When your baby’s first teeth come in, you might not think it necessary yet to worry about tooth decay. But even infants can develop this common dental disease. In fact, it has a specific name in children 6 and under: early childhood caries (ECC).
About one-fourth of U.S. children have ECC, and poor or minority children are at highest risk. Because of primary (“baby”) teeth’s thin enamel layer, ECC can spread to healthier teeth with unnerving speed, causing extensive damage.
While such damage immediately affects a child’s nutrition, speech development and self-esteem, it could also impact their future oral health. Permanent teeth often erupt out of position because of missing primary teeth lost prematurely, creating a poor bite. And children with ECC are more likely to have cavities in their future permanent teeth.
While there are a number of effective treatments for repairing ECC-caused damage, it’s best to try to prevent it before damage occurs. A large part of prevention depends on you. You should, for example, begin oral hygiene even before teeth come in by wiping their gums with a clean, damp cloth after feeding. After teeth appear, switch to daily brushing with just a smear of toothpaste.
Because refined sugar is a primary food source for decay-causing bacteria, you should limit it in their diet. In the same vein, avoid sleep-time bottles with fluids like juices, milk or formula. As they grow older, make sure snacks are also low in sugar.
You should also avoid spreading your own oral bacteria to your baby. In this regard, don’t put their eating utensils or pacifier in your mouth and don’t drink from the same cup. Avoid kissing your baby on the lips. And above all, take care of your own oral health to prevent your own encounter with dental disease.
Finally, start regular dental visits on or before your baby’s first birthday. Regular cleanings and checkups increase the chances for early decay detection, as well as provide for treatments and prevention measures that can reduce the disease’s spread and destruction.
ECC can be devastating to both your baby’s current and future dental health. But with vigilance and good dental practices, you may be able to help them avoid this serious disease.
For over a century now, health providers have depended on blood and urine samples to diagnose many forms of disease. Very soon, though, we may routinely use a different bodily fluid that's easier and cheaper to collect: saliva.
Secreted by six hundred or more glands in the mouth, saliva performs a number of important functions for digestion and overall oral health. Saliva lubricates the mouth to make food easier to swallow. Its enzymes begin the digestion process breaking down food even before we swallow. It also helps wash out food particles that could build up as plaque on the teeth and harbor disease-causing bacteria.
In terms of dental health, its greatest role is as a neutralizer of food acid. It's natural after we eat for the acid levels in the mouth to rise above normal. If acid remains in contact with enamel for an extended period of time it can soften the enamel's minerals and make it easier for them to erode. Within thirty minutes to an hour after eating, saliva neutralizes acid and restores the mouth's normal pH level. Saliva also contains calcium and phosphate materials, which helps restore some of the minerals the enamel may have lost from the acid contact.
But we're discovering saliva can do even more: we can now use it as an indicator for certain conditions in the body. Like blood or urine, saliva contains molecules that can serve as biological markers for different types of disease. By employing devices calibrated to detect these markers, we can use saliva to uncover cancer, diabetes or other systemic conditions.
As these particular devices are manufactured and become more available, the use of saliva for disease diagnosis will rise. In the future, you may not need a trip to the bathroom or wince at a needle stick — a swab of your saliva will do!
If you would like more information on saliva's role in your 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 “Saliva: How it is Used to Diagnose Disease.”
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
You might see your teeth and gums as separate parts of your mouth. But we dentists see them as a unified biological system, each of them contributing to your mouth's various functions: eating, speaking and, of course, smiling.
The teeth-gum-mouth relationship is also a factor when things aren't going well. Tooth decay, for example, doesn't suddenly appear — conditions have to be present in the mouth to cause it. The same can be said for periodontal (gum) disease or bite problems.
So the best approach in dental care is to consider the whole — to first learn all we can about your mouth. We need to understand not only your current problems but also your health history and the unique features of your mouth. With this deeper understanding we can formulate a long-term plan that addresses all your individual needs.
We specifically want to identify your individual oral health risks, from your genetic makeup to any past problems with dental disease or the bite. We then want to assess your current state of health: do you have any presence of dental disease? Is any past dental work failing or in need of updating? Are there any biomechanical issues with the bite or bone loss that need to be addressed?
With this more complete picture, we can then prioritize your care and treatment. Some things like gum disease require immediate attention. Other areas such as bite problems or cosmetic issues may require planning and time to fully address. Our aim, though, is to eventually bring you to as high a level of health as your individual situation will permit.
Once we've achieved an acceptable level of health, our aim is to then maintain that level. This includes monitoring for changes in your oral health and intervening when necessary.
As you can see, establishing a care strategy is only the beginning — and care will always be ongoing. In fact, we'll need to modify your care as new issues arise or you experience the effects of aging. Our end goal, however, always remains the same — to help you achieve and keep the most healthy and attractive mouth possible.
If you would like more information on getting the most from your dental care, 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 “Successful Dental Treatment: Getting the Best Possible Results.”
Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying: “Take care of your dentures and your dentures will take care of you.” Well, maybe it’s not that old—but it’s still a sensible notion. Maintaining your dentures by routinely cleaning them and having them checked for fit will improve their longevity.
There’s one other thing you should include on your maintenance routine—avoid wearing your dentures 24/7, especially while you sleep. This bad habit could lead to some unpleasant consequences.
For one, wearing dentures continuously can accelerate bone loss in the jaw that eventually causes your dentures to lose their comfortable fit. Bone loss is a natural consequence of tooth loss because the bone no longer receives the stimulation to grow transmitted by the teeth during chewing. Dentures can’t transmit this stimulus; what’s more, the pressure they place on the gums and underlying bony ridges could make bone loss worse. You can relieve this gum pressure at night by taking them out.
Dentures can also become a breeding ground for bacteria and fungi that cause disease, irritation and unpleasant mouth odors. Taking dentures out at night deprives these microorganisms of a prime opportunity to carry on business as usual—and it’s also a great time to clean your dentures. People who sleep with their dentures in their mouth are more likely to have gum or oral yeast infections and higher levels of proteins produced by white cells that increase inflammation. That could contribute to other diseases throughout the body.
Besides taking your dentures out at night, you should also practice other daily hygiene tasks. Remove your dentures after eating and rinse them with clean water. Brush your dentures daily with a soft-bristled brush and dish or antibacterial soap or dental cleanser (no toothpaste—it’s too abrasive for denture surfaces). Be sure you clean your gums and tongue every day too. When your dentures are out, store them in clean water or preferably an alkaline peroxide-based solution.
Removing your dentures at night and these other good habits will help extend the life and fit of your dentures. It could also help keep the rest of you healthy.
If you would like more information on denture care, 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 “Sleeping in Dentures: A Habit that Can Cause Health Problems.”
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