Have you heard about dental sealants? These preventive treatments have been available for many decades, and more and more children are taking advantage of them. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that around 30% of kids from 6 to 11 years of age have had sealants applied to their molars (back teeth). Sealants are designed to reduce the incidence of cavities by filling in or eliminating the pits or crevices found in all molars, where decay-causing bacteria can hide and your brush can't reach. But do they really work?
Now, the research is in, and the answer is clear — YES!
Two major studies, each of which reviewed the results of thousands of patients over several years, recently came to the same conclusion: Dental sealants are effective at reducing cavities, and their benefits can last for four years (or more) after application. In general, the studies showed that kids who didn't get sealants were twice, three times, or even more likely to get cavities, compared to kids treated with sealants.
Sealants themselves are protective coatings made of plastic resins or glass-like materials. They are applied in liquid form, and then hardened by a special light. When “painted on” to the chewing surface of a molar, sealants fill in the tiny crevices, or “pits and fissures,” that are found there. Uneven tooth surfaces form a perfect breeding ground for the bacteria that cause tooth decay; worse yet, the bristles of a tooth brush can't usually reach them. That's what makes these areas highly susceptible to tooth decay.
Applying sealants is a quick and painless procedure that doesn't require any numbing shots or drilling. Many kids start getting sealants when the first permanent molars come in, around age 5 to 7; they may have more sealant treatments when additional molars emerge, between the ages of 11 and 14.
Sealants are recommended by the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and have only a modest cost per tooth. On the other hand, having a cavity filled generally costs substantially more, and may result in more trouble (and expense) down the line — so sealants can make sense economically, as well as preventively. This is especially true for those at high risk for tooth decay.
If you have questions about dental sealants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sealants for Children,” and “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
Dental disease doesn’t discriminate by age. Although certain types of disease are more common in adults, children are just as susceptible, particularly to tooth decay.
Unfortunately, the early signs of disease in a child’s teeth can be quite subtle—that’s why you as a parent should keep alert for any signs of a problem. Here are 3 things you might notice that definitely need your dentist’s attention.
Cavities. Tooth decay occurs when mouth acid erodes tooth enamel and forms holes or cavities. The infection can continue to grow and affect deeper parts of the tooth like the pulp and root canals, eventually endangering the tooth’s survival. If you notice tiny brown spots on their teeth, this may indicate the presence of cavities—you should see your dentist as soon as possible. To account for what you don’t see, have your child visit your dentist at least twice a year for cleanings and checkups.
Toothache. Tooth pain can range from a sensitive twinge of pain when eating or drinking hot or cold foods to a throbbing sharp pain. Whatever its form, a child’s toothache might indicate advancing decay in which the infection has entered the tooth pulp and is attacking the nerves. If your child experiences any form of toothache, see your dentist the next day if possible. Even if the pain goes away, don’t cancel the appointment—it’s probable the infection is still there and growing.
Bleeding gums. Gums don’t normally bleed during teeth brushing—the gums are much more resilient unless they’ve been weakened by periodontal (gum) disease (although over-aggressive brushing could also be a cause). If you notice your child’s gums bleeding after brushing, see your dentist as soon as possible—the sooner they receive treatment for any gum problems the less damage they’ll experience, and the better chance of preserving any affected teeth.
Your child’s dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-ray imaging. It’s one of our best tools for finding and treating tooth decay.
But since x-rays emit radiation, is your child in any danger when they’re exposed?
X-rays, an invisible form of electromagnetic energy, will form images on exposed film after passing through the body. Because it takes longer for x-rays to pass through dense tissue like teeth and bones, the corresponding areas appear lighter on the film than less dense tissue like the gums. We can detect decay because the diseased tooth structure is less dense and thus appears darker against healthier tooth structure.
The downside of x-rays, though, is the radiation they emit could potentially alter cell structure and increase the risk of future cancer, especially with children. That’s why we follow a principle known as ALARA when using x-ray imaging. ALARA is an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable,” meaning the doses for an x-ray session will be as low as possible while still gaining the most benefit.
Advances in technology, particularly the development of digital processing, has helped reduce the amount of radiation exposure. We’re also careful with what types of x-rays we use. The most common type is the bitewing, a device with the film attached to a long piece of plastic that the child holds in their mouth while biting down.
Depending on the number of our patient’s teeth, we can usually get a comprehensive view with two to four bitewings. A typical bitewing session exposes them to less radiation than what they’re receiving from natural environmental background sources each day.
Keeping the exposure as low and as less frequent as possible greatly reduces health risks while still getting the full benefit of early decay detection. Still, if you have concerns about your child’s x-ray exposure, we’ll be happy to discuss our approach and all the precautions we take using x-ray imaging.
If you would like more information on x-ray diagnostics and your child, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
This year's Carol Burnett Award, presented at the Golden Globes, goes to Ellen DeGeneres for her “outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen.” This is the latest in a long list of honors for the comedienne, talk show host and activist that includes Emmys, Grammys and Teen Choice Awards. And one not quite as well-known: a 2004 “Flossy” award.
DeGeneres received this honor from the National Flossing Council in recognition of her passionate promotion of oral hygiene, particularly flossing. She wrote about its virtues in her 2003 book, The Funny Thing Is…., saying, among other things, “Don't even think for a second that you can get away with not flossing.”
DeGeneres's motivational cheerleading for flossing is helpful and necessary because, well, many of us just don't like doing it. It requires more manual dexterity than its more popular sibling, brushing. And the tendency for the floss to gunk up with plaque residue for some is simply unpleasant.
Mainly, though, many folks think brushing is enough. Not so fast, according to dental professionals. While brushing removes disease-causing bacterial plaque from broad tooth surfaces, it can't effectively get into the spaces between teeth. It takes flossing to clear plaque from these more difficult areas.
But don't fret: There are ways to make flossing an easier—and more pleasant—task.
Ask us for help. As we said before, flossing does take some hand dexterity and coordination to perform. You may also wonder if you're doing it effectively. We can provide training and tips on how to be a more effective flosser at your next visit.
Practice, practice, practice. You probably think nothing of riding a bicycle, and yet it probably took you weeks or months as a kid to become proficient. Similarly, your first attempts at flossing might feel awkward, but you'll improve with practice, so don't give up.
Brush before you floss. Most people floss before brushing, but if you tend to encounter a lot of soft plaque debris that makes flossing “icky” for you, then try brushing first to clear a good portion of it out of the way before you floss. Just be aware, most professionals believe that flossing first is better because it loosens up debris between teeth so the bubbles from the toothpaste can carry it away. But any flossing is better than no flossing!
Try flossing tools. For some people, floss picks, small pre-threaded tools you can use with one hand, seem easier to maneuver than regular floss thread. If you have issues with manual dexterity, an oral irrigator can make the task easier: This handheld device uses a stream of pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque between teeth.
So, follow Ellen DeGeneres's advice she gave Tulane University graduates during a commencement speech: “Remember to exfoliate, moisturize, exercise…and floss.” The latter, along with brushing, will certainly help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Your sweet, good-natured baby has seemingly gone from zero to grumpy overnight. The reason is simple: They’re teething.
Teething is a natural process in which a baby’s first teeth (primary teeth) begin to break through the gums, usually between six and nine months of age. This process continues intermittently until all twenty of the primary teeth erupt, sometime around age 3.
This uncomfortable and sometimes painful experience can cause gum swelling, biting and gnawing, chin rash and drooling. Your child may become irritable not only from this physical discomfort but also from disrupted sleep patterns and decreased appetite that often accompanies teething.
While you may have an unhappy baby while they’re teething, there’s usually no cause for concern. This is a natural process all children encounter, and the best thing you can do is make them as comfortable as possible. An exception would be accompanying diarrhea, fever or lingering crankiness—these could be symptoms of a more serious condition. If you begin to notice these, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
During teething there are a number of things you can do to reduce irritation. For one, allow your child to chew on clean, chilled (not frozen) teething rings, or a cold wet washcloth. The cold will help numb their irritated gum tissues. Massaging their gums with a clean finger can also help counteract the pressure caused by the incoming tooth.
If your doctor advises, you can also give your child over-the-counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen in an age-appropriate dosage. But be sure you give these medications orally and not rub them on the gums—some ingredients in them could burn the tissues. You should also not apply rubbing alcohol to the gums for the same reason. And avoid products with the numbing agent Benzocaine® in children less than two years of age unless your doctor advises otherwise.
Teething isn’t always a pleasant time for your baby or you, but it’s necessary—and temporary. In no time at all this discomfort will pass, and in its place will be their first set of teeth.
If you would like more information on teething, 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 “Teething Troubles: How to Help Keep Your Baby Comfortable.”
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