Although adults are more prone to dental disease, children aren't immune from one particular infection, tooth decay. Some children, in fact, are at higher risk for an aggressive form called early childhood caries (ECC).
There are a number of things you can do to help your child avoid this destructive disease, especially daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial dental plaque, the underlying cause for tooth decay. It's also important for your child to see a dentist regularly for professional dental cleanings and checkups.
But some of their teeth, particularly the back molars, may need some extra attention to fully protect them against decay. This is because larger teeth like molars have numerous pits and crevices along their biting surfaces that can accumulate dental plaque difficult to remove by brushing alone. The added plaque increases the presence of bacteria around the tooth, which increases the risk of decay.
To minimize this possibility, dentists can apply a dental sealant to "smooth out" those pits and crevices in the molars and make it more difficult for plaque to accumulate. This is a quick and painless procedure in which a dentist brushes a liquid plastic resin or similar material onto the teeth's biting surfaces. They then apply a curing light to harden it into a durable coating.
About one-third of children—mostly those considered at higher risk for tooth decay—have undergone sealant treatment. But the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend this preventive measure for all children between ages 5 and 7, and then later between 11 and 14 when additional molars come in. Although there is a moderate cost per tooth for sealant application, it's much less than the potential expense of treating an infected tooth.
Combined with daily oral hygiene and other preventive measures, sealants can reduce the chances of damaging tooth decay. Keeping your child's teeth healthy is an important part in maintaining their dental health today—and tomorrow.
Dental Decay / Cavities
Cavities occur when sugars are consumed, turn into acid in the mouth, and attack the teeth. Cavities are not formed with just one exposure to sugar but can develop from constant sugary attacks over time. That’s why a high sugar diet increases the risk of cavities. Cavities can occur anywhere on a tooth but are common on the biting surfaces of molars and in-between molars. Cavities start in the enamel (the outer layer of the tooth) travel through the dentin (the middle layer of the tooth) and can eventually enter the pulp (the nerve of the tooth.) Once a cavity travels into the nerve of a tooth, an infection will occur, and the tooth will require a root canal. It is beneficial to catch cavities at their smallest stages, to prevent loss of tooth structure. To prevent cavities, consider a low sugar diet, brush and floss, use fluoride toothpaste, and have your check-ups and cleanings regularly.
Gum recession is when the gum tissue around a tooth recedes away, exposing the underlying tooth and root structure. Gum recession can occur anywhere around a tooth. Gum recession is caused by a variety of reasons, including brushing too aggressively, clenching/grinding and trauma. To prevent gum recession, try using an electric toothbrush with a pressure indicator or a super soft toothbrush and wear a nightguard if you clench or grind your teeth.
Erosion is wear of the outer structure of the teeth called the enamel, caused by acids in your mouth. The acids can be from highly acidic foods such as citrus fruit, or acid reflux/ GERD. When the teeth are frequently exposed to acids, the enamel will slowly wear away, leaving them sensitive, thin and discoloured. To prevent acid erosion, make sure to rinse your mouth after citrus fruits/vomiting and talk with your doctor about medication if you suffer from acid reflux/GERD.
Tooth wear is any traumatic wear of the enamel surfaces. Causes of tooth wear can be due to a habit of clenching, grinding, or a traumatic bite. Over time, the tooth surfaces may flatten or indent, and loss of enamel will occur. To prevent tooth wear, be sure to wear a night guard if you have a clenching or grinding habit. If the wear is caused from an off bite, braces may be recommended to align the teeth and fix the bite, allowing biting forces to be distributed evenly.
To keep a healthy smile, brushing and flossing your teeth every day should be at the top of your to-do list, along with regular dental visits. Dental visits are usually scheduled every six months when your dental professional will remove any built-up plaque and tartar (hardened plaque deposits) missed during everyday hygiene.
If you've experienced periodontal (gum) disease, however, these dental visits may become even more important toward preventing a re-infection. For one thing, your dentist may want to see you more frequently.
Gum disease is caused by bacteria living in dental plaque, which first infect the superficial layers of gum tissue. Even though the body initiates an inflammatory response to fight it, the infection continues to grow as long as there is plaque present to fuel it. The problem isn't just plaque on the visible tooth surface—hidden plaque beneath the gum line can create deep pockets of infection that can be difficult to treat.
To stop the infection, dentists must manually remove plaque through procedures known as scaling and root planing. Any and all plaque and tartar deposits must be removed, even those deep around the roots, to arrest the infection. This often requires several treatment sessions and sometimes gum surgery to access areas below the gum line.
These types of treatments, especially in the disease's early stages, have a good chance of restoring health to your gums. But because of the high possibility of reinfection, your dentist will need to step up your regular dental maintenance from now on. This could mean visits as frequent as every few weeks, depending on your particular case of gum disease and your dentist's recommendation.
Your dental visits after gum disease may also become more involved than before. Your dentist will now monitor you closely for any signs of reinfection and at the first sign initiate a new round of treatment. You may also need surgical procedures to make some areas around your teeth more accessible for future cleaning and maintenance.
Periodontal maintenance after gum disease helps ensure another infection doesn't rise up to undermine your progress. To paraphrase a well-known quote, eternal vigilance is the price of continuing good dental health.
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