Your child's dental development is in overdrive between birth and early adulthood. The rapid growth of the teeth, gums and jaws occurs mostly on its own—but tooth decay could significantly derail it.
Although most cases of dental disease occur in adults, tooth decay is a major problem for children, particularly involving primary teeth. These teeth are much more important than they seem given their short lifespans: Because they help incoming permanent teeth to align properly, their premature loss due to decay can create future bite problems.
To prevent this from happening, taking steps to prevent tooth decay in young children is well worth the effort. The best strategy is a double-pronged approach. You'll first want to address certain areas that directly contribute to tooth decay. You'll then want to add measures that strengthen the teeth themselves against the disease.
In regard to the former, reducing the levels of harmful bacteria in the mouth tops the list. These bacteria produce acid as a byproduct that in turn softens and erodes enamel, the teeth's natural barrier against decay. We reduce bacteria by eliminating dental plaque, a film of built-up food particles that feeds and shelters bacteria, through daily brushing and flossing.
Certain dietary choices may also contribute to bacterial growth. Refined sugar is a prime food source for bacteria, so limiting it in the diet will help reduce tooth decay. Furthermore, a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods and dairy provide nutrients strengthen teeth against decay.
The other prong in defeating tooth decay mainly involves protective measures provided by your dentist. Sealants applied to the chewing surfaces of a child's teeth help protect the enamel from the buildup of bacteria in these highly susceptible areas. An occasional direct application of fluoride to teeth further strengthens their enamel, and makes them less susceptible to decay.
This approach can minimize the chances of tooth decay, but it won't eliminate the risk altogether. If it does occur despite your best efforts, prompt treatment can limit the damage and preserve the teeth. Working with your dentist, you can help ensure your child's teeth are protected from this damaging disease.
If you would like more information on best dental care practices for children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
There are different ways to ease a child's potential nervousness with dental visits, like starting those visits around their first birthday or seeing a pediatric dentist who specializes in children. But even doing those things won't guarantee your child won't develop some form of dental anxiety, which could complicate their dental care.
To help make appointments easier for anxious children, many dentists use conscious sedation as a means of helping them relax. With this technique, the dentist administers a mild sedative to the child to take the edge off their nervousness, while allowing them to remain awake during treatment.
Sedation isn't anesthesia, the means we use to stop pain during treatment (although sedation may be used with anesthesia). Rather, sedation reduces emotional fear and anxiety. And unlike general anesthesia, a sedated child can still breathe without assistance and, depending on the depth of the sedation, respond to physical and verbal stimuli.
In most cases, children are administered sedation medications by mouth, usually as a syrup, although on occasion it might be delivered intravenously with an IV. The dose is usually given some time before their treatment session after the dentist has evaluated them. Dentists mostly use mild sedatives like Midazolam or Hydroxyzine with very little risk of side effects for children.
During the procedure, a designated staff member continually monitors the child's vital signs. Besides heart rate, pulse and respirations, they may also check the child's exhaled carbon dioxide levels to ensure they're breathing normally.
After the treatment session is over, staff will continue to monitor the child until their vital signs return to pre-sedation levels. If the child is of driving age, they'll need someone to drive them home. Children who've been sedated should remain home for the rest of the day, but they can usually return to school the next day depending on what kind of dental work they've undergone.
Dentists follow strict protocols for pediatric sedation adopted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Dental Society, and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. In addition, many states have also established processes for administering sedation therapy. It's a safe and effective method to ease a child's anxiety over their dental visit.
If you would like more information on making dental visits easier for kids, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sedation Dentistry For Kids.”
The few teeth your one or two year old has will eventually fall out in a few years—so, why be concerned about tooth decay this early? Actually, you should: Fighting tooth decay should always be a priority, even at this early age.
Even though primary teeth are short-lived, they make a huge impact on future dental health. These early teeth help guide the eruption of permanent teeth—if lost prematurely to decay, the later teeth may come in misaligned and create a poor bite. Preserving them could help you avoid later orthodontic treatment.
Fortunately, you can help prevent decay in your child's primary teeth. Here's how.
Practice oral hygiene even before teeth. You should begin daily oral hygiene, the principal defense against tooth decay, even before their first teeth emerge. You can reduce harmful bacteria in their mouths by wiping their gums with a clean cloth after nursing. When teeth appear, begin brushing with just a smear of toothpaste.
Limit sugar consumption. Because decay-causing bacteria thrive on sugar, reduce your child's intake in snacks and beverages. For example, don't put them down for bed with a bottle filled with a sugary liquid like juice, sweetened drinks or even formula or breast milk. If you do give them a night-time bottle, fill it only with water.
Avoid bacterial transfer. Your child's immature immune system can't handle the same level of bacteria as in your mouth. So, reduce the chances of bacterial transfer that may cause tooth decay by avoiding kissing on the mouth or sharing eating or drinking utensils with your infant.
Begin dental visits early. Even though they may have few teeth by their first birthday, it's still a good time to begin your child's regular dental visits. Your dentist may be able to diagnose decay early (and treat for maximum effectiveness), as well as provide sealants, topical fluoride and other measures for preventing decay.
Tooth decay at an early age could impact your child's future dental health. Taking steps now to reduce it could help ensure they have healthy teeth and gums later in life.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs wrapped up the NFL regular season in January, setting single-season records in both catches and receiving yards. The Bills handily beat the Miami Dolphins, earning themselves the second seed in the AFC playoffs, and Diggs certainly did his part, making 7 catches for 76 yards. But what set the internet ablaze was not Diggs' accomplishments on the field but rather what the camera caught him doing on the sidelines—flossing his teeth!
The Twitterverse erupted with Bills fans poking fun at Diggs. But Diggs is not ashamed of his good oral hygiene habits, and CBS play-by-play announcer Kevin Harlan expressed his support with “Dental hygiene is something to take note of, kids! There's never a bad place to floss” and “When you lead the NFL in catches and yards, you can floss anytime you want.”
We like to think so. There's an old joke among dentists:
Q. Which teeth do you need to floss?
A. Only the ones you want to keep.
Although this sounds humorous, it is borne out in research. Of note, a 2017 study showed that people who floss have a lower risk of tooth loss over periods of 5 years and 10 years, and a 2020 study found that older adults who flossed lost an average of 1 tooth in 5 years, while those who don't lost around 4 teeth in the same time period.
We in the dental profession stress the importance of flossing as a daily habit—and Stefon Diggs would likely agree—yet fewer than 1 in 3 Americans floss every day. The 2016 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, revealed that only 30% of Americans floss every day, while 37% floss less than every day and 32% never floss.
The biggest enemy on the football field may be the opposing team, but the biggest enemy to your oral health is plaque, a sticky film of bacteria and food debris that builds up on tooth surfaces. Plaque can cause tooth decay and gum disease, the number one cause of tooth loss among adults. Flossing is necessary to remove plaque from between teeth and around the gums where a toothbrush can't reach. If not removed, plaque hardens into tartar, which can only be removed by the specialized tools used in the dental office. Regular professional dental cleanings are also needed to get at those hard-to-reach spots you may have missed.
If Diggs can find time to floss during a major NFL game, the rest of us can certainly find a couple minutes a day to do it. While we might not recommend Diggs' technique of flossing from one side of the mouth to the other, we commend his enthusiasm and commitment to keeping his teeth and gums healthy. Along with good dental hygiene at home—or on the sidelines if you are Stefon Diggs—regular professional dental cleanings and checkups play a key role in maintaining a healthy smile for life.
If you think there's not much difference between toothbrushes, a quick look on a retail oral care aisle might change your mind. About the only thing toothbrushes really have in common are a handle and bristled head.
Choosing the right toothbrush, therefore, might seem overwhelming. But choose you must: Your toothbrush is an essential tool in the fight against tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Without it, your odds for developing dental disease skyrocket.
Along with flossing, brushing is the best way to remove daily plaque buildup, that bacterial film most responsible for dental disease. Brushing also minimizes the buildup of tartar, the hardened form of plaque that's just as harmful as softer plaque. And, brushing stimulates your gum tissues to help prevent or lessen inflammation.
But back to all those brushes—with so many options to weigh, how do you come up with your best choice? Actually, there are some basic tips that can help you narrow things down.
Bristle stiffness. Considering other cleaning chores, you might think you'll need a stiff brush. The opposite—a soft-bristled brush—is usually true. Your toothpaste's mild abrasives and the mechanical action of brushing perform most of the plaque removal. And stiffer brushes could irritate and damage your gums or tooth enamel, leading to bigger problems.
Size and shape. Through a little trial and error (and advice from your dentist), you may find a brush with an angled or tapered neck helps you get into difficult places, especially around the back teeth. If you have problems with grip, you may also opt for a brush with a large diameter handle. Bottom line: Choose a brush you feel comfortable handling.
ADA Seal of Acceptance. Common on dental product packaging, this seal indicates that after rigorous testing the item meets the high standards of the American Dental Association, and that it does what the packaging says it does. Even so, some quality brushes don't have this seal, so ask your dentist their opinion on a particular brand.
There's one more critical component—how well you use your toothbrush. For that, ask your dentist or hygienist for tips on better brushing. Combining the right brush and technique goes a long way toward avoiding dental disease.
If you would like more information on choosing the right toothbrush for you, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sizing Up Toothbrushes.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.