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.”
Are bleeding gums something you should be concerned about? Dear Doctor magazine recently posed that question to Dr. Travis Stork, an emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors. He answered with two questions of his own: “If you started bleeding from your eyeball, would you seek medical attention?” Needless to say, most everyone would. “So,” he asked, “why is it that when we bleed all the time when we floss that we think it’s no big deal?” As it turns out, that’s an excellent question — and one that’s often misunderstood.
First of all, let’s clarify what we mean by “bleeding all the time.” As many as 90 percent of people occasionally experience bleeding gums when they clean their teeth — particularly if they don’t do it often, or are just starting a flossing routine. But if your gums bleed regularly when you brush or floss, it almost certainly means there’s a problem. Many think bleeding gums is a sign they are brushing too hard; this is possible, but unlikely. It’s much more probable that irritated and bleeding gums are a sign of periodontal (gum) disease.
How common is this malady? According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, nearly half of allÂ Americans over age 30 have mild, moderate or severe gum disease — and that number increases to 70.1 percent for those over 65! Periodontal disease can occur when a bacteria-rich biofilm in the mouth (also called plaque) is allowed to build up on tooth and gum surfaces. Plaque causes the gums to become inflamed, as the immune system responds to the bacteria. Eventually, this can cause gum tissue to pull away from the teeth, forming bacteria-filled “pockets” under the gum surface. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious infection, and even tooth loss.
What should you do if your gums bleed regularly when brushing or flossing? The first step is to come in for a thorough examination. In combination with a regular oral exam (and possibly x-rays or other diagnostic tests), a simple (and painless) instrument called a periodontal probe can be used to determine how far any periodontal disease may have progressed. Armed with this information, we can determine the most effective way to fight the battle against gum disease.
Above all, don’t wait too long to come in for an exam! As Dr. Stork notes, bleeding gums are “a sign that things aren’t quite right.” Â If you would like more information about bleeding gums, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Bleeding Gums.” You can read the entire interview with Dr. Travis Stork in Dear Doctor magazine.
If your teenager is in need of orthodontic treatment, you might automatically think braces. But while this decades-old appliance is quite effective, it isn’t the only “tooth movement” game in town any more. Clear aligners are another choice your teenager might find more appealing.
Clear aligners are a sequential set of computer-generated plastic trays that are worn by a patient one after the other, usually for about two weeks per tray. The trays are fabricated using 3-D computer modeling of the patient’s mouth, each one slightly different from the last to gradually move teeth to the desired new positions.
So, why choose clear aligners over braces?
They’re nearly invisible. Because they’re made of a clear polymer material, they’re not nearly as noticeable as metal braces. In fact, they may go completely unnoticed to the casual observer.
They’re removable. Unlike metal braces, which are fixed in place by an orthodontist, clear aligners can be removed by the wearer. This makes brushing and flossing much easier, and they can also be removed for eating or special occasions. That said, though, they should be worn at least 20 to 22 hours each day to be effective.
They’re becoming more versatile. With some complicated malocclusions (poor bites), braces and other orthodontic appliances may still be necessary. But innovations like added power ridges in clear aligners can more precisely control which teeth move and which don’t. This has greatly increased the number of poor bite scenarios where we can appropriately use clear aligners.
If you’d like to consider clear aligners, just remember they require a bit more self-discipline on the part of the wearer than braces. And once the treatment finishes, they’ll still need to wear a retainer just as with metal braces to help keep the repositioned teeth from reverting to their old positions.
If you think your teen is up to the challenge and their particular situation can be corrected with this innovative technology, then clear aligners could be a great choice.
If you would like more information on clear aligners orthodontic treatment, 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 “Clear Aligners for Teens.”
Just like other parts of your physical body, teeth naturally wear as we get older. Just the effect from chewing during hundreds of thousands of meals in a lifetime can take its toll.
But there are some factors that can make tooth wear worse. By addressing them promptly should they arise, you can keep age-related tooth wear to a minimum.
Here are 3 areas to watch for to avoid excessive tooth wear.
Dental disease. Tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease are most responsible for not only the loss of teeth but for compromising tooth health overall. But the good news is they’re largely preventable through proper oral hygiene practices to remove bacterial plaque, the main trigger for these diseases. Prompt treatment when they do occur can also minimize any damage and help your teeth and gums stay strong and healthy.
Your bite. Also known as occlusion, the bite refers to how the upper and lower teeth align with each other when you bite down. When they don’t align properly, regular chewing and biting can create abnormally high forces in the teeth and cause them to wear unevenly and more rapidly. Correcting the bite through orthodontic treatment won’t just improve your smile, it can improve bite function and decrease accelerated tooth wear.
Bruxism. This is a general term describing habits like teeth clenching and grinding in which the teeth forcefully contact each other beyond normal parameters. There are a number of causes for bruxism, but for adults it’s typically related to stress. Over time, bruxism can accelerate tooth wear and cause other problems like TMD. There are a number of ways to stop or at least reduce the effects of bruxism like relaxation techniques or a night guard worn during sleep that prevents the teeth from making forceful contact.
If you suspect you’re experiencing any of these factors, see us for a full examination. We’ll then be able to discuss your condition, the potential impact on tooth wear, and what we can do to protect your teeth.
If you would like more information on protecting your teeth as you age, 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 “How and Why Teeth Wear.”
Teeth lost to tooth decay can have devastating consequences for a child’s dental health. Not only can it disrupt their current nutrition, speech and social interaction, it can also skew their oral development for years to come.
Fortunately, we have a number of preventive tools to curb decay in young children. One of the most important of these, dental sealants, has been around for decades. We apply these resin or glass-like material coatings to the pits and crevices of teeth (especially molars) to help prevent the buildup of bacterial plaque in areas where bacteria tend to thrive.
Applying sealants is a simple and pain-free process. We first brush the coating in liquid form onto the teeth’s surface areas we wish to protect. We then use a special curing light to harden the sealant and create a durable seal.
So how effective are sealants in preventing tooth decay? Two studies in recent years reviewing dental care results from thousands of patients concluded sealants could effectively reduce cavities even four years after their application. Children who didn’t receive sealants had cavities at least three times the rate of those who did.
Sealant applications, of course, have some expense attached to them. However, it’s far less than the cost for cavity filling and other treatments for decay, not to mention future treatment costs resulting from previous decay. What’s more important, though, is the beneficial impact sealants can have a child’s dental health now and on into adulthood. That’s why sealants are recommended by both the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
And while sealants are effective, they’re only one part of a comprehensive strategy to promote your child’s optimum dental health. Daily brushing and flossing, a “tooth-friendly” diet and regular dental cleanings and checkups are also necessary in helping to keep your child’s teeth healthy and free of tooth decay.
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