Although primary (“baby”) teeth have a lifespan of only a few years, they’re still important to a child’s current and future dental health. In the present, they help a child eat, speak and smile properly. They also help create a healthy future as placeholders for developing permanent teeth yet to come in.
If, however, a child loses a primary tooth prematurely due to decay, the corresponding permanent tooth could come in misaligned. That’s why we do what we can to help a decayed primary tooth reach its full lifespan. And there are different ways to do this depending on the type of tooth.
With front teeth, which don’t encounter the same chewing forces as those in the back, we may use a tooth-colored filling. This approach is also preferable for appearance’s sake since front teeth are highly visible when a child speaks or smiles.
Primary molars, on the other hand, need a more robust solution. A filling may not be able to withstand the level of long-term chewing forces that these back teeth normally encounter. And because they’re less visible than front teeth, there’s less concern about aesthetics.
That’s why many pediatric dentists prefer stainless steel crowns for molars. Just like their permanent teeth counterparts, a primary crown fits over and completely covers a tooth. They’re typically pre-formed, coming in different shapes and sizes that can then be customized for the tooth in question. After preparing and removing any decayed material from the tooth, we can usually install the crown in one visit with local anesthesia and a sedative (if the child needs it for anxiety).
While a steel crown isn’t the most attractive restoration, it typically handles the higher chewing forces in the back of the mouth better and longer than a filling. That’s especially critical for primary molars, which are some of the last teeth to fall out (as late as ages 10-12). And besides preserving it as a permanent tooth placeholder, a crown also helps the tooth function effectively in the present.
Regardless of what method we use, though, preserving primary teeth is a primary goal of pediatric dentistry. And with a stainless steel crown, we can keep those important back molars functioning for as long as they’re intended.
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 “Stainless Steel Crowns for Kids.”
Not coincidentally, GERD Awareness Week overlaps with the Thanksgiving holiday. Many people get acid indigestion from time to time, especially during this month of major feasting, but if you suffer from more than occasional acid reflux, you may be among the 20 percent of U.S. adults with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. For many individuals, painful heartburn often accompanies acid reflux; however, for others there are few or no symptoms. In the latter situation, dentists may be the first to suspect GERD based on what we see during a regular dental exam.
With GERD, acid washes up from the stomach into the esophagus or throat, and even into the mouth. If the condition is not treated, the repeated contact with acid can lead to ulcers and cause pre-cancerous cell changes along the esophagus lining. In addition, the acids can eat away at tooth enamel and harm the soft tissues of the mouth, which may result in severely eroded teeth and chronic gum disease. Unfortunately for those who have relatively minor symptoms, GERD may go undetected until serious damage has been done. For this reason, diagnosis and treatment of GERD is very important.
You can play a big role in managing your GERD symptoms. Besides taking any over-the-counter or prescription medication your doctor recommends, you can help control acid reflux by eating smaller meals, avoiding foods and beverages that trigger heartburn, refraining from eating within three hours of bedtime, and resisting the urge to recline right after eating. Also, quitting smoking and taking off extra weight can help greatly.
Further, it is important to take steps to protect your teeth if you suffer from GERD. Here are some tips:
- Neutralize acid by chewing on an antacid tablet or rinsing your mouth with half a teaspoon of baking soda mixed into a cup of water.
- Don't brush your teeth immediately after an episode of acid reflux, as this could damage the weakened tooth enamel. Instead, rinse your mouth with water to dilute the acid and wait an hour before you brush to allow your saliva to rebuild the minerals on the surface of your teeth.
- Schedule regular dental visits to monitor the health of your teeth and gums. Depending on your specific situation, we may recommend a particular treatment to help strengthen your teeth.
Our goal is to help you preserve your teeth for life, so be sure to tell us if you have been diagnosed with GERD or any other medical condition. If you have questions, contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “GERD and Oral Health” and “Tooth Decay: How to Assess Your Risk.”
A critical part of effective, daily oral hygiene, flossing removes bacterial plaque from between teeth that can’t be accessed with brushing. Unfortunately, it’s often neglected — string flossing requires a bit more dexterity than brushing and can be difficult to do properly.
It can be even more difficult for people with implants or who wear orthodontic appliances. For brace wearers in particular, getting access to areas between teeth with string floss is next to impossible; the metal brackets and tension wire also have a tendency to catch and retain food debris that’s difficult to remove with brushing alone.
Water flossing, using a device called an oral irrigator, is an effective alternative that addresses many of these difficulties. First available for home use in the 1960s, an oral irrigator delivers pulsating water at high pressure through a handheld applicator that forcefully flushes material from between teeth.
There’s no question that string flossing is effective in plaque removal between teeth — but what about oral irrigators? A 2008 study looked at a group of orthodontic patients with braces who used oral irrigators and compared them with a similar group that only brushed. The study found that five times as much plaque was removed in the group using the oral irrigators as opposed to the group only brushing.
Oral irrigators may also be effective for people who’ve developed periodontal (gum) disease. In fact, oral irrigators coupled with ultra-sound devices are routinely used by dental hygienists to remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) in periodontal patients. As with regular oral hygiene, though, it’s important for patients with gum disease to include water flossing with daily brushing (at least twice a day) and regular cleaning sessions at the dentist to ensure removal of all plaque and calculus.
If you’re interested in using an oral irrigator, be sure to consult with us at your next appointment. Not only can we recommend features to look for in equipment, but we can also instruct you on the techniques to make water flossing an effective plaque remover.
If you would like more information on water flossing, 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 “Cleaning Between Your Teeth.”
Sleep apnea is more than an annoyance. This chronic condition not only interferes with your alertness during the day, it may also contribute long-term to serious issues like cardiovascular disease.
Sleep apnea occurs when your airway becomes temporarily blocked during sleep. Of the possible causes, one of the most common is the tongue, which as it relaxes may cover and block the back of the throat. This lowers the body's oxygen level, which in turn alerts the brain to wake you to clear the airway. You usually go immediately back to sleep, unaware you've wakened. This can happen several times a night.
Although older people are at higher risk, anyone can have sleep apnea, even children with enlarged tonsils or adenoids. If you or a loved one regularly experiences fatigue, brain fog, irritability or loud snoring, sleep apnea could be the culprit. You'll need a complete medical examination to properly diagnose it.
If you do indeed have sleep apnea, there are a number of ways to treat it depending on its severity. One prominent way is with a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine that produces a higher air pressure in the mouth to force the tongue forward and keep the airway open.
While CPAP is effective, the pump, hose and face mask you must wear may become uncomfortable while you sleep. We may, however, be able to supply you with a less cumbersome device: a custom-made oral appliance you wear while you sleep. Similar to a retainer, this appliance mechanically pulls and holds the lower jaw forward, which in turn moves the tongue away from the airway opening.
This oral appliance won't work with all forms of sleep apnea, so you'll need an examination to see if you're a candidate. With more advanced conditions, you may even need surgery to reshape the airway or remove soft tissue obstructions around the opening.
Whichever treatment is best for your situation, it's well worth reducing your sleep apnea. Not enduring these nightly incidences of airway blockage will help ensure you're getting a good night's sleep — and enjoying a higher quality of health and life.
If you would like more information on treating sleep apnea, 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 “If You Snore, You Must Read More!”
You can't go wrong with an early start caring for your child's teeth and gums. In fact, dental care should begin in earnest when their first tooth appears.
You should begin by gently cleaning your infant's gums and new teeth after each feeding with a clean, water-soaked washcloth or gauze pad. Once they start eating solid food, you should transition to a soft-bristled brush with just a smear of fluoridated toothpaste. Around age 2, you can increase that to a pea-sized amount and begin teach them to brush for themselves.
The next important element in your child's dental care is beginning regular dental visits around their first birthday. There are good reasons to begin visits at this time. There primary teeth should now be erupting in earnest and you'll want to begin prevention measures against tooth decay if needed. You'll also want to get them used to going to the dentist early in life: if you wait a year or two later, they may not respond well to the unfamiliar surroundings of a dental office.
There are also a number of things you can do to support hygiene and dental visits. You should not allow your child to sleep with a pacifier covered or a bottle filled with anything but water. Milk, juices and other sugar-containing liquids will raise the risk of tooth decay. And speaking of sugar, limit their consumption to meal times: snacking constantly on sugar can create an environment ripe for decay.
Of course, dental disease isn't the only hazard your child's teeth may face. Accidents can happen and your child's otherwise healthy teeth could be injured. So, make sure they don't play too close to hard furniture or other features around the house they could fall on. If they should begin playing contact sports, invest in a custom mouth guard — avoiding an injury is well worth the cost.
Getting into dental care with your children as soon as possible will set the foundation for good oral health. And the example you set will stick with them as they take on their own dental care when they're older.
If you would like more information on caring for your child's 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 “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
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