A baby’s teeth begin coming in just a few months after birth—first one or two in the front, and then gradually the rest of them over the next couple of years. We often refer to these primary teeth as deciduous—just like trees of the same description that shed their leaves, a child’s primary teeth will all be gone by around puberty.
It’s easy to think of them as “minor league,” while permanent teeth are the real superstars. But although they don’t last long, primary teeth play a big role in a person’s dental health well into their adult years.
Primary teeth serve two needs for a child: enabling them to eat, speak and smile in the present; but more importantly, helping to guide the developing permanent teeth to erupt properly in the future. Without them, permanent teeth can come in misaligned, affecting dental function and appearance and increasing future treatment costs.
That’s why we consider protecting primary teeth from decay a necessity for the sake of future dental health. Decay poses a real threat for children, especially an aggressive form known as early childhood caries (ECC). ECC can quickly decimate primary teeth because of their thinner enamel.
There are ways you can help reduce the chances of ECC in your child’s teeth. Don’t allow them to drink throughout the day or to go to sleep at night with a bottle or “Sippy” cup filled with milk, formula, or even juice. These liquids can contain sugars and acids that erode enamel and accelerate decay. You should also avoid sharing eating utensils with a baby or even kissing them on the mouth to avoid the transfer of disease-causing bacteria.
And even before teeth appear, start cleaning their gums with a clean, wet cloth right after feeding. After teeth appear, begin brushing and flossing to reduce plaque, the main trigger for tooth decay. And you should also begin regular dental visits no later than their first birthday. Besides teeth cleanings and checkups for decay, your dentist has a number of measures like sealants or topical fluoride to protect at-risk teeth from disease.
Helping primary teeth survive to their full lifespan is an important goal in pediatric dentistry. It’s the best strategy for having healthy permanent teeth and a bright dental health future.
If you would like more information on tooth decay in children, 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 “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
For chipped, stained, or slightly crooked teeth, dental veneers might be the ideal solution. These thin layers of porcelain bonded directly over the teeth with the perfect blend of color, sizes and shapes, can transform a person’s smile for a relatively modest cost.
But if the teeth belong to a teenager, veneers might not be appropriate. This is because in most cases, we’ll need to remove some of the tooth enamel so that the applied veneers won’t look unnaturally bulky. This alteration is permanent, so the teeth will require some form of restoration from then on.
While not usually a major issue with fully matured adult teeth, it could be with the developing teeth of pre-teens and teens. During childhood and adolescence the tooth’s inner pulp plays an important role in dentin production, and so the pulp chamber is relatively large compared to an adult tooth. This larger size places the pulp closer to the enamel surface than with an adult tooth.
Because of its proximity to the enamel, there’s a greater chance veneer alterations could damage a teenager’s tooth pulp and its nerve bundles. If that happens, we may need to perform a root canal treatment to save the tooth—also not an optimal situation for a developing tooth.
That’s why we need to take into consideration a patient’s age and stage of dental development first, including x-raying the affected teeth to measure the depth of the tooth pulp. If we deem it too risky at the moment, there are other ways to improve dental appearance at least temporarily. This includes whitening externally stained teeth with a bleaching agent, or applying tooth-colored composite resin material to chipped areas. We can also apply a composite material veneer that, although not as durable as traditional porcelain, doesn’t require much if any tooth alteration.
To know your options, have your teenager undergo a thorough dental examination. Your dentist will then be able to discuss with you whether veneers can be safely attempted. And be sure the dentist who may perform the work has experience performing cosmetic procedures on teenagers.
If you would like more information on restoration choices for teenagers, 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 “Veneers for Teenagers.”
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.”
Although tooth decay is a major problem to watch for in your child’s teeth, it isn’t the only one. As their teeth transition from primary (“baby”) to permanent, you should also be on the lookout for a developing poor bite or malocclusion.
Although the signs can be subtle, you may be able to detect an emerging malocclusion, starting usually around age 6, if you know what to look for. Here are 4 signs your child may be developing a poor bite.
Excessive spacing. This is something that might be noticeable while the child still has their primary teeth. If you notice an excessive amount of space around the front teeth, the sizes of the jaws and the teeth may be disproportional.
Abnormal overlapping. The upper teeth normally just cover the bottom teeth when the jaws are closed. But a malocclusion may be forming if the lower teeth cover the upper (underbite), the upper teeth extend too far over the lower (deep bite) or there’s space between the upper and lower front teeth (open bite).
Different overlapping patterns. Watch as well for some of the teeth overlapping normally while others don’t, a sign of a cross bite. For example, the back upper teeth may cover their counterparts in a normal fashion while the lower front teeth abnormally overlap the top front. The roles here between front and back teeth can also be reversed.
Abnormal eruptions. Permanent teeth normally follow a pattern when erupting, but certain factors could disrupt the process. For example, a jaw that’s developed too small can cause crowding as incoming teeth vie for space; as a result, some permanent teeth may erupt out of their proper position. Likewise, if a baby tooth is out of its normal position or prematurely lost, the permanent tooth may erupt out of position too.
The good news with each of these developing bite problems is that we can correct them or at least minimize their future effect if caught early. So if you notice any of these signs or anything else out of the ordinary, see an orthodontist as soon as possible. It’s also a good idea to have your child undergo a thorough orthodontic evaluation around age 6.
If you would like more information on bite problems in children, 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 “Problems to watch for in Children Ages 6 to 8.”
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