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.”
While you do all you can to provide your child healthy meals and snacks at home, they still face tempting choices for unhealthy fare when they’re away. Unfortunately, their school campus could be one of those places with food choices that raise their risk for dental disease.
Thankfully, that situation is beginning to change. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued regulations a few years ago tightening minimum health standards for snacks available on school grounds. Called the Smart Snacks in Schools initiative, it promotes whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, while discouraging snacks with empty calories, fat, sugar and excessive salt. This is good news in particular for preventing tooth decay in children and teenagers.
Unfortunately, the initiative may not go far enough. There are a few “loopholes”: it allows for chocolate milk with added sugar as long as it’s fat-free; high schools can also sell beverages like sports and energy drinks, which are low in sugar but high in enamel-harming acid. So, although the general nutrition of snacks in schools may be improving, you should still remain alert to poor choices that may fall through the cracks.
For one thing, you can advocate for better nutrition policies in your child’s school. The USDA initiative is a minimum standard — schools can exceed them and eliminate borderline snacks allowed under the federal regulations.
You can also provide your child snack alternatives to the school vending machine. A little creativity and fun can go a long way: a dash of cinnamon or parmesan cheese on popcorn instead of butter; finger sandwiches made of real cheese on whole-grain bread (with some whimsical shaping with a cookie-cutter); or bite-sized fruits and vegetables like grapes, baby carrots or nuts. The more healthy (and enjoyable) snacks you can send with them, the less chance they’ll turn to a less nutritious choice in the vending machine.
A healthier approach to snacking depends on setting good examples, providing ample selections and accentuating the positive about healthy foods. Choosing nutritious foods, at home and away, is a key building block for healthy teeth and gums.
If you would like more information on nutrition and 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 “Snacking at School.”
Over the last century effectively treating a decayed tooth has often required removing any decayed structure with drilling and then filling the remaining cavity. While this approach does save teeth that might otherwise be lost, it can also result in a fair amount of healthy structure removed in the process.
But continuing advances in dentistry are now making possible a new approach to tooth decay treatment that preserves as much of the healthy portions of tooth as possible. This new way is often referred to as minimally invasive dentistry (MID).
The primary goal of MID treatment is to intercept and treat decay as early as possible to minimize tooth damage. It begins with helping patients identify their own individual risk factors for decay such as the presence of disease-causing bacteria, the adequacy of their saliva flow, or their lifestyle and dietary habits. We then recommend changes or preventive measures to reduce those risks.
The next step in MID is using various diagnostic technologies to find decay as early as possible. X-rays continue to play a major role, but dentists are also using dental microscopy to magnify the earliest forms of decay. Many also utilize laser fluorescence, infrared photography and optical scanning to further “see” decay difficult to detect with the naked eye.
In regard to treatments, MID adopts the adage “less is more.” If caught early enough, we can encourage the re-mineralization of enamel that acid has eroded with CPP-ACP, a substance acquired from milk, or strengthen teeth with topical fluoride applications. Instead of the dental drill, many dentists now turn to air abrasion for decay removal, equipment that emits a fine stream of abrasive particles that harms less healthy structure than a drill.
And if lasers continue to develop at their current pace, we’ll be able to use this technology to perform much more precise decay treatment than possible with manual instruments. As a result, we’ll be able to treat decayed teeth with less invasive means to preserve as much healthy structure as possible.
As these and other developments continue, MID promises a bright future for preventing and treating tooth decay. As a result, there’ll be less tooth structure loss and more attractive and healthy smiles.
If you would like more information on the latest techniques for treating tooth decay, 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 “Minimally Invasive Dentistry.”
How many actresses have portrayed a neuroscientist on a wildly successful TV comedy while actually holding an advanced degree in neuroscience? As far as we know, exactly one: Mayim Bialik, who plays the lovably geeky Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' The Big Bang Theory… and earned her PhD from UCLA.
Acknowledging her nerdy side, Bialik recently told Dear Doctor magazine, “I'm different, and I can't not be different.” Yet when it comes to her family's oral health, she wants the same things we all want: good checkups and great-looking smiles. “We're big on teeth and oral care,” she said. “Flossing is really a pleasure in our house.”
How does she get her two young sons to do it?
Bialik uses convenient pre-loaded floss holders that come complete with floss and a handle. “I just keep them in a little glass right next to the toothbrushes so they're open, no one has to reach, they're just right there,” she said. “It's really become such a routine, I don't even have to ask them anymore.”
As many parents have discovered, establishing healthy routines is one of the best things you can do to maintain your family's oral health. Here are some other oral hygiene tips you can try at home:
Brush to the music — Plenty of pop songs are about two minutes long… and that's the length of time you should brush your teeth. If brushing in silence gets boring, add a soundtrack. When the music's over — you're done!
Flossing can be fun — If standard dental floss doesn't appeal, there are many different styles of floss holders, from functional ones to cartoon characters… even some with a martial-arts theme! Find the one that your kids like best, and encourage them to use it.
The eyes don't lie — To show your kids how well (or not) they are cleaning their teeth, try using an over-the-counter disclosing solution. This harmless product will temporarily stain any plaque or debris that got left behind after brushing, so they can immediately see where they missed, and how to improve their hygiene technique — which will lead to better health.
Have regular dental exams & cleanings — When kids see you're enthusiastic about going to the dental office, it helps them feel the same way… and afterward, you can point out how great it feels to have a clean, sparkling smile.
To get your child on the right track for lifelong dental health we recommend you begin their dental visits around their first birthday. You can certainly visit your family dentist, especially if you and your family feel comfortable with them. But you also might want to consider a pediatric dentist for your child's dental needs.
What's the difference between a family dentist and a pediatric dentist? Both offer the same kind of prevention and treatment services like cleanings, fluoride applications or fillings. But like their counterparts in medicine — the family practice physician and pediatrician — the family dentist sees patients of all ages; the pediatric dentist specializes in care for children and teens only.
In this regard, pediatric dentists undergo additional training to address dental issues specifically involving children. Furthermore, their practices are geared toward children, from toys and child-sized chairs in the waiting room to “kid-friendly” exam rooms decorated to appeal to children.
While your family dentist could certainly do the same, pediatric dentists are also skilled in reducing the anxiety level that's natural for children visiting the dental office. This can be especially helpful if you have a special needs child with behavioral or developmental disorders like autism or ADHD. A pediatric dentist's soothing manner and the calm, happy environment of the office can go a long way in minimizing any related anxiety issues.
Your child may have other needs related to their oral health that could benefit from a pediatric dentist. Some children have a very aggressive form of dental caries disease (tooth decay) called early childhood caries (ECC).Â If not treated promptly, many of their teeth can become severely decayed and prematurely lost, leading to possible bite problems later in life. Pediatric dentists are well-suited to treat ECC and to recognize other developmental issues.
Again, there's certainly nothing wrong with taking your child to your family dentist, especially if a long-term relationship is important to you (your child will eventually “age out” with a pediatric dentist and no longer see them). It's best to weigh this and other factors such as your child's emotional, physical and dental needs before making a decision.
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