Helping your infant or toddler develop good dental habits is one of the best head starts you can give them toward optimum oral health. But even after they’ve matured enough to handle hygiene tasks without you, they still need your guidance.
This is especially true in the “tween” and teen years. Although they’re beginning to flex their independence muscles, they’re still vulnerable at this age to peer pressure urging them to try things that, among other outcomes, could hurt their oral health.
Here are 3 areas where your input and guidance could save your older children and teens from oral health problems.
Sports activities. As children mature, they may also become involved with various physical activities, including contact sports. Years of diligent hygiene and dental care can be undone with one traumatic blow to the mouth. You can help avoid this by urging your child to wear a mouth guard during sports activity. While there are some good choices on the retail market, the most effective mouth guards are custom-created by a dentist to precisely fit your child’s mouth.
Oral piercings. While expressions of solidarity among young people are popular and often harmless, some like oral piercings and their hardware could potentially damage teeth and gums. You should especially discourage your child from obtaining tongue bolts or other types of lip or mouth hardware, which can cause tooth wear or fracture. Instead, encourage them to take up safer forms of self-expression.
Bad habits and addictions. A young person “spreading their wings” may be tempted to dabble in habit-forming or addictive activities. In addition to their effect on the rest of the body, tobacco, alcohol and drugs can have severe long-term consequences for oral health. Unsafe sexual practices could lead to the contraction of the human papilloma virus, which has been linked to oral cancer in young adults. Be sure your teen understands the dangers of these habits to both their oral and general health—and don’t hesitate to seek professional help when a habit becomes an addiction.
If you would like more information on helping your child develop great oral habits, 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 to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Although distressing to many parents, infants and toddlers sucking their thumb is a common if not universal habit. Most children phase out of it by around age 4, usually with no ill effects. But thumb-sucking continuing into late childhood could prove problematic for a child’s bite.
Thumb sucking is related to how young children swallow. All babies are born with what is called an infantile swallowing pattern, in which they thrust their tongues forward while swallowing to ensure their lips seal around a breast or bottle nipple when they nurse. Thumb-sucking mimics this action, which most experts believe serves as a source of comfort when they’re not nursing.
Around 3 or 4, their swallowing transitions to a permanent adult swallowing pattern: the tip of the tongue now positions itself against the back of the top front teeth (you can notice it yourself when you swallow). This is also when thumb sucking normally fades.
If a child, however, has problems transitioning to an adult pattern, they may continue to thrust their tongue forward and/or prolong their thumb-sucking habit. Either can put undue pressure on the front teeth causing them to move and develop too far forward. This can create what’s known as an open bite: a slight gap still remains between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut rather than the normal overlapping of the upper teeth over the lower.
While we can orthodontically treat an open bite, we can minimize the extent of any treatments if we detect the problem early and intervene with therapies to correct an abnormal swallowing pattern or prolonged thumb sucking. For the former we can assist a child in performing certain exercises that help retrain oral and facial muscles to encourage a proper swallowing pattern. This may also help diminish thumb sucking, but we may in addition need to use positive reinforcement techniques to further discourage the habit.
To stay ahead of possible problems with thumb sucking or the swallowing pattern you should begin regularly taking them to the dentist around their first birthday. It’s also a good idea to have an orthodontic evaluation around age 6 for any emerging bite problems. Taking these positive steps could help you avoid undue concern over this common habit.
If you would like more information on managing your child’s thumb-sucking habit, 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 Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Everyone loves a concert where there's plenty of audience participation… until it starts to get out of hand.Â Recently, the platinum-selling band Fifth Harmony was playing to a packed house in Atlanta when things went awry for vocalist Camila Cabello. Fans were batting around a big plastic ball, and one unfortunate swing sent the ball hurtling toward the stage — and directly into Cabello's face. Pushing the microphone into her mouth, it left the “Worth It” singer with a chipped front tooth.
Ouch! Cabello finished the show nevertheless, and didn't seem too upset. “Atlanta… u wild… love u,” she tweeted later that night. “Gotta get it fixed now tho lol.” Fortunately, dentistry offers a number of ways to make that chipped tooth look as good as new.
A small chip at the edge of the tooth can sometimes be polished with dental instruments to remove the sharp edges. If it's a little bigger, a procedure called dental bonding may be recommended. Here, the missing part is filled in with a mixture of plastic resin and glass fillers, which are then cured (hardened) with a special light. The tooth-colored bonding material provides a tough, lifelike restoration that's hard to tell apart from your natural teeth. While bonding can be performed in just one office visit, the material can stain over time and may eventually need to be replaced.
Porcelain veneers are a more long-lasting solution. These wafer-thin coverings go over the entire front surface of the tooth, and can resolve a number of defects — including chips, discoloration, and even minor size or spacing irregularities. You can get a single veneer or have your whole smile redone, in shades ranging from a pearly luster to an ultra-bright white; that's why veneers are a favorite of Hollywood stars. Getting veneers is a procedure that takes several office visits, but the beautiful results can last for many years.
If a chip or crack extends into the inner part of a tooth, you'll probably need a crown (or cap) to restore the tooth's function and appearance. As long as the roots are healthy, the entire part of the tooth above the gum line can be replaced with a natural-looking restoration. You may also need a root canal to remove the damaged pulp material and prevent infection if the fracture went too far. While small chips or cracks aren't usually an emergency (unless accompanied by pain), damage to the tooth's pulp requires prompt attention.
If you have questions about smile restoration, please contact us and schedule an appointment. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Veneers: Strength & Beauty As Never Before” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
Even the sweetest children don’t always have sweet-smelling breath. If your child has persistent bad breath, it may be for one of the following reasons:
POOR ORAL HYGIENE HABITS. Bad breath often results from bacteria on the teeth and tongue that is not effectively removed during brushing and flossing.
- Tip: To encourage thorough cleaning as children are developing their oral hygiene habits, try handheld flossers that are colorful and easy to use, sing or play music to make brushing time fun, or try an electric toothbrush with a timer or a tooth-brushing app that keeps kids brushing for a full two minutes.
PLAQUE BUILDUP, TOOTH DECAY AND GUM DISEASE: Plaque, a sticky bacterial biofilm, can build up on tooth surfaces, between the teeth and under the gum line and can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. These conditions may result in bad breath.
- Tip: Stay on top of your child’s oral hygiene at home, and keep up with regular dental visits for professional cleanings and checkups.
POST-NASAL DRIP: This common cause of foul-smelling breath in children results when excessive mucus is produced and drips down the back of the throat.
- Tip: Schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to determine and treat the cause.
MOUTH BREATHING. Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose can cause a dry mouth. This can lead to increased oral bacteria, which can cause bad breath. If children breathe through the mouth all the time, not just because of a temporary cold or allergies, your child is at greater risk for tooth decay and gum disease.
- Tip: If your child is a chronic mouth breather, schedule a dental visit so we can check for any adverse effects on dental health. Note that over time, habitual mouth breathing may lead to poor alignment of the teeth. An ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist can treat problems with tonsils, adenoids and sinuses — common causes of mouth breathing.
FOREIGN OBJECT IN THE NOSE. It wouldn’t be the first time a child has stuck a pea or other small object up their nose â?? or their sibling’s nose — only to find that it won’t come back out. A foreign body in the nasal passage can cause infection and lead to bad breath.
- Tip: Don’t try to remove the object at home, as part of it may remain in the nasal passage. A medical professional will have the right equipment to dislodge the object more comfortably.
MEDICATION. Children who take antibiotics for a long time may develop a fungal infection (thrush) in the mouth. Other medications can cause bad breath due to the way they break down in the body.
- Tip: Call your pharmacist if you have a question about medications and bad breath.
MEDICAL CONDITION. Infections of the throat, sinus or tonsils can cause bad breath, as can more serious health conditions.
- Tip: If your child’s breath is unpleasant for an extended period of time, get it checked out by a health professional.
If you are concerned about your child’s breath, schedule a visit. We are happy to remind your child of proper brushing techniques and check for other problems that need to be addressed.
For more on young children’s oral health, read “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Why See a Pediatric Dentist?”
Although it’s a natural part of dental development, teething is no picnic for your baby. This process in which each of their twenty primary teeth gradually erupt through the gums usually begins around their sixth to ninth month and may not end until around age three.
These periodic tooth eruptions can cause your baby to bite, gnaw, drool or rub their ears. Teething can also disrupt sleeping patterns, decrease appetite and cause gum swelling and pain that can turn your otherwise happy baby into an unhappy one.
Managing these teething episodes is one of the most common topics parents bring up with their dentists. Since teething is supposed to happen, there’s no need for medical intervention unless the child is also experiencing diarrhea, rashes, fever or prolonged irritability associated with teething episodes. In most cases, the best you can do is to make your child more comfortable. Here are a few things to help you do just that.
Provide cold items for gnawing. Rubber teething rings, wet wash cloths or pacifiers that have been chilled can give your child something to gnaw on and ease the pressure of sore gums while the chilled temperatures help numb pain. Be sure, though, that the items aren’t frozen because extremely cold temperatures can burn the skin.
Gum massage. You can massage your child’s gums with one of your fingers during a teething episode to counteract the throbbing pressure coming from the erupting tooth. Just be sure your finger is clean and don’t use any numbing agents unless advised by your dentist or pediatrician.
OTC medication. You can ease mild to moderate teething pain with over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen in dosages appropriate for your child’s age. But don’t apply rubbing alcohol to the gums or massage in any pain reliever—both practices can burn the skin. And, as mentioned before, only apply numbing agents like Benzocaine with the advice and supervision of a healthcare professional.
Besides these practices, be sure to keep up regular dental checkups to monitor the teething process and ensure all is going normally. And remember: though it may seem harrowing at times, the teething process won’t last forever.
If you would like more information on easing the effects of teething, 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 “Teething Troubles: How to Help Keep Your Baby Comfortable.”
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