While dental diseases tend to be a greater concern as we get older, they also pose a potential threat to children. A particular type of tooth decay called early childhood caries (ECC) can severely damage children's unprotected teeth and skew their normal dental development.
Fortunately, you can protect your child's teeth from disease with a few simple practices. First and foremost: start a hygiene habit as soon as possible to remove disease-causing bacterial plaque. You don't have to wait until teeth appear, either: simply wipe the baby's gums with a clean wet cloth after nursing to minimize the growth of oral bacteria.
When their teeth do begin to erupt, you can switch to brushing (you can add flossing as more teeth erupt—but until the child shows appropriate dexterity, you'll need to do it for them). For infants, brush gently but thoroughly with a soft-bristled brush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste. When they grow older you can increase the toothpaste to a pea-sized amount. And as soon as you can, get them involved with learning to perform these vital habits on their own.
You should also limit your child's consumption of sugar. Our favorite carbohydrate is also a favorite of bacteria, who consume any remnants in dental plaque as a primary food source. So, keep sugary snacks and foods to a minimum and limit them mainly to mealtimes. And don't put a baby to sleep with a bottle filled with a liquid containing sugar (including formula and breastmilk).
Finally, begin taking your child to the dentist regularly by their first birthday for routine cleanings and checkups. Besides removing any hard to reach plaque, your dentist may also apply sealants and topical fluoride to help protect and strengthen tooth enamel. Regular visits make it more likely to detect the early signs of decay, before it does extensive damage. And beginning early makes it less likely your child will develop a fear of dental visits that could carry on into adulthood.
These and other steps will go a long way in protecting your child's teeth and gums so they develop normally. A little prevention and protection will help ensure a happy, healthy smile later in life.
If you would like more information on helping your child develop healthy teeth and gums, 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 “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
While wearing braces is the path to a healthier and more attractive smile, it can be a difficult journey. One of your biggest challenges will be keeping your teeth clean to avoid a higher risk of tooth decay.
Tooth decay starts with dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. Daily brushing and flossing clear this accumulation. But the hardware of braces makes it difficult to access all tooth surfaces, and can even become a haven for plaque.
One sign in particular of tooth decay while wearing braces is the appearance of chalk-like spots on the teeth known as white spot lesions (WSLs). WSLs occur because the minerals in the enamel beneath them have begun to break down in response to decay. The spots can eventually cause both structural and cosmetic problems for a tooth.
The best approach to WSLs is to prevent them from developing in the first place. You'll need to be extra vigilant with daily oral hygiene while wearing braces to reduce plaque buildup. To help with the increased difficulty you might consider using a special toothbrush designed to maneuver more closely around orthodontic hardware. You may also find using a water flosser to be a lot easier than flossing thread.
Preventing tooth decay and WSLs also includes what you eat or drink to reduce the effects of enamel de-mineralization. The bacteria that cause decay thrive on sugar, so limit your intake of sweetened foods and beverages. And to avoid excessive demineralization cut back on acidic foods as well.
If despite your best preventive efforts WSLs still form, we can take steps to minimize any damage. For one, we can give your enamel a boost with fluoride applications or other remineralization substances. We can also inject a tooth-colored resin beneath the surface of a WSL that will make it less noticeable.
With any of these and other treatments, though, the sooner we can treat the WSL the better the outcome. Practicing good hygiene and dietary habits, as well as keeping an eye out for any WSL formations, will do the most to protect your new and improved smile.
If you would like more information on preventing dental disease while wearing braces, 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 “White Spots on Teeth During Orthodontic Treatment.”
Wearing braces will probably never make your list of Most Pleasurable Life Experiences: you'll have to avoid certain foods and habits, endure some occasional discomfort, and perhaps feel some embarrassment about your appearance. The good news, though, is that at worst, these are mostly no more than inconveniences and additionally they're well worth the straighter, more attractive smile you'll achieve.
But there's one downside to braces that can lead to something more serious. The braces hardware makes brushing and flossing more difficult—and that could increase your risk of dental disease.
The principal goal of oral hygiene is to remove dental plaque, a thin film of accumulated bacteria and food particles that can cause tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Without effective brushing and flossing, plaque can build up quickly and make the chances of having either of these two diseases more likely.
Not only does the braces hardware hinder your toothbrush's or floss's access to the parts of the teeth it covers, but it can also create "hiding places" for plaque build-up. Several studies have found that braces wearers on average have up to two to three times the plaque build-up of non-braces wearers.
There are ways, though, to make hygiene easier while wearing braces, particularly with flossing. Floss threaders or interproximal brushes can both be used to access between teeth while wearing braces. Another option is a water flosser or irrigator that sprays pressurized water between teeth (and beneath brackets and wires) to remove plaque. And braces wearers can get a prevention boost with topical fluoride applications or antibacterial mouth rinses to reduce disease-causing bacteria.
Besides taking a little extra time with brushing and flossing, you can also boost your mouth's health with good nutrition choices, less sugar consumption and keeping up regular dental visits. And, you should also see your dentist promptly if you notice any signs of tooth or gum problems—the sooner you have it checked and treated, the less damage any dental disease is likely to cause.
It's not easy keeping your teeth and gums plaque-free while wearing braces. But with a little extra time and effort, a few helpful tools and your dentist's support, you can maintain a healthy mouth during orthodontic treatment.
If you would like more information on best hygiene practices while wearing braces, 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 “Caring for Teeth during Orthodontic Treatment.”
Sometimes, looking at old pictures can really bring memories back to life. Just ask Stefani Germanotta—the pop diva better known as Lady Gaga. In one scene from the recent documentary Five Foot Two, as family members sort through headshots from her teen years, her father proclaims: "Here, this proves she had braces!"
"If I had kept that gap, then I would have even more problems with Madonna," Lady Gaga replies, referencing an ongoing feud between the two musical celebrities.
The photos of Gaga's teenage smile reveal that the singer of hits like "Born This Way" once had a noticeable gap (which dentists call a diastema) between her front teeth. This condition is common in children, but often becomes less conspicuous with age. It isn't necessarily a problem: Lots of well-known people have extra space in their smiles, including ex-football player and TV host Michael Strahan, actress Anna Paquin…and fellow pop superstar Madonna. It hasn't hurt any of their careers.
Yet others would prefer a smile without the gap. Fortunately, diastema in children is generally not difficult to fix. One of the easiest ways to do so is with traditional braces or clear aligners. These orthodontic appliances, usually worn for a period of months, can actually move the teeth into positions that look more pleasing in the smile and function better in the bite. For many people, orthodontic treatment is a part of their emergence from adolescence into adulthood.
Braces and aligners, along with other specialized orthodontic appliances, can also remedy many bite problems besides diastema. They can correct misaligned teeth and spacing irregularities, fix overbites and underbites, and take care of numerous other types of malocclusions (bite problems).
The American Association of Orthodontists recommends that kids get screened for orthodontic problems at age 7. Even if an issue is found, most won't get treatment at this age—but in some instances, it's possible that early intervention can save a great deal of time, money and effort later. For example, while the jaw is still developing, its growth can be guided with special appliances that can make future orthodontic treatment go quicker and easier.
Yet orthodontics isn't just for children—adults can wear braces too! As long as teeth and gums are healthy, there's no upper age limit on orthodontic treatment. Instead of traditional silver braces, many adults choose tooth-colored braces or clear aligners to complement their more professional appearance.
So if your child is at the age where screening is recommended—or if you're unhappy with your own smile—ask us whether orthodontics could help. But if you get into a rivalry with Madonna…you're on your own.
If you have questions about orthodontic treatment, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Magic of Orthodontics” and “Orthodontics For The Older Adult.”
Orthodontics shares a principle with the classic tug of war game: if you want things to move in the right direction you need a good anchor. Anchors help braces and other appliances apply constant pressure to misaligned teeth in the direction they need to go to correct a malocclusion (poor bite).
Orthodontic treatments work in cooperation with an existing oral mechanism that already moves teeth naturally in response to biting forces or other environmental factors. The key to this mechanism is an elastic tissue known as the periodontal ligament that lies between the tooth and the bone. Besides holding teeth in place through tiny attached fibers, the ligament also allows the teeth to move in tiny increments.
Braces’ wires laced through brackets affixed to the teeth exert pressure on them in the desired direction of movement –the periodontal ligament and other structures do the rest. To maintain that pressure we need to attach them to an “anchor”—in basic malocclusions that’s usually the back molar teeth.
But not all malocclusions are that simple. Some may require moving only certain teeth while not moving their neighbors. Younger patients’ jaws and facial structures still under development may also need to be considered during orthodontic treatment. That’s why orthodontists have other anchorage methods to address these possible complications.
One example of an alternate anchorage is a headgear appliance that actually uses the patient’s skull as the anchor. The headgear consists of a strap running around the back of the head and attached in front to orthodontic brackets (usually on molar teeth). The pressure it exerts can trigger tooth movement, but it can also help influence jaw development if an upper or lower jaw is growing too far forward or back.
Another useful anchorage method is a tiny metal screw called a temporary anchorage device (TAD) that is implanted into the jawbone above the teeth through the gums. Orthodontists then attach elastic bands between implanted TADs and specific braces’ brackets or wires to exert pressure on certain teeth but not others with pinpoint accuracy. After treatment the TADs can be easily removed.
Using these and other appliances allows orthodontists to customize treatment to an individual patient’s particular malocclusion. With the right anchor, even the most complex bite problem can be transformed into a beautiful and healthy smile.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment, 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 “Orthodontic Headgear & Other Anchorage Appliances.”
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