New Orleans Dental Center Newsletter
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CHILDREN’S DENTAL HEALTH MONTH
Since February is National Children’s Dental Health Month, this article is dedicated to the care of our most precious gifts, our children. There is so much that we want to say about caring for children, that we will continue the information in next month’s article.
In this modern age, dentists still see a significant amount of tooth decay in young patients. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tooth decay affects more than one-fourth of U.S. children aged 2 to 5, and the number expands to affect half of kids between 12 and 15. By their 17th birthday, 80 percent of American adolescents will have tooth decay!
Many parents seem to be mystified by tooth decay, so we thought we’d explain. We learned in dental school that tooth decay is actually a DISEASE, by definition, although people don’t tend to think of it as such. Babies aren’t born with the bacteria (“germs”) that cause tooth decay, in their mouths. These bacteria are passed from the caregiver to the child! (for example, by touching baby’s food to one’s lips to test its temperature, sucking on baby’s pacifier to “clean” it after it falls on the floor, etc.). The bacteria become permanent residents of the child’s mouth, once the first teeth are present. These bacteria live in the plaque (tooth-colored, sticky stuff) that’s on teeth. The bacteria actually create the plaque, which allows these germs to “stick” to our teeth; then, the germs eat whatever sugars that we are eating. All living things produce waste after eating, and the bacteria’s waste product is a type of acid. The acid remains trapped in the plaque, on the teeth. If the plaque isn’t removed daily, the acid weakens the tooth structure, and eventually, a cavity develops. The vast majority of cavities can be prevented. (In rare cases, defects due to genetics or other causes can weaken teeth, but bacteria cause the decay).
We have heard from some parents that their children “just won’t brush and floss their teeth.” What they often don’t realize is, not only do we not expect most children to be self-motivated to care for their teeth, but we really can’t expect children, under the age of 8 or 10, to do a good enough job of removing plaque from their teeth—until that age, they just don’t have the manual dexterity needed! Therefore, we strongly suggest that you brush and floss your child’s teeth at younger ages, and continue to supervise the brushing AND flossing as he/she gets older.
[Here’s a technique Dr. Maes used when her daughter was young: Flossing a young child’s teeth is much easier if you sit on the edge of his/her bed while the child lays on his/her back. It’s pretty easy to see the back teeth that way, and the head is held still (as opposed to trying to do it while he/she is standing in the bathroom—almost impossible!) Another way to do it, with young children, is to floss while you’re hanging out in the evening—sit on your sofa and have the child lie on the sofa, on his/her back, with his/her head in your lap. You can play a fun game of flossing that way. There’s no law that says flossing has to be done in the bathroom, or even at the same time as brushing!]
Here’s a list of suggestions that can help you prevent childhood tooth decay:
1. Help children remove the plaque that accumulates on teeth by brushing twice a day and flossing once a day, EVERY DAY (it’s easy to forget when your routine gets disrupted, like on school holidays). It’s especially important to remove as much plaque as possible before bedtime; the natural decrease in saliva while sleeping can contribute to tooth decay in the presence of plaque and its acid. Plaque builds up quickly—it can only take about 24 hours of plaque’s presence to start to cause damage.
2. Less sugar, less often!! Remember, sugar comes in many forms (not just in candy). Excessive carbohydrates (such as, potato chips) and “natural” sugars can be harmful, like drinking a lot of fruit juice or milk between meals, or allowing these liquids to remain on children’s teeth at bedtime. When foods or drinks that contain both sugar and a high content of acid are consumed, decay is more likely to occur—examples are soft drinks and sour candies. Simply put, the less often the bacteria are fed with sugar, the less chance they have to cause decay.
3. While a patient is in the process of changing habits and having decay treated, or in situations such as during orthodontic treatment, we often recommend a “prescription-strength” fluoride rinse, to be used at bedtime (with supervision), which kills decay-causing bacteria and strengthens teeth.
4. Make and keep your child’s regular dental checkup appointments. If cavities are found at an early stage, treatment is much simpler and much more inexpensive. Experts recommend that a child’s first dental visit occur at around age 1 (or six months after the child’s first tooth erupts). We love to show young children how fun it can be to visit the dentist, we check for any functional/habit/growth concerns, and we spend time making sure their parents are “on track” with home care.
5. Have dental sealants placed in the grooves of children’s back teeth. The placement of sealants is a quick and easy process (no numbing needed), and is a wonderful defense against tooth decay. The deepest parts of the grooves of back teeth (in the “chewing” surfaces) are areas where the microscopic-sized plaque bacteria can hide. Even one toothbrush bristle is too large to fit in these grooves, so it’s easy to develop cavities there. A sealant is something like a “plastic paint” that fills the groove enough so that there’s no place for the bacteria to hide, and the entire chewing surface of the tooth can be cleaned.
6. Give children “candy” or gum made with 100% xylitol, especially after eating meals or snacks, to kill plaque bacteria. And, mothers-to-be: chew 100% xylitol gum or eat 100% xylitol candy/mints, every day during pregnancy (if your doctor doesn’t object). Amazingly, mothers can help prevent tooth decay in their children, before they’re born! Xylitol, a natural sweetener derived from plants, is known to “kill” bacteria, including those that cause tooth decay. A study was done in Scandinavia, in which pregnant mothers chewed 100% xylitol gum throughout their pregnancy, and their children at age 5 had many fewer cavities than their classmates! Call our office for more information about xylitol; if you do an internet search, you’ll find quite a few websites where 100% xylitol products are available for purchase. (Keep xylitol products away from dogs—while it’s perfectly safe for humans, it can be harmful to dogs.)
ANXIETY, OR EXTENSIVE DENTAL TREATMENT NEEDED
We have great techniques to help children who have numerous areas of decay, or who are afraid of dental treatment. With the use of safe medications, a child can be very relaxed for his/her treatment visit, and in many cases, most or all of the needed dental care can be done in one visit. For very young children, or children whose treatment would normally require several office visits, we can complete all of their dental treatment in one hospital visit.
MOUTH GUARDS FOR SPORTS
We’re all familiar with the mouth guards always used by football players. However, the use of well-fitting mouth guards for use during all sports that could have unintentional contact (like basketball, for example) could not only save teeth from fracture or loss, but may even help prevent a concussion caused from an accidental blow to the chin.
For more information about us, and about children’s dental treatment, please visit our website at www.NewOrleansDentalCenter.com; and remember to visit us on Facebook!
In honor of Children’s Dental Health Month, we are offering the following gifts through Friday, March 16, 2012:
• For new child patients, aged 12 and under, a free first visit. This will include x-rays, exam, cleaning and topical fluoride treatment; simply mention this article. (ADA codes: D0150/D0145, D0272, D1120, D1203, $125 to 127 value; restrictions may apply)
• For existing child patients, we will be happy to see you and your child for a complimentary consultation to see whether he/she could benefit from orthodontic treatment. If so, we will reduce the cost of the diagnostic records by half, a $158.50 value; simply mention this article. (ADA codes: 09987, 00330, 00340, 00470, 00350, 08995; restrictions may apply).
Drs. Landry and Maes
CLICK HERE for a Map to our New Office.
Please call New Orleans Dental Center today at 504-347-6000 to schedule an examination.
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