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.
When your baby’s first teeth come in, you might not think it necessary yet to worry about tooth decay. But even infants can develop this common dental disease. In fact, it has a specific name in children 6 and under: early childhood caries (ECC).
About one-fourth of U.S. children have ECC, and poor or minority children are at highest risk. Because of primary (“baby”) teeth’s thin enamel layer, ECC can spread to healthier teeth with unnerving speed, causing extensive damage.
While such damage immediately affects a child’s nutrition, speech development and self-esteem, it could also impact their future oral health. Permanent teeth often erupt out of position because of missing primary teeth lost prematurely, creating a poor bite. And children with ECC are more likely to have cavities in their future permanent teeth.
While there are a number of effective treatments for repairing ECC-caused damage, it’s best to try to prevent it before damage occurs. A large part of prevention depends on you. You should, for example, begin oral hygiene even before teeth come in by wiping their gums with a clean, damp cloth after feeding. After teeth appear, switch to daily brushing with just a smear of toothpaste.
Because refined sugar is a primary food source for decay-causing bacteria, you should limit it in their diet. In the same vein, avoid sleep-time bottles with fluids like juices, milk or formula. As they grow older, make sure snacks are also low in sugar.
You should also avoid spreading your own oral bacteria to your baby. In this regard, don’t put their eating utensils or pacifier in your mouth and don’t drink from the same cup. Avoid kissing your baby on the lips. And above all, take care of your own oral health to prevent your own encounter with dental disease.
Finally, start regular dental visits on or before your baby’s first birthday. Regular cleanings and checkups increase the chances for early decay detection, as well as provide for treatments and prevention measures that can reduce the disease’s spread and destruction.
ECC can be devastating to both your baby’s current and future dental health. But with vigilance and good dental practices, you may be able to help them avoid this serious disease.
Porcelain veneers are a great way to enhance an unattractive smile. But are they appropriate for teenagers? The answer usually depends on a patient’s current development stage and the type of veneer used.
Veneers are thin layers of porcelain bonded to the front of teeth. But even though quite thin, they can appear bulky if we don’t first remove some of the tooth’s enamel surface. This is irreversible, so the tooth may require a restoration from then on.
This could be a major issue for teens whose permanent teeth are still developing. During this period the tooth’s central pulp is relatively large and the dentin layer not fully developed. As a result, the pulp’s nerves are often closer to the surface than in an adult tooth. This increases risk of nerve damage during veneer preparation; if nerve damage occurs, the tooth could ultimately require a root canal treatment to save it.
On the other hand, some types of veneers don’t require tooth alteration (or only very little) beforehand. These “no-prep” or “minimal prep” veneers are best for certain situations like abnormally small teeth, so we must first determine if using such a veneer would be appropriate for your teen.
In effect, we’ll need to weigh these and other factors before determining if veneers are a safe choice for your teen. That being the case, it may be more advisable to consider more conservative cosmetic techniques first. For example, if enamel staining is the main issue, you could consider teeth whitening. Although the often amazing results eventually fade, whitening could still buy some time until the teeth have matured to safely apply veneers.
Slight deformities like chipping can often be corrected by bonding tooth-colored composite material to the tooth. In artistic hands it’s even possible to create a full veneer effect with very little if any tooth preparation. How much we can apply, though, depends on tooth size, and it won’t be as durable as a porcelain veneer.
With that said, veneers could be the right solution to enhance your teen’s smile. But, we’ll need to carefully consider their dental situation to ensure their new smile remains a healthy one.
How many actresses have portrayed a neuroscientist on a wildly successful TV comedy while actually holding an advanced degree in neuroscience? As far as we know, exactly one: Mayim Bialik, who plays the lovably geeky Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' The Big Bang Theory… and earned her PhD from UCLA.
Acknowledging her nerdy side, Bialik recently told Dear Doctor magazine, “I'm different, and I can't not be different.” Yet when it comes to her family's oral health, she wants the same things we all want: good checkups and great-looking smiles. “We're big on teeth and oral care,” she said. “Flossing is really a pleasure in our house.”
How does she get her two young sons to do it?
Bialik uses convenient pre-loaded floss holders that come complete with floss and a handle. “I just keep them in a little glass right next to the toothbrushes so they're open, no one has to reach, they're just right there,” she said. “It's really become such a routine, I don't even have to ask them anymore.”
As many parents have discovered, establishing healthy routines is one of the best things you can do to maintain your family's oral health. Here are some other oral hygiene tips you can try at home:
Brush to the music — Plenty of pop songs are about two minutes long… and that's the length of time you should brush your teeth. If brushing in silence gets boring, add a soundtrack. When the music's over — you're done!
Flossing can be fun — If standard dental floss doesn't appeal, there are many different styles of floss holders, from functional ones to cartoon characters… even some with a martial-arts theme! Find the one that your kids like best, and encourage them to use it.
The eyes don't lie — To show your kids how well (or not) they are cleaning their teeth, try using an over-the-counter disclosing solution. This harmless product will temporarily stain any plaque or debris that got left behind after brushing, so they can immediately see where they missed, and how to improve their hygiene technique — which will lead to better health.
Have regular dental exams & cleanings — When kids see you're enthusiastic about going to the dental office, it helps them feel the same way… and afterward, you can point out how great it feels to have a clean, sparkling smile.
Dental implants are best known as restorations for single missing teeth. But there’s more to them than that—they can also be used to support and secure removable dentures or fixed bridges.
That’s because a dental implant is actually a root replacement. A threaded titanium post is inserted directly into the jawbone where, over time, bone cells grow and adhere to it. This accumulated bone growth gives the implant its signature durability and contributes to its long-term success rate (95%-plus after ten years). It can support a single attached crown, or serve as an attachment point for a dental bridge or a connector for a removable denture.
The method and design of implants differentiates it from other restoration options. And there’s one other difference—implants require a minor surgical procedure to insert them into the jawbone.
While this might give you pause, implant surgery is no more complicated than a surgical tooth extraction. In most cases we can perform the procedure using local anesthesia (you’ll be awake the entire time) coupled with sedatives (if you have bouts of anxiety) to help you relax.
We first access the bone through small incisions in the gums and then create a small channel or hole in it. A surgical guide that fits over the teeth may be used to help pinpoint the exact location for the implant.
We then use a drilling sequence to progressively increase the size of the channel until it matches the implant size and shape. We’re then ready to insert the implant, which we remove at this time from its sterile packaging. We may then take a few x-rays to ensure the implant is in the right position, followed by closing the gums with sutures.
There may be a little discomfort for that day, but most patients can manage it with over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen. It’s what goes on over the next few weeks that’s of prime importance as the bone grows and adheres to the implant. Once they’re fully integrated, we’re ready to move to the next step of affixing your crown, bridge or denture to gain what you’ve waited so long for—your new implant-supported smile.
If you would like more information on dental implants, 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 “Dental Implant Surgery: What to Expect Before, During and After.”
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