Posts for: May, 2018
Teeth lost to tooth decay can have devastating consequences for a child’s dental health. Not only can it disrupt their current nutrition, speech and social interaction, it can also skew their oral development for years to come.
Fortunately, we have a number of preventive tools to curb decay in young children. One of the most important of these, dental sealants, has been around for decades. We apply these resin or glass-like material coatings to the pits and crevices of teeth (especially molars) to help prevent the buildup of bacterial plaque in areas where bacteria tend to thrive.
Applying sealants is a simple and pain-free process. We first brush the coating in liquid form onto the teeth’s surface areas we wish to protect. We then use a special curing light to harden the sealant and create a durable seal.
So how effective are sealants in preventing tooth decay? Two studies in recent years reviewing dental care results from thousands of patients concluded sealants could effectively reduce cavities even four years after their application. Children who didn’t receive sealants had cavities at least three times the rate of those who did.
Sealant applications, of course, have some expense attached to them. However, it’s far less than the cost for cavity filling and other treatments for decay, not to mention future treatment costs resulting from previous decay. What’s more important, though, is the beneficial impact sealants can have a child’s dental health now and on into adulthood. That’s why sealants are recommended by both the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
And while sealants are effective, they’re only one part of a comprehensive strategy to promote your child’s optimum dental health. Daily brushing and flossing, a “tooth-friendly” diet and regular dental cleanings and checkups are also necessary in helping to keep your child’s teeth healthy and free of tooth decay.
Many things can affect your child’s future dental health: oral hygiene, diet, or habits like thumb sucking or teeth grinding. But there’s one you might not have considered: how they breathe.
Specifically, we mean whether they breathe primarily through their mouth rather than through their nose. The latter could have an adverse impact on both oral and general health. If you’ve noticed your child snoring, their mouth falling open while awake and at rest, fatigue or irritability you should seek definite diagnosis and treatment.
Chronic mouth breathing can cause dry mouth, which in turn increases the risk of dental disease. It deprives the body of air filtration (which occurs with nose breathing) that reduces possible allergens. There’s also a reduction in nitric oxide production, stimulated by nose breathing, which benefits overall health.
Mouth breathing could also hurt your child’s jaw structure development. When breathing through the nose, a child’s tongue rests on the palate (roof of the mouth). This allows it to become a mold for the palate and upper jaw to form around. Conversely with mouth breathers the tongue rests behind the bottom teeth, which deprives the developing upper jaw of its tongue mold.
The general reason why a person breathes through the mouth is because breathing through the nose is uncomfortable or difficult. This difficulty, though, could arise for a number of reasons: allergy problems, for example, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids pressing against the nasal cavity and interfering with breathing. Abnormal tissue growth could also obstruct the tongue or lip during breathing.
Treatment for mouth breathing will depend on its particular cause. For example, problems with tonsils and adenoids and sinuses are often treated by an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist. Cases where the mandible (upper jaw and palate) has developed too narrowly due to mouth breathing may require an orthodontist to apply a palatal expander, which gradually widens the jaw. The latter treatment could also influence the airway size, further making it easier to breathe through the nose.
The best time for many of these treatments is early in a child’s growth development. So to avoid long-term issues with facial structure and overall dental health, you should see your dentist as soon as possible if you suspect mouth breathing.
Your child’s dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-ray imaging. It’s one of our best tools for finding and treating tooth decay.
But since x-rays emit radiation, is your child in any danger when they’re exposed?
X-rays, an invisible form of electromagnetic energy, will form images on exposed film after passing through the body. Because it takes longer for x-rays to pass through dense tissue like teeth and bones, the corresponding areas appear lighter on the film than less dense tissue like the gums. We can detect decay because the diseased tooth structure is less dense and thus appears darker against healthier tooth structure.
The downside of x-rays, though, is the radiation they emit could potentially alter cell structure and increase the risk of future cancer, especially with children. That’s why we follow a principle known as ALARA when using x-ray imaging. ALARA is an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable,” meaning the doses for an x-ray session will be as low as possible while still gaining the most benefit.
Advances in technology, particularly the development of digital processing, has helped reduce the amount of radiation exposure. We’re also careful with what types of x-rays we use. The most common type is the bitewing, a device with the film attached to a long piece of plastic that the child holds in their mouth while biting down.
Depending on the number of our patient’s teeth, we can usually get a comprehensive view with two to four bitewings. A typical bitewing session exposes them to less radiation than what they’re receiving from natural environmental background sources each day.
Keeping the exposure as low and as less frequent as possible greatly reduces health risks while still getting the full benefit of early decay detection. Still, if you have concerns about your child’s x-ray exposure, we’ll be happy to discuss our approach and all the precautions we take using x-ray imaging.
If you would like more information on x-ray diagnostics and your child, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”