When you think orthodontics, you may instantly picture braces or clear aligners worn by teenagers or adults. But there’s more to orthodontics than correcting fully developed malocclusions (poor bites). It’s also possible to intervene and potentially reduce a malocclusion’s future severity and cost well beforehand.
Known as interceptive orthodontics, these treatments help guide jaw growth in children while mouth structures are still developing and more pliable. But timing is critical: waiting until late childhood or puberty could be too late.
For example, we can influence an upper jaw developing too narrowly (which can cause erupting teeth to crowd each other) with an expander appliance placed in the roof of the mouth. The expander exerts slight, outward pressure on the upper jaw bones. Because the bones haven’t yet fused as they will later, the pressure maintains a gap between them that fills with additional bone that eventually widens the jaw.
Functional appliances like the Herbst appliance influence muscle and bone development in the jaws to eventually reshape and reposition them. The Herbst appliance utilizes a set of metal hinges connected to the top and bottom jaws; when the patient opens and closes their jaws the hinges encourage the lower jaw to move (and eventually grow) forward. If successful, it could help a patient avoid more invasive treatments like tooth extraction or jaw surgery.
Some interceptive objectives are quite simple in comparison like preserving the space created by a prematurely lost primary tooth. If a child loses a primary tooth before the incoming permanent tooth is ready to erupt, the nearby teeth can drift into the empty space. Without enough room, the permanent tooth could erupt out of position. We can hold the space with a simple loop device known as a space maintainer: usually made of acrylic or metal, the device fits between adjacent teeth and prevents them from drifting into the space until the permanent tooth is ready to come in.
Interceptive orthodontics can have a positive impact on your child’s jaw development, now and in the future. For these techniques to be effective, though, they must begin early, so be sure your child has a complete orthodontic evaluation beginning around age 7. You may be able to head off future bite problems before they happen.
There’s really no secret to keeping your child’s teeth healthy — good, daily hygiene habits, regular dental visits and early treatment for emerging problems. It’s a lot easier for those things to happen if your child feels comfortable with dental care and visiting the dentist. Sadly, that’s not always the case: many children develop an unhealthy fear of the dentist because the initial relationship may have been mishandled.
Here, then, are 3 tips that will help you foster a healthy relationship between your child and their dentist.
Visit the dentist before their first birthday. From a health standpoint, dental visits should begin soon after your child’s first teeth emerge (erupt) in the mouth. Visiting the dentist by their first birthday also improves the chances they’ll develop a sufficient level of comfort with the visits, more so than if you waited a year or two longer.
Choose your dentist with your child’s sense of security and comfort in mind. When you’re looking for a dentist to care for your child, think of it as looking for a “new member of the family.” It’s important to find an office environment that’s kid-friendly and staff members that work well with children. Some dentists specialize in pediatric dentistry and many general dentists have additional training in working with children. The key is a dental team that has a good, trust-building rapport with children.
Set an example, both in the home and at the dentist. Children learn quite a bit watching what their caregivers say and how they react in potentially stressful situations. If dental care is important to you personally, it’s more likely to become important to your child. And when you visit the dentist with your child, be sure to project calm and a sense that it’s routine — if you display tenseness or nervousness your child may take that as a sign that visiting the dentist is something to fear.
You want your child to learn that the dentist is their friend who’s there to help them. That lesson should begin early with the right dental team — and by making dental care a priority in your own life.
If you would like more information on dental care for 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 “Taking the Stress out of Dentistry for Kids.”
If we could go back in time, we all probably have a few things we wish we could change. Recently, Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician and host of the syndicated TV show The Doctors, shared one of his do-over dreams with Dear Doctor magazine: “If I [could have] gone back and told myself as a teenager what to do, I would have worn a mouthguard, not only to protect my teeth but also to help potentially reduce risk of concussion.”
What prompted this wish? The fact that as a teenage basketball player, Stork received an elbow to the mouth that caused his two front teeth to be knocked out of place. The teeth were put back in position, but they soon became darker and began to hurt. Eventually, both were successfully restored with dental crowns. Still, it was a painful (and costly) injury — and one that could have been avoided.
You might not realize it, but when it comes to dental injuries, basketball ranks among the riskier sports. Yet it’s far from the only one. In fact, according to the American Dental Association (ADA), there are some two dozen others — including baseball, hockey, surfing and bicycling — that carry a heightened risk of dental injury. Whenever you’re playing those sports, the ADA recommends you wear a high-quality mouth guard.
Mouthguards have come a long way since they were introduced as protective equipment for boxers in the early 1900’s. Today, three different types are widely available: stock “off-the-shelf” types that come in just a few sizes; mouth-formed “boil-and-bite” types that you adapt to the general contours of your mouth; and custom-made high-quality mouthguards that are made just for you at the dental office.
Of all three types, the dentist-made mouthguards are consistently found to be the most comfortable and best-fitting, and the ones that offer your teeth the greatest protection. What’s more, recent studies suggest that custom-fabricated mouthguards can provide an additional defense against concussion — in fact, they are twice as effective as the other types. That’s why you’ll see more and more professional athletes (and plenty of amateurs as well) sporting custom-made mouthguards at games and practices.
“I would have saved myself a lot of dental heartache if I had worn a mouthguard,” noted Dr. Stork. So take his advice: Wear a mouthguard whenever you play sports — unless you’d like to meet him (or one of his medical colleagues) in a professional capacity…
Like many other families, you may use formula instead of breast milk as a safe and healthy alternative to feed your infant. But, if you use a powdered form that you mix with water your child may be taking in more fluoride than they require.
Fluoride is a natural chemical that can strengthen tooth enamel and help prevent decay. After decades of study it's also been shown to pose no serious health risks. Because of fluoride's benefits and safety, many water utilities add tiny amounts to their drinking water supply.
But it can have one side effect called enamel fluorosis. If a child ingests too much fluoride during early development it can cause discoloring mottled spots or streaking in permanent teeth. Although it doesn't affect their health, the teeth can be unattractive and require cosmetic attention.
That's why it's best to keep fluoride consumption to a healthy minimum for children. That, however, is often easier said than done, since we can encounter hidden fluoride in a variety of places. Besides hygiene products and fluoridated drinking water, you may find fluoride in prepared juices and other beverages, bottled water or in foods processed with fluoridated water. There are no labeling requirements for fluoride, so you'll have to research to find out if a product contains fluoride.
There are, however, some things you can do to control your child's fluoride intake. First, know as much as you can about known sources your child may encounter like your water supply. You can find out if your utility adds fluoride and by how much by contacting them or visiting My Water's Fluoride online at https://nccd.cdc.gov/DOH_MWF/.
If you use fluoride toothpaste apply only a “smear” on the end of the brush for children under two and a pea-sized amount for older children. If you have fluoridated drinking water, consider breastfeeding your infant, use ready-to-feed formula or mix powdered formula with bottled water labeled “de-ionized,” “purified,” “demineralized” or “distilled.”
And, do feel free to discuss your concerns with us during your child's regular checkup. We'll help you adjust their diet, water intake and hygiene habits to be sure they're receiving the right amount they need for developing strong teeth — and no more.
If you would like more information on appropriate fluoride levels 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 “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
When your child says they have a toothache, should you see your dentist? In most cases, the answer is yes.
And for good reason: their “toothache” could be a sign of a serious condition like tooth decay or a localized area of infection called an abscess, which could adversely affect their long-term dental health. The best way to know for sure –and to know what treatment will be necessary—is through a dental exam.
So, how quickly should you make the appointment? You can usually wait until morning if the pain has persisted for a day or through the night—most toothaches don’t constitute an emergency. One exception, though, is if the child has accompanying fever or facial swelling: in those cases you should call your dentist immediately or, if unavailable, visit an emergency room.
In the meantime, you can do a little detective work to share with the dentist at the appointment. Ask your child exactly where in their mouth they feel the pain and if they remember when it started. Look at that part of the mouth—you may be able to see brown spots on the teeth or obvious cavities indicative of decay, or reddened, swollen gums caused by an abscess. Also ask them if they remember getting hit in the mouth, which may mean their pain is the result of trauma and not disease.
You can also look for one other possible cause: a piece of candy, popcorn or other hard object wedged between the teeth putting painful pressure on the gums. Try gently flossing the teeth to see if anything dislodges. If so, the pain may alleviate quickly if the wedged object was the cause.
Speaking of pain, you can try to ease it before the dental appointment with ibuprofen or acetaminophen in appropriate doses for the child’s age. A chilled cloth or ice pack (no direct ice on skin) applied to the outside of the jaw may also help.
Seeing the dentist for any tooth pain is always a good idea. By paying prompt attention to this particular “call for help” from the body could stop a painful situation from getting worse.
If you would like more information on dental care 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 “A Child’s Toothache: Have a Dental Exam to Figure out the Real Cause.”
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