Families of children with chronic conditions face many challenges. One that often takes a back seat to other pressing needs is the prevention of tooth decay. But although difficult, it still deserves caregivers’ attention because of the dental disease’s potential long-term impact on oral health.
Chronically ill children are often at higher risk for tooth decay, most commonly due to challenges in practicing effective oral hygiene. Some conditions create severe physical, mental or behavioral impairments in children’s ability to brush and floss: for example, they may have a heightened gag reflex to toothpaste in their mouth or they may not be able to physically perform these tasks on their own.
Some children may be taking medications that inhibit salivary flow as a side effect. Saliva is critical for disease prevention because it both neutralizes mouth acid (which can erode tooth enamel) and is a first line of defense against disease-causing bacteria. And a child’s diet, while designed to support treatment of their chronic condition, may conversely not be the best for supporting their dental health.
It’s best if caregivers and their dentists develop a strategy for decay prevention, which should include the following:
- Regular dental visits beginning at Age One. Besides monitoring dental health, dental visits also provide cleanings and other preventive measures like topical fluoride or sealants;
- Brushing and flossing support. Depending on a child’s physical and mental capacities, caregivers (or an older sibling) may need to model brushing and flossing, or perform the tasks for the child;
- Medication and diet changes. If medications are causing dry mouth, caregivers can speak to their physicians about possible alternatives; likewise, they should see if modifications can be made to their diet to better support dental health.
- Boosting salivary flow. It’s especially important with children who have dry mouth to drink more water or use aids (like xylitol gum or candies) to boost salivary flow.
Although it requires extra effort and time to give attention to a chronically ill child’s dental health, it’s well worth it. By working to prevent tooth decay early in life, these children will be more likely to enjoy good dental health in the future.
If you would like more information on dental care for children with special needs, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Managing Tooth Decay in Children with Chronic Diseases.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics and other healthcare organizations recommend breastfeeding as the best means for infant feeding. While bottle feeding can supply the nutrition necessary for a baby's healthy development, breastfeeding also provides emotional benefits for both baby and mother.
But there might be an obstacle in a baby's mouth that prevents them from getting a good seal on the mother's breast nipple—a small band of tissue called a frenum. This term describes any tissue that connects a soft part of the mouth like the upper lip or tongue to a more rigid structure like the gums or the floor of the mouth, respectively.
Although a normal part of anatomy, frenums that are too short, thick or inelastic can restrict a baby's lip or tongue movement and prevent an adequate seal while nursing. The baby may adjust by chewing rather than sucking on the nipple. Besides a painful experience for the mother, the baby may still not receive an adequate flow of breast milk.
Bottle-feeding is an option since it may be easier for a baby with abnormal frenums to negotiate during nursing. But the problem might also be alleviated with a minor surgical procedure to snip the frenum tissue and allow more freedom of movement.
Often performed in the office, we would first numb the frenum and surrounding area with a topical anesthetic, sometimes accompanied by injection into the frenum if it's abnormally thick. After the numbing takes effect, we gently expose the tissue and cut it with either surgical scissors or a laser, the latter of which may involve less bleeding and discomfort. The baby should be able to nurse right away.
If you wait later to undergo the procedure, the baby may already have developed compensation habits while nursing. It may then be necessary for a lactation consultant to help you and your baby "re-learn" normal nursing behavior. It's much easier, therefore, to attempt this procedure earlier rather than later to avoid extensive re-training.
While there's little risk, frenum procedures are still minor surgery. You should, therefore, discuss your options completely with your dental provider. Treating an abnormal frenum, though, could be the best way to realize the full benefits of breastfeeding.
There is a primary principle dentists follow regarding tooth decay—treat it as soon as you find it. Something as simple and routine as filling a cavity could prevent future tooth loss.
But treating a cavity at or below the gum line could be anything but simple and routine. Older adults who may also be dealing with gum recession are more likely to have these kinds of cavities where the gums block clear access to it.
But there is a way to access gum-covered cavities with a minor surgical procedure known as crown lengthening. Crown lengthening is commonly used in cosmetic dentistry to expose more of the visible teeth when there's an overabundance of gum tissue or if the teeth are disproportionately small. We can use it in this instance to surgically relocate the blocking gum tissue out of the way of the cavity.
After numbing the area with local anesthesia, tiny incisions will be made in the gums to create a tissue flap. After reshaping the underlying bone to recreate normal anatomy but at a different level, this flap is then moved and sutured to a new position. This exposes enough tooth structure so that the cavity can be repaired after gum healing.
As with any minor surgery, there's a very slight risk of bleeding and/or infection with crown lengthening. If you undergo this procedure, you'll receive post-care instructions for the first few days afterward including avoiding strenuous activities, eating only soft foods and using an ice pack the day of surgery to help control swelling.
This versatile procedure can help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost due to decay. And, it might even improve your appearance.
If you would like more information on treatment options for tooth decay, 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 “Crown Lengthening: This Common Surgical Procedure Restores Function and Improves Appearance.”
As your dental provider, we're always alert for signs of tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease, the two leading causes of tooth loss. But we're also watching for less common conditions that could be just as devastating.
Root resorption falls into this latter category: it occurs when a tooth's root structure begins to break down and dissolve (or resorb). It's a normal process in primary ("baby") teeth to allow them to loosen and give way when permanent teeth are ready to erupt.
It's not normal, though, for permanent teeth. Something internally or—more commonly—externally causes the root structure to break down. External resorption usually occurs at the neck-like or cervical area of a tooth around the gum line. Known as external cervical resorption (ECR), it can first appear as small, pinkish spots on the enamel. These spots contain abnormal cells that cause the actual damage to the root.
We don't fully understand how root resorption occurs, but we have identified certain factors that favor its development. For example, it may develop if a person has experienced too much force against the teeth during orthodontic treatment. Injury to the periodontal ligaments, teeth-grinding habits or some dental procedures like internal bleaching may also contribute to later root resorption.
Early diagnosis is a major part of effective treatment for root resorption. Because it's usually painless and easily overlooked, resorption is often too difficult to detect in its early stages without x-rays—a good reason for regular dental exams. Beginning spots or lesions are usually small enough to surgically remove the tissue cells causing the damage and then filled with a tooth-colored filling material. If it has advanced further, we may also need to perform a root canal treatment.
At some point, the damage from root resorption can be too great, in which case it might be best to remove the tooth and replace it with a dental implant or similar restoration. That's why catching root resorption early through regular dental exams can give you the edge for saving your tooth.
If you would like more information on diagnosing and treating root resorption, 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 “Root Resorption: An Unusual Phenomenon.”
Even with modern prevention and treatment advances, losing teeth in later life is still a sad but common part of human experience. Just as generations have before, many today rely on dentures to regain their lost dental function and smile.
But although effective, dentures have their weaknesses. The most serious: they can't prevent jawbone deterioration, a common problem associated with tooth loss.
Bone health depends on chewing forces applied to the teeth to stimulate replacement growth for older bone cells. When teeth are gone, so is this stimulation. Dentures can't replicate the stimulus and may even accelerate bone loss because they can irritate the bone under the gums as they rest upon them for support.
But there's a recent advance in denture technology that may help slow or even stop potential bone loss. The advance incorporates implants with dentures to create two hybrid alternatives that may be more secure and healthier for the supporting bone.
The first is known as an overdenture, a removable appliance similar to a traditional denture. But instead of deriving its support from the gums alone, the overdenture attaches to three to four implants (or only two, if on the lower jaw) that have been permanently set into the jawbone. This not only increases stability, but the implants made of bone-friendly titanium attract and foster increased bone growth around them. This can help slow or even stop the cycle of bone loss with missing teeth.
The second type is a fixed denture. In this version, four to six implants are implanted around the jaw arch. The denture is then secured in place to these implants with screws. It's a little more secure than the overdenture, but it's also more expensive and requires good quality bone at the implant sites.
If you've already experienced significant bone loss you may first need bone grafting to build up the implant sites for these options, or choose traditional dentures instead. But if you're a good candidate for an implant-supported denture, you may find it provides better support and less risk of continuing bone loss than traditional dentures.
If you would like more information on implant-supported dental restorations, 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 “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”
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