Cavities in our children’s teeth are caused by the sticky snacks they eat and sugar in the liquids they drink. Infants go to sleep with juice or milk in sip-cups. Preschoolers get sweet treats as rewards, and who-knows-what at the grandparents. Grade-schoolers have colas and candy on demand. Teens are hooked on sweet tea.
Sugar is everywhere and most of us seek it, including our children. As parents working to keep our children’s teeth healthy, what are our options?
For twenty minutes after a child eats a sticky snack or drinks a sugary liquid, oral bacteria turn the sugar into acid. That acid dissolves the tooth surface and a cavity, or weak spot, develops. To protect against childhood cavities, parents can greatly limit a child’s access to sweet snacks and liquids. Older children, especially teens, can be educated about the twenty-minute acid cycle that follows sugar consumption. Sipping a sugary beverage over a forty-minute period has three-times the cavity forming impact as drinking the same amount in a few minutes!
Oral Hygiene Ideas….
Help your children learn to help themselves by making their personal oral hygiene pattern a fun routine for everyone. Take them to buy a new toothbrush and their own tube of paste. Inexpensive timers give kids a target period for brushing. Spin brushes are effective, easy to use, and low-cost.
Fluoride rinse is the “bed time mouthwash” that works wonders against cavities, and is great for all children who will reliably spit after one minute and not swallow. Any fluoride tooth paste is advised if no more than a pea-sized amount is applied for younger children. Most importantly, parents should be positive role models for effective dental care.
Fluoride is a mineral that naturally occurs in all natural water sources. Medical Science has known for many years that fluoride helps prevent dental decay by making teeth stronger. The enamel of a tooth becomes stronger with fluoride if the mineral is swallowed daily in small doses while the teeth are forming. Parents in Southern Illinois should be satisfied to know that our public water supply contains an amount of fluoride that is optimal for tooth formation.
After teeth grow in, fluoride can become concentrated in the outer surface of the enamel and help prevent tooth decay. In addition to our water supply, low doses of topical fluoride are found in most toothpastes. When cavities seem to be an individual’s problem, we recommend an over –the-counter fluoride rinse such as Act or Fluoriguard. Because swallowing too much fluoride is toxic, high-dose topical fluoride must be applied by health professionals and controlled by prescription when recommended for home use. Children routinely receive high-dose topical fluoride during their preventative cleaning/examine appointment in our practice. Our hygienists, Shanna and Nicole, are beginning to utilize a fluoride varnish which provides a highly concentrated and sustained dose of fluoride to the tooth surface. They still utilize gels and foams in trays, but the varnish holds highly concentrated fluoride closer to the tooth surface for a longer period of time.
The chewing surfaces of most adult back teeth have narrow grooves which trap debris. Children have trouble keeping these pits and fissures clean, making this area a prime location for cavities to occur.
Dental professionals can super-clean these pits and grooves, then apply a hard plastic coating to seal out the acids that cause cavities. The fee for a dental sealant is 30% of the fee for the restoration that would be required to fix a cavity in the same location. Dr. Loughran and the hygienists evaluate the condition of each sealant at a child’s six-month dental check-up and repair or replace as needed, without additional charge.
Central to the child’s visit in our practice is oral hygiene instruction that helps the young patient begin to feel personally responsible for their own dental health. Our dental hygienists, Shanna and Nicole, are mothers with young children and each is skilled at relating to young patients on the child’s level. Age-appropriate home-care techniques are demonstrated and discussed. Specific information is made more real as children view their own teeth on the television monitor, with input from the intra-oral camera or digital radiography sensor. This technology is most advantageous during the doctor’s exam if restorative treatment is recommended. We show parents the dental conditions being assessed because we want them to see what we see.
The cleaning-exam experience with Shanna or Nicole begins as early as the age of three, and can be conducted in a parent’s lap or with a parent present. Our hygienists create a climate that fosters positive feelings about professional care and an expectation for lifelong dental health.
When a cavity develops in an adult tooth, fixing the problem makes sense because adult teeth are expected to last a lifetime. What about baby teeth…… are they worth restoring when a cavity develops?
In addition to being needed for chewing, baby teeth have far-reaching importance in child development. The back baby teeth hold the first molar in position, keeping those teeth from drifting until the other adult teeth erupt. Also, the roots of baby teeth provide an opening for the timely appearance of permanent teeth. Growth of an adult tooth into the oral cavity can be delayed by years if the baby tooth above is lost too early due to decay.
The front baby teeth are needed for proper development of a child’s speech. In general, baby teeth are considered by dental professionals to be essential in proper development of the oral cavity. From the child’s perspective, a healthy mouth and smile promote positive self-esteem while crumbling or painful decayed teeth work against that.
Sometimes cavities in baby teeth can be confidently ignored because that is the better option due to the age of the child. In our practice, parents know if, and when, it is best to fix a cavity in the baby tooth when aided by Dr. Loughran’s shared observations. When baby teeth must be restored, parents are welcome in the treatment room. Our dental assistant, Melissa, and Dr. Loughran are parents themselves. Melissa and Dr. Loughran utilize time-proven methods to make every child’s treatment appointment a positive and successful experience for everyone. Only a handful of young patients each year are referred out of the practice to “the baby dentist” for attention.