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.
Like most people, you’ve no doubt experienced occasional dry mouth as when you’re thirsty or just waking from sleep. These are normal occurrences that usually don’t last long.
But xerostomia or chronic dry mouth is another matter. Not only is this continual lack of adequate saliva uncomfortable, it could increase your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
What’s more, chronic dry mouth can have a number of causes. Here are 3 common causes and what you can do about them.
Inadequate fluid intake. While this may seem obvious, it’s still common—you’re simply not consuming enough water. This deprives the salivary glands of adequate fluid to produce the necessary amount of saliva. If you’re regularly thirsty, you’ll need to increase the amount of water you drink during the day.
Medications. More than 500 drugs, both over-the-counter and prescription, can cause dry mouth as a side effect. This is one reason why older adults, who on average take more medications, have increased problems with dry mouth. There are some things you can do: first, talk with your healthcare provider about alternative drugs for your condition that are less likely to cause dry mouth; drink more water right before taking your medication and right afterward; and increase your daily intake of water.
Diseases and treatments. Some systemic diseases like diabetes or Parkinson’s disease can lead to xerostomia. Autoimmune conditions are especially problematic because the body may turn on its own tissues, the salivary glands being a common target. Radiation or chemotherapy treatments can also damage the glands and lead to decreased saliva production. If you have such a condition, talk with your healthcare provider about ways to protect your salivary glands.
You can also ease dry mouth symptoms with saliva boosters like xylitol gum or medications that stimulate saliva production. Limit your intake of caffeinated drinks and sugary or acidic foods. And be sure you stay diligent with your oral hygiene habits and regular dental visits to further reduce your risks of dental disease.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments of dry mouth, 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 “Dry Mouth: Learn about the Causes and Treatment of this Common Problem.”
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that can lead to a number of serious health problems. One of them, tooth erosion, could ruin your dental health.
Your stomach uses strong acids to break down food during digestion. A ring of muscle just above the stomach called the esophageal sphincter works as a one-way valve to allow food contents into the stomach but prevent acid from traveling back up through the esophagus.
GERD occurs when the esophageal sphincter weakens and starts allowing acid into the esophagus and potentially the mouth. The acid wash can eventually damage the esophageal lining, causing pain, heartburn, ulcers or even pre-cancerous cells.
Acid coming up in the mouth can cause the mouth’s normally neutral pH to slide into the acidic range. Eventually, these high acid levels soften and erode tooth enamel, increasing the risk of decay and tooth loss.
Accelerated erosion is often a sign of GERD—in fact, dentists may sound the first warning that a patient has a gastrointestinal problem. Unfortunately, a lot of damage could have already occurred, so it’s important to take steps to protect your teeth.
If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, be sure to maintain good oral hygiene practices like brushing or flossing, especially using fluoride toothpaste to strengthen enamel. But try not to brush right after you eat or during a GERD episode: your teeth can be in a softened condition and you may actually brush away tiny particles of mineral. Instead, wait about an hour after eating or after symptoms die down.
In the meantime, try to stimulate saliva production for better acid neutralization by chewing xylitol gum or using a saliva booster. You can also lower mouth acid by rinsing with a cup of water with a half teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in or chewing on an antacid tablet.
You can also minimize GERD symptoms with medication, as well as avoiding alcohol, caffeine or spicy and acidic foods. Try eating smaller meals, finishing at least three hours before bedtime, and avoid lying down immediately after eating. Quitting smoking and losing weight may also minimize GERD symptoms.
GERD definitely has the potential to harm your teeth. But keeping the condition under control will minimize that threat and benefit your health overall.
If you would like more information on the effects of GERD on 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 “GERD and Oral Health.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
During pregnancy, your body isn’t the only part of your life that changes. Instead of “me,” you’re now thinking about “us”—you and the new person growing inside you. Because of this change in focus you may be re-examining your current habits to see if any could adversely affect your baby.
If you’re concerned your regular dental visits might be one of these, don’t be. Both the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the American Dental Association (ADA) recommend continuing regular dental exams and cleanings even during pregnancy.
In fact, professional dental care is often more important during pregnancy. Because of hormonal changes, you may develop food cravings for more carbohydrates like sugar. Unfortunately, eating more sugar could increase your risk for dental diseases like tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease.
These same hormonal changes can also make you more prone to gum disease. There’s even a specific form of it known as pregnancy gingivitis that often occurs in expectant mothers. You may also experience “pregnancy tumors,” large, reddened areas of swelling on the gums.
To decrease your risk of pregnancy-related dental disease, you should certainly keep up your regular dental visits—and more if you begin to notice signs like swollen or bleeding gums. And although it’s usually best to postpone elective procedures like cosmetic dental work, you should be able to safely undergo any essential treatment for disease even if it requires local anesthesia. But do discuss any proposed dental work with both your dentist and obstetrician to be sure.
There are also things you can do for yourself during pregnancy that support your dental health. Be sure you’re practicing good oral hygiene habits like daily brushing and flossing. And by all means eat a well-balanced diet and restrict your sugar intake if at all possible. Taking care of these things will help you avoid dental problems and help make this memorable time in your life as joyous as possible.
If you would like more information on caring for your teeth during pregnancy, 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 “Dental Care During Pregnancy.”
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