Tooth decay doesn't occur out of thin air, but is the end result of bacteria feeding on sugar, multiplying and producing acid. High acidity erodes tooth enamel and creates an environment for cavity development.
Modern dentistry can effectively treat cavities and often save the tooth from further damage. But you don't have to wait: You can reduce your chances of cavities by managing risk factors that contribute to decay.
Here are 4 top risk factors for tooth decay and what you can do about them.
Poor saliva flow. Saliva neutralizes acid and helps restore minerals to enamel after acid contact. But your enamel may not have full protection against acid if you have diminished saliva flow, often due to certain medications. You can help increase your saliva by consulting with your doctor about drug alternatives, drinking more water or using a saliva boosting product. Smoking can also inhibit saliva, so consider quitting if you smoke.
Eating habits. High sugar content in your diet can increase bacterial growth and acid production. Reducing your overall sugar consumption, therefore, can reduce your risk of decay. Continuous snacking can also increase your decay risk, preventing saliva from bringing your mouth back to its normal neutral pH. Instead, limit your snack periods to just a few times a day, or reserve all your eating for mealtimes.
Dental plaque. Daily eating creates a filmy buildup on the teeth called dental plaque. If not removed, plaque can then harden into a calcified form called calculus, an ideal haven for bacteria. You can help curtail this accumulation by thoroughly brushing and flossing daily, followed by dental cleanings at least every six months. These combined hygiene practices can drastically reduce your cavity risk.
Your genetics. Researchers have identified up to 50 specific genes that can influence the risk for cavities. As a result, individuals with similar dietary and hygiene practices can have vastly different experiences with tooth decay. Besides continuing good lifestyle habits, the best way to manage a genetic disposition for dental disease is not to neglect ongoing professional dental care.
If you would like more information on managing your tooth decay risk factors, 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 “What Everyone Should Know About Tooth Decay.”
Your child’s current dental care sets the stage for good oral health later in life. It’s essential, therefore, that you know how best to protect their teeth and gums. In recognition of February as National Children’s Dental Health Month, here’s a short true or false quiz to test your knowledge of proper dental care for your child.
- Your child’s dental hygiene begins when their first teeth appear.
False: The bacteria that cause dental disease can take up residence in an infant’s mouth before their first teeth come in. To help curb this bacterial growth, wipe your baby’s gums with a clean, wet cloth after nursing or bottle-feeding.
- Kissing your newborn on the mouth could lead to tooth decay.
True. Any mouth-to-mouth contact with your infant could transfer oral bacteria from you to them. Their immune system isn’t mature enough to handle these “new arrivals,” which can increase their risk for tooth decay. Instead, kiss your child on the cheek or forehead or use other ways to show affection.
- Primary (baby) teeth don’t need the same care from disease as permanent teeth.
False: Although they have a limited lifespan, primary teeth play a huge role in a child’s dental development by protecting the space intended for the incoming permanent teeth. If primary teeth are lost prematurely due to dental disease, it could lead to incoming teeth erupting out of position.
- It’s best to start your child’s regular dental visits around their first birthday.
True: By age one, children already have a few teeth that need preventive or therapeutic care by a dentist. Starting early also gets them used to seeing the dentist and reduces their chances of developing dental visit anxiety.
- Your infant or toddler sucking their thumb isn’t a cause for concern.
True: Thumb-sucking is a nearly universal habit among infants that typically begins to fade around ages 3 or 4. If the habit continues, though, it could begin affecting their bite. It’s recommended that you encourage your child to quit thumb-sucking around age 3.
- The best time to consider your child’s bite health is right before puberty.
False: Signs of an emerging bite problem can begin appearing even before a child starts school. It’s a good idea, then, to have your child undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6. If the orthodontist finds a problem, it may be possible to intervene to correct or minimize it before it goes too far.
One last thing: Your child’s dental care isn’t entirely on your shoulders. We’re here to partner with you, not only providing preventive and therapeutic treatment for your child, but also advising you on their day-to-day dental care and hygiene. Together, we’ll help ensure your child’s dental development stays on track.
If you would like more information about dental care for children, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
You can find some version of the ever popular kids’ meal at most major fast-food restaurants. It’s a neat little package: child’s size portions of burgers, chicken nuggets or sides—and often a small toy or treat to boot—all tucked into its own colorful cardboard container.
The drive-thru menu board at your favorite fast-food joint gives you plenty of choices to fill out your child’s meal. But you may notice something missing on many major chains’ kids’ menus—the mention of soft drinks as a beverage choice. You can still get one for your child’s meal, but the visual cue is no more on the menu board.
None of the “Big Three”—Burger King, McDonald’s or Wendy’s—post soft drinks as a menu item for their kid’s meals. It’s the result of an effort by health advocates promoting less soda consumption by children, the leading source of calories in the average child’s diet. With its high sugar content, it’s believed to be a major factor in the steep rise in child obesity over the last few years.
Sodas and similar beverages are also prime suspects in the prevalence of tooth decay among children. Besides sugar, these beverages are also high in acid, which can erode tooth enamel. These two ingredients combined in soda can drastically increase your child’s risk of tooth decay if they have a regular soda habit.
You can minimize this threat to their dental health by reducing their soda consumption. It’s important not to create a habit of automatically including sodas with every meal, especially when dining out. Instead, choose other beverages: Water by far is the best choice, followed by regular milk. Chocolate milk and juice are high in sugar, but they’re still a healthier choice than sodas due to their nutrient content.
Keeping sodas to a minimum could help benefit your child later in life by reducing their risk for heart disease, diabetes and other major health problems. It will also help them avoid tooth decay and the problems that that could cause for their current and future dental health.
If there's anything that makes Alfonso Ribeiro happier than his long-running gig as host of America's Funniest Home Videos, it's the time he gets to spend with his family: his wife Angela, their two young sons, and Alfonso's teenaged daughter. As the proud dad told Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "The best part of being a father is the smiles and the warmth you get from your children."
Because Alfonso and Angela want to make sure those little smiles stay healthy, they are careful to keep on top of their kids' oral health at home—and with regular checkups at the dental office. If you, too, want to help your children get on the road to good oral health, here are five tips:
- Start off Right—Even before teeth emerge, gently wipe baby's gums with a clean, moist washcloth. When the first teeth appear, brush them with a tiny dab of fluoride on a soft-bristled toothbrush. Schedule an age-one dental visit for a complete evaluation, and to help your child get accustomed to the dental office.
- Teach Them Well—When they're first learning how to take care of their teeth, most kids need a lot of help. Be patient as you demonstrate the proper way to brush and floss…over and over again. When they're ready, let them try it themselves—but keep an eye on their progress, and offer help when it's needed.
- Watch What They Eat & Drink—Consuming foods high in sugar or starch may give kids momentary satisfaction…but these substances also feed the harmful bacteria that cause tooth decay. The same goes for sodas, juices and acidic drinks—the major sources of sugar in many children's diets. If you allow sugary snacks, limit them to around mealtimes—that gives the mouth a chance to recover its natural balance.
- Keep Up the Good Work—That means brushing twice a day and flossing at least once a day, every single day. If motivation is an issue, encourage your kids by letting them pick out a special brush, toothpaste or floss. You can also give stickers, or use a chart to show progress and provide a reward after a certain period of time. And don't forget to give them a good example to follow!
- Get Regular Dental Checkups—This applies to both kids and adults, but it's especially important during the years when they are rapidly growing! Timely treatment with sealants, topical fluoride applications or fillings can often help keep a small problem from turning into a major headache.
Bringing your kids to the dental office early—and regularly—is the best way to set them up for a lifetime of good checkups…even if they're a little nervous at first. Speaking of his youngest child, Alfonso Ribeiro said "I think the first time he was really frightened, but then the dentist made him feel better—and so since then, going back, it's actually a nice experience." Our goal is to provide this experience for every patient.
If you have questions about your child's dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
Every year many parents learn their “tweenager” or teenager needs their bite corrected, often with specialized orthodontics. Imagine, though, if these families could go back in time to when their child’s poor bite was just developing to stop or slow it from forming.
Time travel may still be science fiction, but the approach suggested isn’t. It’s called interceptive orthodontics, a group of techniques and procedures performed during the early stages of jaw development. The focus is usually on getting abnormal jaw growth back on track, enough so that a poor bite won’t form.
The upper jaw, for example, may be growing too narrow, reducing the amount of available space for tooth eruption. If it isn’t corrected, teeth can erupt out of position. To correct it, an orthodontist places a palatal expander in the roof of the child’s mouth (palate). The appliance applies gentle pressure against the inside of the teeth, which stimulates the jaws to develop wider.
The expander works because of a separation in the bones at the center of the palate, which later fuse around puberty. The pressure applied from the expander keeps this gap slightly open; the body then continues to fill the widening expansion with bone, enough over time to widen the jaw. If you wait until puberty, the gap has already fused, and it would have to be reopened surgically to use this technique. Ideally, then, a palatal expander should be employed at a young age.
Not all interceptive techniques are this extensive—some, like a space maintainer, are quite simple. If a primary (baby) tooth is lost prematurely, teeth next to the empty space tend to drift into it and cause the intended permanent tooth to erupt out of place due to a lack of space. To prevent this an orthodontist places a small wire loop within the space to prevent other teeth from moving into it.
These are but two examples of the many methods for stopping or slowing a developing bite problem. To achieve the best outcome, they need to be well-timed. Be sure, then, to have your child undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6. If an interceptive orthodontic approach is needed, it could eliminate the need for more extensive—and expensive—treatment later.
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