush morning and night, and visit us at least twice a year for an examination and cleaning. Also, talk to us about possibly using a mouth rinse after meals.
Infections can be a very serious matter. Should you or your teen notice any signs of infection, such as swelling, pain, fever or chills, call your physician immediately. And bring any questions or concerns about oral piercings to your teen’s next dental appointment. We will happily share our advice and recommendations so you and your teenager will be able to make an informed decision.
Welcome to the Land of the Tooth Fairy!
As children grow, so do their teeth. Those initial baby teeth that came in only a few years ago are destined to be replaced by permanent adult successors. This is a good thing! The primary teeth must give way to make room for permanent teeth, and the only way to do that is to fall out. You should expect your child’s baby teeth to start to loosen at around age six.
As permanent teeth erupt, they push the primary teeth out of the way. Eventually, little is left to keep the primary teeth attached to the gums other than a few stringy pieces of tissue. The teeth become loose and begin to shift to the front, back, sides—the loose tooth wiggle!
Your child will most likely react in one of two ways. For some children, their curiosity means they cannot wait for the tooth to fall out. But for others, loose teeth may be a bit stressful. In either case, it is important to make sure children know what is happening to their bodies and what to do—and not do—to get the tooth out.
The most common way to loosen a tooth is for your child to wiggle it with his or her tongue. This separates it from the residual gum tissue. Once it has been loosened sufficiently, you may wish to help your child out. If so, grab the tooth firmly with a piece of gauze, and twist quickly. It should pop out right away. In the event that it does not, stop! Give it some time (usually a few days) and try again.
A tooth that is not ready to come out should not be forced. If the root breaks, it may become infected. In that instance, reach out to us and schedule an appointment. In rare cases, the loose tooth may require professional extraction.
Sometimes, due to a disease or an injury, children lose baby teeth before their adult teeth are ready to come in. Should that be the case with your child, we may need to insert a temporary custom placeholder to prevent spacing issues.
Most importantly, make sure to figure out the going rate for baby teeth—it’s expensive to be the tooth fairy nowadays!
Dental Health for Children with Epilepsy
Children with epilepsy are likely to have unique dental health needs. A chronic disease affecting less than 1% of the population, epilepsy is characterized by a risk for recurrent seizures and sudden body movements. This brain disorder may even cause a loss or change in consciousness. Children with epilepsy are at a higher risk for the following:
- Gum disease. Some medications used to control epilepsy have been associated with gingival overgrowth or increased gum bleeding.
- Tooth loss. Patients with epilepsy are more likely to lose their teeth at an earlier age. For this reason, meticulous oral hygiene is recommended.
- Trauma. People who experience seizures are at an increased risk of tongue biting and tooth injuries caused by teeth grinding. For some children with uncontrolled epilepsy, we may recommend a mouthguard or bite splint.
Despite these risks, some parents with children affected by epilepsy, or a movement disorder such as Tourette syndrome, may be reluctant to take them to the dentist. However, most local and general anesthetics have anticonvulsant properties, meaning the risk of a seizure during a dental procedure is minimal.
For a child with epilepsy, we recommend the following tips for parents to minimize the chance of a seizure during a dental appointment:
- Be sure to give us the child’s full medical history, including common seizure triggers.
- Ensure that medication has been taken as prescribed before dental appointments.
- Schedule visits at a time of day when seizures are less likely to occur.
Recent advances allow us to better treat and manage patients with epilepsy. To keep your child’s teeth healthy, make sure that he or she brushes twice daily and flosses every day. And don’t postpone your special-needs child’s dental visits—make sure your child sees us for an appointment at least twice a year. Call us today to get started with necessary dental services that will promote your child’s overall health.