The final quarter of the 2019-2020 academic year was like no other in modern history. Because of COVID-19, U.S. schools and colleges lay dormant as millions of students carried on their studies via distance learning. Whether the upcoming school year will be online or in-person, the end of summer is still a great time to make sure your family's dental health is on track.
Normally, dental care is one of several items that families focus on right before school begins anew. But even if school won't be resuming in the traditional sense, you can still put the spotlight on your family's teeth and gums.
Here are 4 dental care areas that deserve your attention before the new school year begins.
Re-energize daily hygiene. The break in routine caused by sheltering in place may have had a stilting effect on regular habits like brushing and flossing. If so, now's the time to kick-start your family's daily hygiene. Brushing and flossing remove disease-causing plaque and are essential to long-term prevention of tooth decay and gum disease.
Schedule a dental cleaning. Regular professional cleanings, generally every six months, are necessary to remove hard-to-reach plaque and tartar. Scheduling may have been difficult this past spring, but as life starts to get back to normal, be sure to return to regular dental visits as soon as possible. During appointments, we can spot small issues that if left undetected could cause bigger problems later on.
Reassess your family's diet. If the last few months have impacted your normal food choices, you may want to take a closer look at your family's diet and what effect it may have on dental health. Processed foods with added sugar contribute to the risk of dental disease. But a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy contains abundant nutrients for strengthening teeth and gums.
Seek special evaluations as needed. It's a good idea to have your child undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6: If they have a poor bite developing, early intervention could prevent or minimize it. And you should have your teenagers' wisdom teeth monitored regularly in case they're impacted or causing other dental problems—they may require removal in early adulthood or before.
Hopefully, this unusual interruption in education will soon become a distant memory. But even with the school routine being upended as it has, you can still take advantage of the end of summer to give your family's dental health a boost.
If you would like more information about back-to-school dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
We all want to look young and vibrant, or at least “age gracefully.” If you're seeking to reduce the visible effects of aging for a more youthful appearance, be sure you include one very important feature—your smile.
Like other aspects of body and health, our teeth and gums can be affected by aging. Even if you've managed for the most part to avoid the ravages of disease or injury, teeth will still naturally wear from a lifetime of biting and chewing food. The attractive shine of young teeth can also give way to yellowing and other discolorations later in life.
But there are ways to turn back the clock, so to speak, through cosmetic dentistry. And you won't necessarily break the bank to gain a more youthful smile: Many cosmetic procedures are quite affordable and minimally invasive.
If your teeth have become worn and edgy, for example, we may be able to soften those sharper edges with a dental drill. Known as enamel contouring (or reshaping), the single-visit procedure is relatively minor and inexpensive, usually without the need for anesthesia. For heavily worn teeth, you may need to step up to veneers, thin layers of tooth-colored porcelain, or crowns that cover the teeth and make them appear longer.
Mild enamel yellowing and staining often responds well to professional teeth whitening. Using a safe bleaching solution, we can temporarily restore brightness to your teeth that you may be able to maintain for a few years with proper care and occasional touchups. For a more permanent solution you can also turn to veneers, crowns or dental bonding for a brighter smile, especially for discolorations that don't respond well to teeth whitening.
While these techniques can restore a youthful appearance to your smile, don't discount the effect of daily care and regular dental visits. Brushing and flossing are fundamental to healthy teeth and gums—and health and beauty go hand in hand.
Age can take its toll on all of us, especially our smiles. But with proper care and perhaps a little cosmetic magic, you can have an attractive smile throughout your lifetime.
If you would like more information on improving your smile as you age, 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 “How Your Dentist Can Help You Look Younger.”
There are important reasons not to smoke, like minimizing your risk for deadly diseases like heart disease or lung cancer. But here's another good reason: Smoking increases your risk of gum disease and possible tooth loss. And although not necessarily life-threatening, losing your teeth can have a negative effect on your overall health.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, individuals who smoke cigarettes, cigars, pipes or e-cigarettes are twice as likely as non-smokers to develop gum disease, and four times as likely the infection will become advanced. Your risk may also increase if you're regularly exposed to second-hand smoke.
There are a number of reasons for this increased risk. For one, smokers are less likely than non-smokers to recognize they have gum disease, at least initially, because they may not display classic symptoms of an infection like red, swollen or bleeding gums. This happens because the nicotine in tobacco smoke interferes with normal blood circulation. As a result, their gums may appear healthy when they're not.
That same circulation interference can also inhibit the production and supply of antibodies to fight infection. Not only can this intensify the infection, it can also slow healing and complicate treatment. In fact, smokers are more likely to have repeated episodes of infection, a condition called refractory periodontitis.
But there is good news—smoking's effect on your gum health doesn't have to be permanent. As soon as you stop, your body will begin to repair the damage; the longer you abstain from the habit, the more your gum health will improve. For example, one national study found that former smokers who had not smoked for at least eleven years were able to achieve an equal risk of gum disease with someone who had never smoked.
Quitting smoking isn't easy, but it can be done. If abrupt cessation (“cold turkey”) is too much for you, there are medically-supported cessation programs using drugs or other techniques that can help you kick the habit. And while it may be a long road, leaving smoking behind is an important step toward improving and maintaining good dental health.
If you would like more information on protecting your gum 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
Most babies come into the world ready and able to nourish at their mother's breast—no training required! About one in ten children, though, may have a structural abnormality with their tongue or lip that makes it difficult for them to breastfeed.
The abnormality involves a small strip of tissue called a frenum or frenulum, which is found in the mouth connecting soft tissue to more rigid structures. You'll find a frenum attaching the upper lip to the gums, while another connects the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.
Frenums are a normal part of oral anatomy and usually don't pose a problem. But if the frenum tissue is too short, thick or tight, it could restrict lip or tongue movement. If so, a baby may not be able to achieve a good seal on their mother's nipple, causing them to ineffectively chew rather than suck to access the mother's milk. Such a situation guarantees an unpleasant experience for both mother and baby.
The problem can be addressed with a minor surgical procedure performed in a dentist's office. During the procedure, the dentist first numbs the area with an anesthetic gel. The frenum is then snipped with scissors or a laser.
With very little if any post-procedure care, the baby can immediately begin nursing. But although the physical impediment may be removed, the child may need to “relearn” how to nurse. It may take time for the baby to readjust, and could require help from a professional.
Nursing isn't the only reason for dealing with an abnormally shortened frenum. Abnormal frenums can interfere with speech development and may even widen gaps between the front teeth, contributing to poor bite development. It's often worthwhile to clip a frenum early before it creates other problems.
It isn't absolutely necessary to deal with a “tongue” or “lip tie” in this manner—a baby can be nourished by bottle. But to gain the physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, taking care of this particular problem early may be a good option.
If you would like more information on the problem of tongue or lip ties in infants, 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 “Tongue Ties, Lip Ties and Breastfeeding.”
Infancy is perhaps the only time in a person's life where a smile with just a few tiny teeth is still endearing. More will come—and then each will gradually depart, succeeded by permanent replacements.
That short lifespan, though, doesn't diminish their importance. Primary teeth not only provide children the ability to eat solid food and develop speech, but they set the stage for future dental health.
The latter arises from primary teeth's role as placeholders for incoming permanent teeth. Because permanent teeth eruption occurs in stages, primary teeth prevent earlier erupted teeth from drifting into the space intended for a later tooth. If they're lost prematurely and other teeth crowd into the space, the intended tooth may not have enough room to erupt properly, cascading from there into a poor bite (malocclusion).
The most common reason for premature loss is an aggressive form of tooth decay in children under 6 called early childhood caries (ECC). About one in four U.S. children encounter ECC, with those in poverty at higher risk. Infection in one tooth can spread to others, including newly erupted permanent teeth.
The goal then is to prevent ECC as much as possible, and initiate prompt treatment should it still occur. A good prevention strategy has two prongs: the actions and habits of parents or caregivers; and the prevention and treatment measures taken by dental providers.
At home, it's important that you wipe your newborn's gums with a clean, damp cloth after each feeding to reduce bacterial growth. As teeth erupt, switch then to gentle brushing with a rice grain-sized amount of baby toothpaste. You should also limit their sugar consumption, including not allowing them to sleep with a bedtime bottle of any liquid other than water.
It's also important that you start your child's regular dental visits around their first birthday. This allows us to detect any developing cavities, as well as apply sealants and topical fluoride to help prevent decay. And should a cavity develop, regular visits help ensure prompt treatment to preserve the tooth.
Your child's set of primary teeth only last a few short years, but their contribution echoes for a lifetime. Taking these measures to protect them from tooth decay ensures they'll fully make that contribution.
If you would like more information on dental care for 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?”
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