Like any parent you want your child to grow up healthy and strong. So be sure you don't neglect their dental care, a crucial part of overall health and well-being.
The most important part of this care is prevention — stopping dental disease and other problems before they do harm. Proactive prevention is the best way to keep their teeth and gum growth on the right track.
Prevention starts at home with a daily habit of brushing and later flossing. In the beginning, you'll have to brush for them, with just a smear of toothpaste on the toothbrush. As they get older, you can teach them to brush for themselves, graduating to a pea-sized dose of toothpaste.
It's also important to begin regular dental visits around their first birthday. Many of their primary (baby) teeth are coming in, so regular cleanings and checkups will help keep tooth decay in check. Early visits will also get them used to seeing the dentist and hopefully help stimulate a lifelong habit.
These visits have a number of purposes. First and foremost is to monitor dental development and early detection of any emerging problems, like a poor bite. Catching problems early could help reduce or even eliminate future treatment.
Some children are also at greater risk for tooth decay and could benefit from applications of topical fluoride, a mineral that strengthens tooth enamel, or a sealant to help protect the teeth. This is especially helpful in preserving primary (baby) teeth: early loss of a primary tooth could disrupt the permanent tooth's eruption and cause a poor bite.
Your child's dental visits could also benefit you as their caregiver. You receive regular feedback on how well your child's teeth and gums are developing, and the effectiveness of their oral hygiene. You also get answers to your questions about their oral health: the dentist's office is your best source for advice on teething, diet and other issues.
Together, you and your dentist can provide and maintain the best conditions for your child's dental development. The result will be the healthiest mouth they can have as they enter their adult years.
Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.
“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into cavities. How did this happen?
Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.
While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods. Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.
This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”
Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:
- Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
- Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
- Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.
Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.
“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”
If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
If you suspect you have periodontal (gum) disease, it's important to get a correct diagnosis and begin treatment as soon as possible. The sooner you begin treatment the better the long-term outcome.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection that's most often triggered by plaque, a thin film of food particles on tooth surfaces. Plaque buildup most often occurs when a person doesn't practice effective oral hygiene: daily brushing and flossing and professional cleanings at least twice a year.
The most common type of gum disease, gingivitis, can begin within days of not brushing and flossing. It won't always show itself, but you can have symptoms like swollen, red or bleeding gums, as well as bad taste and breath. You could also develop painful abscesses, which are localized pockets of infection within the gums.
If we don't stop the disease it will eventually weaken the gum attachment to the teeth, bone loss will occur and form deep pockets of infection between the teeth and bone. There's only one way to stop it: remove the offending plaque from all tooth surfaces, particularly below the gum line.
We usually remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) manually with special hand instruments called scalers. If the plaque and calculus have extended deeper, we may need to perform another procedure called root planing in which we shave or “plane” the plaque and calculus (tartar) from the root surfaces.
In many cases of early gum disease, your family dentist can perform plaque removal. If, however, your gum disease is more extensive, they may refer you to a periodontist, a specialist in the treatment and care of gums. Periodontists are trained and experienced in treating a full range of gum infections with advanced techniques, including gum surgery.
You can also see a periodontist on your own for treatment or for a second opinion — you don't necessarily need a referral order. If you have a systemic disease like diabetes it's highly advisable you see a periodontist first if you suspect gum disease.
If you think you might have gum disease, don't wait: the longer you do the more advanced and destructive the disease can become. Getting an early start on treatment is the best way to keep the treatment simple and keep gum disease from causing major harm to your teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on the diagnosis and treatment of gum disease, 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 “When to See a Periodontist.”
A few days before the Oscars, Vanity Fair magazine asked Academy Awards host Neil Patrick Harris to name his most treasured possession. Was it his Tony award statuette for best leading actor in a musical? His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? The stethoscope he wore while playing teenaged doctor Doogie Howser on TV? No, as it turns out, the 41-year-old actor’s most treasured possession is… his wisdom teeth. Yes, you read that correctly. “Oddly, I still have my four wisdom teeth,” Harris said. “I refuse to let them go or I’ll lose my wise parts.”
How odd is it for a 41-year-old to have wisdom teeth? Actually, not that odd at all. While it is true that wisdom teeth are often removed, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to this. It all depends on whether they are causing problems now, or are likely to cause problems in the future.
The trouble wisdom teeth cause is related to the fact that they are the last molars to come in, and that molars are large in size. By the time wisdom teeth appear between the ages of 17 and 21, there often is not enough room for them in the jaw. Sometimes it’s because you may have inherited a jaw size that’s too small for your tooth size; and generally speaking, the size of the human jaw has evolved to become smaller over time.
If room is lacking, the adjacent molar (that came in earlier) can interfere with the path of eruption — causing the wisdom tooth to come in at an odd angle. The wisdom tooth can hit up against that other tooth, possibly causing pain or damaging the adjacent tooth. This is known as “impaction.” Sometimes the wisdom tooth breaks only partway through the gum tissue, leaving a space beneath the gum line that’s almost impossible to clean, causing infection. A serious oral infection can jeopardize the survival of teeth, and even spread to other parts of the body.
If a wisdom tooth is impacted, will you know it? Not necessarily. A tooth can be impacted without causing pain. But we can see the position of your wisdom teeth on a dental x-ray and help you make an informed decision as to whether they should stay or go. If removal is the best course of action, rest assured that this procedure is completely routine and that your comfort and safety is our highest priority. If there is no great risk to keeping them, as Neil Patrick Harris has done, we can simply continue to monitor their condition at your regular dental checkups. It will be particularly important to make sure you are reaching those teeth with your brush and floss, and that you keep to your schedule of regular professional cleanings at the dental office. All healthy teeth are indeed worth treasuring.
If you would like more information about wisdom teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
If you've suddenly noticed your smile looking more “toothy,” you may have a problem with your gums. They may have lost their normal attachment to your tooth and begun to shrink back — or recede.
Millions of people have some form of gum recession. The most common cause is periodontal (gum) disease, but it's not the only one. You may be more susceptible to gum recession because of heredity — you have thin gum tissues passed down to you from your parents. You may also be brushing too hard and too often and have damaged your gums.
Healthy gums play an important role in dental health. The crown, the tooth's visible part, is covered with a hard, protective shell called enamel. As the enamel ends near where the root begins, the gums take over, forming a tight band around the tooth to protect the roots from bacteria and acid.
Receding gums expose these areas of the tooth meant to be covered. This can lead to another tell-tale sign — tooth sensitivity. You begin to notice pain and discomfort while you consume hot or cold foods. And because it leaves your teeth and gums looking much less attractive, it can affect your confidence to smile.
Fortunately, though, we can help restore receded gums. If you have gum disease, it's imperative we treat it as early as possible. We do this by removing plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that triggers the infection. We use special techniques and hand instruments to remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) from all tooth surfaces including along the roots.
Gum disease treatment can help stop and even reverse gum recession. In some cases, though, the recession may have advanced too far. If so, we may need to consider surgically grafting donor tissue to the recessed areas. Depending on the site and extent of recession, this can be a very involved procedure requiring microscopic techniques.
The best approach, though, is to take care of your gums now. Daily brushing and flossing removes harmful plaque; regular dental visits take cleaning a step further and also give us an opportunity to detect disease early. By looking out for your gums now you might be able to avoid gum recession in the future.
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