Infancy is perhaps the only time in a person's life where a smile with just a few tiny teeth is still endearing. More will come—and then each will gradually depart, succeeded by permanent replacements.
That short lifespan, though, doesn't diminish their importance. Primary teeth not only provide children the ability to eat solid food and develop speech, but they set the stage for future dental health.
The latter arises from primary teeth's role as placeholders for incoming permanent teeth. Because permanent teeth eruption occurs in stages, primary teeth prevent earlier erupted teeth from drifting into the space intended for a later tooth. If they're lost prematurely and other teeth crowd into the space, the intended tooth may not have enough room to erupt properly, cascading from there into a poor bite (malocclusion).
The most common reason for premature loss is an aggressive form of tooth decay in children under 6 called early childhood caries (ECC). About one in four U.S. children encounter ECC, with those in poverty at higher risk. Infection in one tooth can spread to others, including newly erupted permanent teeth.
The goal then is to prevent ECC as much as possible, and initiate prompt treatment should it still occur. A good prevention strategy has two prongs: the actions and habits of parents or caregivers; and the prevention and treatment measures taken by dental providers.
At home, it's important that you wipe your newborn's gums with a clean, damp cloth after each feeding to reduce bacterial growth. As teeth erupt, switch then to gentle brushing with a rice grain-sized amount of baby toothpaste. You should also limit their sugar consumption, including not allowing them to sleep with a bedtime bottle of any liquid other than water.
It's also important that you start your child's regular dental visits around their first birthday. This allows us to detect any developing cavities, as well as apply sealants and topical fluoride to help prevent decay. And should a cavity develop, regular visits help ensure prompt treatment to preserve the tooth.
Your child's set of primary teeth only last a few short years, but their contribution echoes for a lifetime. Taking these measures to protect them from tooth decay ensures they'll fully make that contribution.
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 “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
There are usually two moments when primary (“baby”) teeth generate excitement in your family: when you first notice them in your child’s mouth, and when they come out (and are headed for a rendezvous with the “tooth fairy”!).
Between these two moments, you might not give them much thought. But you should—although primary teeth don’t last long, they play a pivotal role in the replacing permanent teeth’s long-term health.
This is because a primary tooth is a kind of guide for the permanent one under development in the gums. It serves first as a “space saver,” preventing nearby teeth from drifting into where the permanent tooth would properly erupt; and, it provides a pathway for the permanent tooth to travel during eruption. If it’s lost prematurely (from injury or, more likely, disease) the permanent tooth may erupt out of position because the other teeth have crowded the space.
That’s why we try to make every reasonable effort to save a problem primary tooth. If decay, for example, has advanced deep within the tooth pulp, we may perform a modified root canal treatment to remove the diseased tissue and seal the remaining pulp from further infection. In some circumstances we may cap the tooth with a stainless steel crown (or possibly a white crown alternative) to protect the remaining structure of the tooth.
Of course, even the best efforts can fall short. If the tooth must be removed, we would then consider preserving the empty space with a space maintainer. This orthodontic device usually takes the form of a metal band that’s cemented to a tooth on one side of the empty space with a stiff wire loop soldered to it that crosses the space to rest against the tooth on the other side. The wire loop prevents other teeth from crowding in, effectively “maintaining” the space for the permanent tooth.
Regular dental visits, plus your child’s daily brushing and flossing, are also crucial in preventing primary teeth from an “early departure.” Keeping them for their full lifespan will help prevent problems that could impact your child’s dental health future.
If you would like more information on the right care approach 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
If there's anything that makes Alfonso Ribeiro happier than his long-running gig as host of America's Funniest Home Videos, it's the time he gets to spend with his family: his wife Angela, their two young sons, and Alfonso's teenaged daughter. As the proud dad told Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "The best part of being a father is the smiles and the warmth you get from your children."
Because Alfonso and Angela want to make sure those little smiles stay healthy, they are careful to keep on top of their kids' oral health at home—and with regular checkups at the dental office. If you, too, want to help your children get on the road to good oral health, here are five tips:
- Start off Right—Even before teeth emerge, gently wipe baby's gums with a clean, moist washcloth. When the first teeth appear, brush them with a tiny dab of fluoride on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Schedule an age-one dental visit for a complete evaluation, and to help your child get accustomed to the dental office.
- Teach Them Well—When they're first learning how to take care of their teeth, most kids need a lot of help. Be patient as you demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss…over and over again. When they're ready, let them try it themselves—but keep an eye on their progress, and offer help when it's needed.
- Watch What They Eat & Drink—Consuming foods high in sugar or starch may give kids momentary satisfaction…but these substances also feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. The same goes for sodas, juices and acidic drinks—the major sources of sugar in many children's diets. If you allow sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes—that gives the mouth a chance to recover its natural balance.
- Keep Up the Good Work—That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every single day. If motivation is an issue, encourage your kids by letting them pick out a special brush, toothpaste or floss. You can also give stickers, or use a chart to show progress and provide a reward after a certain period of time. And don't forget to give them a good example to follow!
- Get Regular Dental Checkups—This applies to both kids and adults, but it's especially important during the years when they are rapidly growing! Timely treatment with sealants, topical fluoride applications or fillings can often help keep a small problem from turning into a major headache.
Bringing your kids to the dental office early—and regularly—is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of good checkups…even if they're a little nervous at first. Speaking of his youngest child, Alfonso Ribeiro said "I think the first time he was really frightened, but then the dentist made him feel better—and so since then, going back, it's actually a nice experience." Our goal is to provide this experience for every patient.
If you have questions about your child's dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Your child could hit a speed bump on their road to dental maturity—tooth decay. In fact, children are susceptible to an aggressive form of decay known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC) that can lead to tooth loss and possible bite issues for other teeth.
But dentists have a few weapons in their arsenal for helping children avoid tooth decay. One of these used for many years now is the application of sealants to the biting surfaces of both primary and permanent teeth. Now, two major research studies have produced evidence that sealant applications help reduce children's tooth decay.
Applying sealant is a quick and painless procedure that doesn't require drilling or anesthesia. A dentist brushes the sealant in liquid form to the nooks and crannies of a tooth's biting surfaces, which tend to accumulate decay-causing bacterial plaque. They then use a curing light to harden the sealant.
The studies previously mentioned that involved thousands of patients over a number of years, found that pediatric patients without dental sealants were more than three times likely to get cavities compared to those who had sealants applied to their teeth. The studies also found the beneficial effect of a sealant could last four years or more after its application.
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend sealants for children, especially those at high risk for decay. It's common practice now for children to first get sealants when their first permanent molars erupt (teeth that are highly susceptible to decay), usually between the ages of 5 and 7, and then later as additional molars come in.
There is a modest cost for sealant applications, but far less than the potential costs for decay treatment and later bite issues. Having your child undergo sealant treatment is a worthwhile investment: It could prevent decay and tooth loss in the near-term, and also help your child avoid more extensive dental problems in the future.
We Americans love our sports, whether as participants or spectators. But there's also a downside to contact sports like soccer, football or basketball: a higher risk of injury, particularly to the mouth and face. One of the most severe of these is a knocked out tooth.
Fortunately, that doesn't necessarily mean it's lost: The tooth can be reinserted into the empty socket and eventually return to normal functionality. But it must be done as soon as possible after injury. The more time elapses, the lower the chances of long-term survival.
That's because of how teeth are held in place in the jaw, secured by an elastic, fibrous tissue known as the periodontal ligament. When a tooth is knocked out some of the ligament's periodontal cells remain on the tooth's root. If these cells are alive when the tooth is reinserted, they can regenerate and reestablish attachment between the ligament and the tooth.
Eventually, though, the cells can dry out and die. If that has already happened before reinsertion, the tooth's root will fuse instead with the underlying bone. The tooth may survive for a short time, but its roots can eventually dissolve and the tooth will be lost.
Your window of opportunity for taking advantage of these live periodontal cells is only 5-20 minutes with the best chances in those earlier minutes. You should, therefore, take these steps immediately after an injury:
- Find the tooth, hold it by the crown (not the root end), and rinse off any debris with clean water;
- Reinsert the root end into the empty socket with firm pressure;
- Place clean gauze or cloth in the person's mouth between the tooth and the other jaw, and ask them to bite down gently and hold their bite;
- Seek dental or emergency medical care immediately;
- If you're unable to reinsert the tooth, place it quickly in a container with milk and see a dentist immediately.
You can also obtain an Android or IOS smartphone app developed by the International Association of Dental Traumatology called ToothSOS, which will guide you through this process, as well as for other dental emergencies. The quicker you act, the better the chances that the injured person's knocked out tooth can be rescued.
If you would like more information on what to do in a dental emergency, 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 “When a Tooth is Knocked Out.”
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