Protect Your Child's Smile | February is National Children's Dental Health Month
Hello! Dr. Claustro here, and I’m excited to kick-off the start of my blog with the celebration of National Children’s Dental Health Month! Every February, the American Dental Association and its supporters reach out to the general public to raise awareness about the importance of oral health and establishing good habits at an early age.
According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of childhood – being five times more common than asthma and four times more common than early childhood obesity. Dental related problems have also been reported by the Center for Health and Health Care in Schools to be responsible for over 51 million school hours lost by students in the United States.
These statistics are weighty reminders that parents, educators, and adult role models must accept the important role we play in helping our community’s children maintain a healthy smile. Not only does a lack of good oral care increase our children’s risk for painful cavities or potential early tooth loss, but it can also take a toll on their overall health, academic performance, and even their self-confidence. Tooth decay is a preventable disease. It is vital that we teach our youngsters to maintain a healthy diet, brush and floss daily, and bring them in to visit their dentist at least two times a year to ensure optimal dental health.
As your family’s dentist, I take my role as educator very seriously and am more than happy to sit down with you and your children to assess their risks for tooth decay and trauma, and to determine the most appropriate course of action to treat and/or prevent diseases of the oral cavity. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that a child has his or her first “well baby dental visit” upon eruption of their first tooth or by age one. This is similar to a routine medical visit and is the perfect time to educate you on what to expect, how to effectively take care of your child’s teeth, and gradually introduce your child to the dental office.
What is tooth decay anyway?
From the acidic foods we eat to the acidic waste produced by bacteria feeding on the sugars we consume – our teeth are bathed in acid throughout the day. As a result, the hard outer layer of our teeth – enamel – becomes less mineralized and more prone to breakdown. This loss of strong, healthy tooth structure is the beginning of the tooth decay process, allowing the acid to attack the inner-most portions of the tooth. The affected, cavitated areas of the tooth become soft, discolored, and potentially painful.
If the decay is allowed to remain untreated, it will continue to breakdown the structures of the tooth and tooth loss may become a reality. It is important to understand that diet, bacterial load, and oral hygiene habits all play a role in a person’s risk for cavities.
Help protect your child from the risks of tooth decay by:
- Limiting sugary foods and drinks, including sports drinks and juices. It is especially harmful to allow young children to sleep with a bottle or “sippy cup” filled with juice, milk, or formula (all contain sugars that bacteria feed upon!) – opt for water instead.
- Limit between-meal snacks, and offer nutritious options to curb their cravings. When snacks or sweets are consumed, follow up with a glass of water to help wash away sugars and food debris or have your child brush their teeth as soon as possible.
- Opt for chewing gum with Xylitol, a natural sweetener with anti-cavity properties. Chewing gum after meals will also stimulate saliva, helping wash away debris and neutralize the acids in your child’s mouth.
- Encourage and develop good brushing and flossing habits, using topical fluoride products after the age of 2 or as directed by your dentist. Remember, brushing with a soft toothbrush should be completed for 2 minutes, 2 times a day.
- Schedule bi-annual visits with your family dentist to monitor risk factors and detect any problems early.
- Discuss with your dentist your child’s health history and any medications he or she may be taking – some common medications contain sugar or reduce salivary flow, increasing the risk for tooth decay.
Sport & Recreation-Related Injuries to The Mouth and Teeth
Cavities aren’t the only issues faced by my young patients. Sport- or play- related injuries are very common and many parents aren’t sure how to address a dental emergency at home.
Citing an article published by the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry on April 1, 2013, “the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that more than half of the 7 million sports- and recreation-related injuries that occur each year are sustained by children as young as 5 years old… The National Youth Sports Safety Foundation forecasts that more than 3 million teeth will be knocked out in youth sporting events.” This article also indicates that athletes who don’t wear proper mouth guards are 60 times more likely to sustain damage to their teeth during organized sports – ranging from total avulsion or loosening of the teeth, to fractures that require dental restoration.
In my own practice, traumatic injury to the hard and soft tissues of the oral cavity are seen on a weekly basis amongst my school aged patients – many of which may have been prevented had he or she been wearing proper protective gear. In addition to wearing a helmet, protective eyewear, and/or face shield during contact sports, a well-fitting mouth guard can help protect your child against injury to the jaw, mouth, and teeth.
I’d be happy to discuss with you the various types of protective athletic guards available on the market, ranging from over-the-counter boil and bite guards, to custom-fit guards fabricated in our dental lab.
So what should you do in the event of a dental emergency?
Here is a list of common problems and what you can do to help keep your child comfortable until you can get in to see your dentist. If the dental trauma is the result of an accident or sporting/recreational injury, it is important to have your child examined by a medical professional to rule out concussion or other serious whole-body injuries.
Toothache: Whether the source is a cavity or infected gum tissue, a toothache can be traumatic for both you and your child. When symptoms occur, have your child rinse with warm water to clean out the area and use dental floss (or an interdental cleaner) to remove any food or debris that may be caught between the teeth. Do not apply aspirin or other painkiller against the painful tooth as this may burn the gum tissue, leading to worsening pain and trauma to the tissue. If the pain persists, an appointment should be made with your dentist to assess the situation.
Knocked-Out (Avulsed) Permanent Tooth: First things first… Stay calm and make sure your child is OK and that other serious injury has not been sustained. Next, find the tooth! Holding the tooth by the crown rinse the root with water if dirt or debris is present – do not scrub the root! Now take a deep breath and try to gently insert and hold the tooth back in place. The sooner the tooth is returned to the socket the more likely it will be able to be saved. Call/visit your dentist as soon as possible or head to the emergency room if your dentist is not readily available or if other injuries have been sustained.
Note: If you are unable to return the tooth back to the socket, put the tooth in a cup of milk or “Save-A-Tooth” solution and contact your dentist or emergency room immediately. If a baby tooth is lost, reimplantation is not recommended.
Direct Trauma to Teeth: Injury to the mouth may lead to your child’s teeth being traumatized. The teeth may become loosened, intruded, or fractured. Again, stay calm and make sure that your child has not sustained other injuries that may require immediate medical attention. Have your child rinse his or her mouth with warm water and apply a cold compress from outside the mouth to reduce any swelling. An appointment should be made with your family dentist to assess the situation and advise you on any required treatment. If the bleeding appears to be coming from the tooth itself (versus the surrounding gum tissue), there is a more immediate need for dental care and this information should be shared with your dental team when you call to make the appointment.
Tongue or Lip Laceration: Whether your child stumbles on the playground or is just overly excited about his or her lunch – soft tissue trauma is extremely common, but also very painful. When this type of injury occurs, clean the area with a clean cloth and apply a cold compress to reduce any swelling. Because of the high vascularity of the oral cavity, bleeding can appear to be intense even with the smallest biting injuries. Gently apply pressure to the traumatized tissue with a cloth or gauze to control bleeding. Should the bleeding persist or if the laceration appears especially deep or wide, you should visit your local emergency room or clinic to assess the need for stitches.
Objects Caught Between Teeth: Kids do the darnedest things… and sometimes they get foreign objects stuck between their teeth. Try to gently remove the object with dental floss. If floss doesn’t do the trick, call your dentist. Do not attempt to use any sharp instrument or toothpick to dislodge the item as this may cause further trauma to your child’s teeth and gums.
Possible Broken Jaw: If you suspect your child has broken his or her jaw, apply a cold compress to the area to control swelling and head to your local emergency room immediately.
Your Dentist. Your Partner In Dental Care.
I hope this post gives you a better understanding of the importance of instilling good oral hygiene habits in your children. As your family’s dentist, I strive to educate you on your individual needs so that you can make informed, confident decisions regarding your oral health. I am happy to discuss any concerns you might have.
In celebration of National Children’s Dental Health Month 2014, our school-aged patients (grades 5-12) will receive a FREE CUSTOM ATHLETIC MOUTHGUARD* when they come in for periodic care and/or treatment during the month of February. Younger kids will receive a special treat to help them discover how fun dental care can be!
Please give us a call at 703.406.8600 to schedule an appointment, and mention this post to take advantage of this valuable offer. I look forward to seeing you and your family soon!
*Limit one per patient and while supplies last. Custom athletic mouthguard valued from $95-$120. Certain limitations may apply if the use of an athletic guard is not recommended due to unique conditions or anatomy.