Families of children with chronic conditions face many challenges. One that often takes a back seat to other pressing needs is the prevention of tooth decay. But although difficult, it still deserves caregivers’ attention because of the dental disease’s potential long-term impact on oral health.
Chronically ill children are often at higher risk for tooth decay, most commonly due to challenges in practicing effective oral hygiene. Some conditions create severe physical, mental or behavioral impairments in children’s ability to brush and floss: for example, they may have a heightened gag reflex to toothpaste in their mouth or they may not be able to physically perform these tasks on their own.
Some children may be taking medications that inhibit salivary flow as a side effect. Saliva is critical for disease prevention because it both neutralizes mouth acid (which can erode tooth enamel) and is a first line of defense against disease-causing bacteria. And a child’s diet, while designed to support treatment of their chronic condition, may conversely not be the best for supporting their dental health.
It’s best if caregivers and their dentists develop a strategy for decay prevention, which should include the following:
- Regular dental visits beginning at Age One. Besides monitoring dental health, dental visits also provide cleanings and other preventive measures like topical fluoride or sealants;
- Brushing and flossing support. Depending on a child’s physical and mental capacities, caregivers (or an older sibling) may need to model brushing and flossing, or perform the tasks for the child;
- Medication and diet changes. If medications are causing dry mouth, caregivers can speak to their physicians about possible alternatives; likewise, they should see if modifications can be made to their diet to better support dental health.
- Boosting salivary flow. It’s especially important with children who have dry mouth to drink more water or use aids (like xylitol gum or candies) to boost salivary flow.
Although it requires extra effort and time to give attention to a chronically ill child’s dental health, it’s well worth it. By working to prevent tooth decay early in life, these children will be more likely to enjoy good dental health in the future.
If you would like more information on dental care for children with special needs, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Managing Tooth Decay in Children with Chronic Diseases.”
Soon after the primary (baby) teeth begin to give way, the teeth a child will have the rest of their lives start erupting into the mouth. But while they’re permanent, they’re not as strong and developed as they will be in adulthood.
That’s why we treat young permanent teeth differently from older adult teeth. For example, a decayed adult tooth may need a root canal treatment; but this standard treatment would often be the wrong choice for a child’s tooth.
The reason why involves the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth, which plays a critical role in early development. Young permanent teeth continue to grow in sync with the jaws and facial structure. Most of this growth is in the dentin, the layer between the enamel and pulp, which increases proportionally to the other layers as the tooth matures. The pulp generates this new dentin.
A root canal treatment completely removes the diseased tissue of the pulp. This isn’t a major issue for a mature tooth because it no longer needs to generate more dentin. But it can have long-term consequences for an immature tooth whose growth may become stunted and the roots not fully formed. The tooth may thus become brittle and darkened, and might eventually require removal.
Because of these potential consequences, a root canal treatment is a last resort for a young permanent tooth. But there are modified alternatives, depending on the degree of pulp exposure or infection. For example, if the pulp is intact, we may be able to remove as much soft decayed dentin as we can, place an antibacterial agent and then fill the tooth to seal it without disturbing the pulp. If the pulp is partially affected, we can remove that part and place substances that encourage dentin growth and repair.
Our main goal is to treat a young tooth with as little contact with the pulp as possible, so as not to diminish its capacity to generate new dentin. Avoiding a full root canal treatment if at all possible by using these and other techniques will help ensure the tooth continues to develop to full maturity.
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 “Saving New Permanent Teeth after Injury.”
You might think David Copperfield leads a charmed life:Â He can escape from ropes, chains, and prison cells, make a Learjet or a railroad car disappear, and even appear to fly above the stage. But the illustrious illusionist will be the first to admit that making all that magic takes a lot of hard work. And he recently told Dear Doctor magazine that his brilliant smile has benefitted from plenty of behind-the-scenes dental work as well.
“When I was a kid, I had every kind of [treatment]. I had braces, I had headgear, I had rubber bands, and a retainer afterward,” Copperfield said. And then, just when his orthodontic treatment was finally complete, disaster struck. “I was at a mall, running down this concrete alleyway, and there was a little ledge… and I went BOOM!”
Copperfield’s two front teeth were badly injured by the impact. “My front teeth became nice little points,” he said. Yet, although they had lost a great deal of their structure, his dentist was able to restore those damaged teeth in a very natural-looking way. What kind of “magic” did the dentist use?
In Copperfield’s case, the teeth were repaired using crown restorations. Crowns (also called caps) are suitable when a tooth has lost part of its visible structure, but still has healthy roots beneath the gum line. To perform a crown restoration, the first step is to make a precise model of your teeth, often called an impression. This allows a replacement for the visible part of the tooth to be fabricated, and ensures it will fit precisely into your smile. In its exact shape and shade, a well-made crown matches your natural teeth so well that it’s virtually impossible to tell them apart. Subsequently, the crown restoration is permanently attached to the damaged tooth.
There’s a blend of technology and art in making high quality crowns — just as there is in some stage-crafted illusions. But the difference is that the replacement tooth is not just an illusion: It looks, functions and “feels” like your natural teeth… and with proper care it can last for many years to come.Â Besides crowns, there are several other types of tooth restorations that are suitable in different situations. We can recommend the right kind of “magic” for you.
If you would like more information about crowns, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Crowns & Bridgework” and “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers.”
If you’ve had issues with periodontal (gum) disease, no doubt a few things have changed for you. You may be seeing us for dental cleanings and checkups more frequently and you have to be extra diligent about your daily brushing and flossing.
There’s one other thing you may need to do: change your diet. Some of the foods you may be eating could work against you in your fight against gum disease. At the same time, increasing your intake of certain foods could boost your overall oral health.
The biggest culprits in the first category are carbohydrates, which make up almost half the average diet in the Western world, mainly as added sugar. Although carbohydrates help fuel the body, too much can increase inflammation—which also happens to be a primary cause of tissue damage related to gum disease.
Of course, we can’t paint too broad a brush because not all carbohydrates have the same effect on the body. Carbohydrates like sugar or processed items like bakery goods, white rice or mashed potatoes quickly convert to glucose (the actual sugar used by the body for energy) in the bloodstream and increase insulin levels, which can then lead to chronic inflammation. Complex or unprocessed carbohydrates like vegetables, nuts or whole grains take longer to digest and so convert to glucose slowly—a process which can actually hinder inflammation.
Eating less of the higher glycemic (the rate of glucose conversion entering the bloodstream) carbohydrates and more low glycemic foods will help reduce inflammation. And that’s good news for your gums. You should also add foods rich in vitamins C and D (cheese and other dairy products, for instance) and antioxidants to further protect your oral health.
Studies have shown that changing to a low-carbohydrate, anti-inflammatory diet can significantly reduce chronic inflammation in the body and improve gum health. Coupled with your other efforts at prevention, a better diet can go a long way in keeping gum disease at bay.
If you would like more information on the role of diet in dental health, 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 “Carbohydrates Linked to Gum Disease.”
Your mouth is a lot like the Wild West — home to millions of bacteria and other microbes, some of which are definitely not “the good guys.” But your teeth are well-protected from these hostile forces and their acidic waste products: with enamel shielding the visible part of your tooth, your gums protect the parts you can’t see.
As effective as they are, though, your gums aren’t invincible: their greatest threat is periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection arises from plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles accumulating on teeth due to inadequate brushing and flossing.
The infected tissues soon become inflamed (red and swollen), a natural defensive response from the immune system. The longer they’re inflamed, however, the more likely they’ll begin detaching from the teeth. The gums may eventually shrink back or recede from the teeth, often causing them to appear “longer” because more of the tooth is now exposed to view.
Gum recession doesn’t bode well for your teeth’s survival: the exposed tooth and underlying bone can become even more susceptible to infection and damage. In the end, you could lose your tooth and portions of the supporting bone.
Treatment depends on the severity of the gum recession. In mild to moderate cases, we may only need to perform the standard gum disease treatment of removing plaque and calculus from all gum and tooth surfaces (including below the gum line) with special instruments. This helps reduce the infection and allow the gums to heal and re-establish attachment with the tooth. In more advanced cases, though, the recession may be so extensive we’ll need to graft donor tissue to the area using one of a variety of surgical techniques.
Although the right treatment plan can help restore your gum health, there’s another approach that’s even better — preventing gum disease in the first place. You can reduce your disease risk by practicing daily brushing and flossing and visiting your dentist regularly or when you see symptoms like gum swelling or bleeding. Taking care of your gums won’t just save your smile — it might also save your teeth.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and treating gum disease, 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 “Gum Recession.”
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.