Posts for tag: tooth decay
Families of children with chronic conditions face many challenges. One that often takes a back seat to other pressing needs is the prevention of tooth decay. But although difficult, it still deserves caregivers’ attention because of the dental disease’s potential long-term impact on oral health.
Chronically ill children are often at higher risk for tooth decay, most commonly due to challenges in practicing effective oral hygiene. Some conditions create severe physical, mental or behavioral impairments in children’s ability to brush and floss: for example, they may have a heightened gag reflex to toothpaste in their mouth or they may not be able to physically perform these tasks on their own.
Some children may be taking medications that inhibit salivary flow as a side effect. Saliva is critical for disease prevention because it both neutralizes mouth acid (which can erode tooth enamel) and is a first line of defense against disease-causing bacteria. And a child’s diet, while designed to support treatment of their chronic condition, may conversely not be the best for supporting their dental health.
It’s best if caregivers and their dentists develop a strategy for decay prevention, which should include the following:
- Regular dental visits beginning at Age One. Besides monitoring dental health, dental visits also provide cleanings and other preventive measures like topical fluoride or sealants;
- Brushing and flossing support. Depending on a child’s physical and mental capacities, caregivers (or an older sibling) may need to model brushing and flossing, or perform the tasks for the child;
- Medication and diet changes. If medications are causing dry mouth, caregivers can speak to their physicians about possible alternatives; likewise, they should see if modifications can be made to their diet to better support dental health.
- Boosting salivary flow. It’s especially important with children who have dry mouth to drink more water or use aids (like xylitol gum or candies) to boost salivary flow.
Although it requires extra effort and time to give attention to a chronically ill child’s dental health, it’s well worth it. By working to prevent tooth decay early in life, these children will be more likely to enjoy good dental health in the future.
If you would like more information on dental care for children with special needs, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Managing Tooth Decay in Children with Chronic Diseases.”
So, when should you begin taking measures to prevent tooth decay in your child's teeth? When their teeth first begin to show? When all of their primary (baby) teeth are in? Or, wait until their permanent teeth begin erupting?
Actually, tooth decay can be a problem as early as two months of age, before a child's first tooth even comes in. In essence, then, dental disease prevention should be on your radar soon after your child is born. Here's what you can do to prevent the damage of tooth decay to their teeth now and its impact on their dental health in the future.
Start oral hygiene during nursing. Brushing and flossing are lifetime habits that reduce the risk of dental disease. When your children are young, you'll have to perform these tasks for them, ultimately training them to perform them on their own. But even earlier, before their first tooth, you'll want to clean their gums after feedings with a wet cloth to reduce disease-causing bacteria.
Initiate dental visits by age 1. It's appropriate on or before their first birthday, when most children already have a few primary teeth, to begin regular dental visits for cleanings and checkups. Seeing the dentist every six months at an early age will help your child stay well ahead of tooth decay. And starting visits early increases the likelihood it will become a regular part of their lives into adulthood.
Protect against decay. You and your dentist are partners in protecting your child from dental disease. Besides daily oral hygiene, you can also help by providing a dental-friendly diet, and especially restricting sugary snacks and avoiding sweetened liquids in bedtime bottles (including breast milk or formula). In addition to routine care, your dentist can also provide other measures to fight decay, like sealants or topical fluoride.
It's also important for you to set an example for your child to follow. Children soak up what's important to their parents—in this case, watching you take care of your teeth and seeing the dentist as a friend and ally against dental disease. That's your end goal: preventing dental disease now, and instilling the value of dental care that will last your child a lifetime.
If you would like more information on helping your child avoid tooth decay, 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 “Taking the Stress Out of Dentistry for Kids.”
Tooth decay can be a big problem for children's primary (baby) teeth. It doesn't take long for a tooth to become infected and the infection spread to their neighbors.
But since it will eventually give way to a permanent tooth, why not just pull a diseased primary tooth? Although that sounds sensible, there are important reasons for helping a troubled primary tooth survive to its natural end.
Current usefulness. They may not be around for long, but primary teeth serve children well while they have them. They enable a child to eat solid foods to further their physical development. They also figure prominently in speech development, which could be stunted by lost teeth.
The smile factor. Young children are also honing their social skills, and smiling is an important part of learning to fit in with family and friends. A tooth that's missing for some time, especially in the “smile zone,” could affect their smile and have an adverse effect on their social development.
Future teeth health. A primary tooth reserves the space intended for the future permanent tooth, helping to ensure the incoming tooth erupts in the right position. If it's not there, however, other teeth can drift into the space, crowding the incoming tooth out of its proper alignment.
That last reason could have the most long-term effect, causing the development of a poor bite that could require extensive orthodontic treatment. To avoid this and any other physical or social consequences accompanying its premature loss, it's worth the effort to try to protect and save a primary tooth.
Preventively, we can apply sealants on biting surfaces more prone to plaque buildup (the main cause of decay) and topical fluoride to strengthen enamel. When decay does occur, we may be able to remove it and fill the tooth, cap a tooth with a steel crown, or even use a modified root canal procedure in the case of advanced tooth decay.
The best way, however, to protect your child's primary teeth is to brush and floss them every day. Removing harmful plaque vastly reduces the risk of tooth decay. Coupled with professional dental care, your child can avoid tooth decay and get the most out of their primary teeth.
If you would like more information on children's dental care, 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
The amount of sugar your child consumes has a huge bearing on their tooth decay risk: The more they take in, the higher it is for this destructive disease. That's why you should moderate their intake of the usual suspects: sodas, candies and other sugar-laden foods. But you should also put the brakes on something considered wholesome and nutritious: fruit juices. And that includes all natural juice with no sugar added.
Sugar in any form is a prime food source for decay-causing bacteria. As bacteria consume leftover sugar in the mouth, they produce acid as a byproduct. With an ample source of sugar, they also multiply—and this in turn increases their acid production. Acid at these high levels can soften and erode tooth enamel, which leads to tooth decay and cavities.
Limiting or even excluding sugar-added foods and snacks can help minimize your children's risk for tooth decay. For designated snack times, substitute items like carrot sticks or even popcorn with a dash of spice rather than sweet snacks and candies. If you do allow occasional sweet foods, limit those to mealtimes when saliva, which neutralizes acid, is most active in the mouth.
As you manage sugary items your children may eat or drink, the American Academy of Pediatrics also advises you to moderate their consumption of fruit juices, including all-natural brands with no added sugar. Their recommended limits on daily juice drinking depend on a child's age and overall health:
- Infants (less than one year) or any children with abnormal weight gain: no juice at all;
- Toddlers (ages 1-3): 4 ounces or less per day;
- Younger children (4-6): 6 ounces or less per day; and
- Older children (7-18): 8 ounces (1 cup) or less per day.
As for the rest of your children's daily hydration needs, the most dental-friendly liquid for any of us is plain water. For older school-age children, low- or non-fat milk is also a sound choice.
Preventing tooth decay in your children is a continuous task that requires all of us, parents and dental providers, to do our part. Besides daily hygiene (brushing and flossing) and regular dental visits, keeping sugar at bay—including with juices—is an important part of that effort.
While dental diseases tend to be a greater concern as we get older, they also pose a potential threat to children. A particular type of tooth decay called early childhood caries (ECC) can severely damage children's unprotected teeth and skew their normal dental development.
Fortunately, you can protect your child's teeth from disease with a few simple practices. First and foremost: start a hygiene habit as soon as possible to remove disease-causing bacterial plaque. You don't have to wait until teeth appear, either: simply wipe the baby's gums with a clean wet cloth after nursing to minimize the growth of oral bacteria.
When their teeth do begin to erupt, you can switch to brushing (you can add flossing as more teeth erupt—but until the child shows appropriate dexterity, you'll need to do it for them). For infants, brush gently but thoroughly with a soft-bristled brush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste. When they grow older you can increase the toothpaste to a pea-sized amount. And as soon as you can, get them involved with learning to perform these vital habits on their own.
You should also limit your child's consumption of sugar. Our favorite carbohydrate is also a favorite of bacteria, who consume any remnants in dental plaque as a primary food source. So, keep sugary snacks and foods to a minimum and limit them mainly to mealtimes. And don't put a baby to sleep with a bottle filled with a liquid containing sugar (including formula and breastmilk).
Finally, begin taking your child to the dentist regularly by their first birthday for routine cleanings and checkups. Besides removing any hard to reach plaque, your dentist may also apply sealants and topical fluoride to help protect and strengthen tooth enamel. Regular visits make it more likely to detect the early signs of decay, before it does extensive damage. And beginning early makes it less likely your child will develop a fear of dental visits that could carry on into adulthood.
These and other steps will go a long way in protecting your child's teeth and gums so they develop normally. A little prevention and protection will help ensure a happy, healthy smile later in life.
If you would like more information on helping your child develop healthy teeth and gums, 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 “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”