Saving a Diseased Primary Tooth Could Mean Better Oral Health Later in Life

SavingaDiseasedPrimaryToothCouldMeanBetterOralHealthLaterinLife

It’s often best health-wise to preserve even the most troubled tooth—including a child’s primary (“baby”) tooth. If that sounds like too much effort for a tooth that lasts only a few years, there’s a big reason why—if it’s lost prematurely, the incoming permanent tooth above it could erupt out of position.

Preserving a decayed primary tooth could include procedures similar to a root canal treatment, commonly used in adult permanent teeth with inner decay. However, we may need to modify this approach to protect the primary tooth’s pulp. This innermost layer plays a critical role in early dental development.

Because an adult tooth has reached maturity, removing diseased pulp tissue has little effect on its permanent health. But the pulp contributes to dentin growth (the layer between it and the outer enamel) in primary and young permanent teeth, so removing it could ultimately compromise the tooth’s long-term health.

Our goal then with a child’s tooth is to remove as much diseased tissue as possible while involving the pulp as little as possible. What techniques we use will depend on how much of the pulp has become infected.

For example, if decay has advanced to but hasn’t yet penetrated the pulp, we may remove all but a small amount of the decayed structure just next to the pulp to avoid its exposure. We may then apply an antibacterial agent to this remaining portion and seal the tooth to curb further infection.

If on the other hand the pulp has become infected, we may try to remove only the infected portion and leave the remaining pulp intact. We’ll only be able to do this, however, if we deem the remaining pulp healthy enough to remain infection-free after the procedure. If not, we may need to remove the entire pulp as with a traditional root canal. This option, though, is a last resort due to the possible effect on dentin growth and the tooth’s long-term health.

As you can see attempts to preserve a primary tooth can be quite involved. But if we can help it reach its full life span, it could mean better dental health for a lifetime.

If you would like more information on caring for primary teeth, 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 “Root Canal Treatment for Children’s Teeth.”

Dental Care of Prime Importance for Children with Special Health Needs

DentalCareofPrimeImportanceforChildrenwithSpecialHealthNeeds

Children’s ailments come and go, and thankfully most are relatively minor. Some children, however, have impaired health caused by a more serious, chronic disease. For them, the condition impacts not only their overall well-being, but also their dental health.

This often occurs because the specific healthcare needs of children with these chronic conditions are given greater priority over dental health. Besides the treatment focus, children with special healthcare needs may have physical, mental or behavioral limitations that can make it difficult to keep up with oral hygiene and care.

Children with autism or attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have a difficult time practicing (or cooperating with) oral hygiene tasks. Some may not have the physical ability to perform effective brushing and flossing without assistance. In these cases, it’s important for parents or caregivers to seek out instruction and training that will optimize their children’s hygiene and so reduce the chance of dental disease.

Certain medications for chronic conditions can increase mouth dryness, or they’re acidic or sweetened with sugar, any of which can increase the child’s risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Parents or caregivers should consult with their physicians about these medications or if they could be administered at mealtime to minimize their effect on the mouth.

Finally, there’s the direct effect some conditions may have on a child’s teeth and gums. Children with severe gag reflexes due to their condition may not be able to tolerate toothpaste or be able to spit it out completely. Other conditions can give rise to dental defects such as enamel hypoplasia in which not enough enamel develops to adequately protect the teeth.  Such defects call for special dental attention and closer monitoring of teeth and gum health.

The key is to see us and the other healthcare providers for your child’s chronic condition as part of an overall team. Sharing information and regarding both dental and general care as part of a comprehensive strategy will help to prevent dental problems from developing and improve their health.

If you would like more information on dental care for children with chronic conditions, 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 “Managing Tooth Decay in Children with Chronic Diseases.”

Your Child Isn’t in Danger from X-Rays Thanks to the ALARA Principle

YourChildIsntinDangerfromX-RaysThankstotheALARAPrinciple

Your child’s dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-ray imaging. It’s one of our best tools for finding and treating tooth decay.

But since x-rays emit radiation, is your child in any danger when they’re exposed?

X-rays, an invisible form of electromagnetic energy, will form images on exposed film after passing through the body. Because it takes longer for x-rays to pass through dense tissue like teeth and bones, the corresponding areas appear lighter on the film than less dense tissue like the gums. We can detect decay because the diseased tooth structure is less dense and thus appears darker against healthier tooth structure.

The downside of x-rays, though, is the radiation they emit could potentially alter cell structure and increase the risk of future cancer, especially with children. That’s why we follow a principle known as ALARA when using x-ray imaging. ALARA is an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable,” meaning the doses for an x-ray session will be as low as possible while still gaining the most benefit.

Advances in technology, particularly the development of digital processing, has helped reduce the amount of radiation exposure. We’re also careful with what types of x-rays we use. The most common type is the bitewing, a device with the film attached to a long piece of plastic that the child holds in their mouth while biting down.

Depending on the number of our patient’s teeth, we can usually get a comprehensive view with two to four bitewings.  A typical bitewing session exposes them to less radiation than what they’re receiving from natural environmental background sources each day.

Keeping the exposure as low and as less frequent as possible greatly reduces health risks while still getting the full benefit of early decay detection. Still, if you have concerns about your child’s x-ray exposure, we’ll be happy to discuss our approach and all the precautions we take using x-ray imaging.

If you would like more information on x-ray diagnostics and your child, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”

Sedation Can Help Create a More Positive Dental Experience for a Child

SedationCanHelpCreateaMorePositiveDentalExperienceforaChild

You may not be nervous at all about visiting the dentist. But put yourself in a child’s place — a routine dental visit could be an anxious experience for them, and even more so if it involves dental work.

Dental professionals recognize this and go to great lengths to make children’s visits as pleasant as possible. It’s common among pediatric and family dentists to see child-friendly exam rooms and a well-trained staff experienced with interacting with children.

While this helps, some children still struggle with anxiety. Dentists have one other technique that can ease a child’s nervousness: conscious sedation. This technique involves the use of pills, inhaled gas or intravenous drips to help patients relax.

Sedation is different from general anesthesia, which uses drugs to render a patient unconscious so they won’t experience pain. A sedated patient remains in a conscious but relaxed state: they can still breathe independently and, with the most moderate form of oral sedation, be able to respond to touch or verbal instructions.

Oral sedation may also be accompanied by other methods like nitrous oxide gas that also aid with physical discomfort. Many drugs used often have an amnesiac effect — the patient won’t remember details about the procedure, which could contribute to less anxiety in the future.

Typically, a child receives an oral sedative just before the procedure. Most drugs are fast-acting and leave the child’s system quickly afterward. A staff member monitors their vital signs (pulse, respirations, blood pressure, etc.) during the procedure and after in recovery. They’ll remain in recovery until their vital signs return to normal levels and then be able to go home. They should stay home the rest of the day under adult supervision, but should be alert enough the next day to return to their normal activities.

Relieving anxiety is an important tool to ensure your child receives the dental care they need. It also creates a positive experience that could encourage a young patient to continue regular dental care when they reach adulthood.

If you would like more information on conscious sedation 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 “Sedation Dentistry for Kids.”

A Pediatric Dentist Could be a Great Choice for Your Child’s Dental Care

APediatricDentistCouldbeaGreatChoiceforYourChildsDentalCare

When it’s time for your child to visit the dentist (we recommend around their first birthday), you may want them to see your family dentist. But you might also want to consider another option: a pediatric dentist.

The difference between the two is much the same as between a pediatrician and a family practitioner. Both can treat juvenile patients — but a family provider sees patients of all ages while a pediatrician or pediatric dentist specializes in patients who haven’t reached adulthood.

Recognized as a specialty by the American Dental Association, pediatric dentists undergo about three more years of additional post-dental school training and must be licensed in the state where they practice. They’re uniquely focused on dental care during the childhood stages of jaw and facial structure development.

Pediatric dentists also gear their practices toward children in an effort to reduce anxiety. The reception area and treatment rooms are usually decorated in bright, primary colors, with toys and child-sized furniture to make their young patients feel more at ease. Dentists and staff also have training and experience interacting with children and their parents to help them relax during exams and procedures.

While a pediatric practice is a good choice for any child, it can be especially beneficial for children with special needs. The “child-friendly” environment is especially soothing for children with autism, ADHD or other behavioral/developmental disorders. And pediatric dentists are especially adept in treating children at higher risk for tooth decay, especially an aggressive form called early childhood caries (ECC).

Your family dentist, of course, can presumably provide the same quality care and have an equally welcome environment for children. And unlike a pediatric dentist who will typically stop seeing patients when they reach adulthood, care from your family dentist can continue as your child gets older.

In the end it’s a personal choice, depending on the needs of your family. Just be sure your child does see a dental provider regularly during their developing years: doing so will help ensure a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums.

If you would like more information on visiting a pediatric dentist for your child’s dental needs, 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 “Why See a Pediatric Dentist?

Actor David Ramsey Discusses Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

ActorDavidRamseyDiscussesBabyBottleToothDecay

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.”

Iron Chef Cat Cora: Protecting Your Children’s Teeth Starts Early

IronChefCatCoraProtectingYourChildrensTeethStartsEarly

When Cat Cora is not doing battle as the first female chef on the Food Network’s hit series Iron Chef America, she is busy caring for the needs of her four active young sons. This includes monitoring the food they eat and their oral hygiene habits.

The busy chef, restaurateur, author, philanthropist and television personality recently revealed in an interview with Dear Doctor magazine that it all started when her four sons were little. She got rid of bottles and sippy cups as soon as possible to prevent tooth decay. She also started exposing her boys to a wide variety of spices and foods when they were infants — for example, by putting cinnamon in their baby cereal. Cat limits the amount of sugar in their diet by using fruit puree in baked goods and BBQ sauces, or the natural sugar substitute Stevia. Furthermore, Cat reports, “my kids have never had fast food.”

Cat is right on target with her approach to her children’s oral health. In fact, we are often asked, when is the right time to schedule a child’s first dental appointment? Our answer surprises some people — especially those expecting their first child.

The ideal time to take your child to the dentist is around age 1. Why so young? A baby’s first visit to the dentist sets the stage for lifelong oral health. Besides, tooth decay can start very early. Baby Bottle Tooth Decay (BBTD), as the name suggests, impacts children who often go to sleep sipping a bottle filled with a liquid containing natural or added sugars, such as formula, fruit juice or a fruity drink mix. Another condition, Early Childhood Caries (ECC), is often found in children who continuously use sippy cups (again, filled with sugary liquids), children who breast feed at will throughout the night, children who use a sweetened pacifier, and children who regularly take sugar-based oral medicine to treat chronic illness.

To learn more about this topic, continue reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Age One Dental Visit.” Or you can contact us today to schedule an appointment. And to read the entire interview with Cat Cora, please see the article “Cat Cora.”

Introducing the Royal Baby…and His New Teeth!

IntroducingtheRoyalBabyandHisNewTeeth

Not long ago, a certain Royal Baby made his first major public appearance. At a “crawl-about” in New Zealand, young Prince George (the 8-month-old son of Prince William and Kate Middleton) was formally introduced to the world, along with a group of adorable tots and their proud parents. The press was quick to note not only the future King of England’s cute expressions and his determined crawling — but also the appearance of his first two tiny bottom teeth.

Congratulations, William and Kate — and now, it’s time to think about the taking care of those royal baby teeth. In fact, before you know it, it will be time for the age one dental visit. Why is this so important? Essentially, because proper dental care in the early years helps to establish routines that will lead to a lifetime of good oral health.

It’s a misconception to think that baby teeth aren’t important because they will be shed after a few years. In fact, not only do they have a vital function in a child’s ability to eat and speak properly — they also serve as guides for the proper development of the permanent teeth that will follow. So caring for a tot’s primary teeth is just as important as it is for grown-up teeth.

What’s the best way to do that? To prevent tooth decay, clean an infant’s gums after each feeding with a soft cloth moistened with water — and don’t let your baby go to sleep with a bottle in his or her mouth! When teeth appear, gently brush them with a soft-bristled toothbrush and a tiny dab of toothpaste. At around age two, your child can begin to learn how to brush — with your careful supervision and follow-up, of course.

Avoiding sugary and acidic drinks (including some fruit juices) is another excellent way to keep those tiny teeth healthy! If you do allow any sugar, limit it to mealtimes; this gives the saliva plenty of time to do its work of neutralizing the sugar and acid that can cause tooth decay.

And don’t forget the first visit to the dentist, which should take place by age one! Even at that early age, we’ll make sure your child (and you) feel comfortable in the dental office, and help you get started with the best oral hygiene practices. We will also check for signs of cavities, watch for developmental milestones, and screen for potential future problems.

If you have questions about caring for your young child’s teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment. For more information, see the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Top 10 Oral Health Tips For Children” and “Age One Dental Visit.”