From birth to early adulthood, your child's teeth, gums and jaws develop at a rapid pace. And, for the most part, nature takes its course without our help.
But tooth decay can derail that development. The result of bacterial acid eroding enamel, tooth decay is the top cause for premature primary tooth loss in children. One particular form, early childhood caries (ECC), can rapidly spread from one tooth to another.
Many parents assume prematurely losing teeth that are destined to fall out soon anyway is inconsequential. But primary teeth play a critical role in the proper eruption of permanent teeth, serving as both placeholders and guides for those teeth developing just below them in the gums. A permanent tooth without this guidance can erupt out of alignment to create a poor bite that may require future orthodontics.
Being proactive about tooth decay lessens that risk—and the best time to start is when the first teeth begin to erupt. That's when you should begin their regular dental visits sometime around their first birthday.
Dental visits are an important defense against tooth decay. Besides routine dental cleanings, your child's dentist can offer various preventive treatments like sealants to stop decay from forming in the biting surfaces of back molars or topically applied fluoride to strengthen tooth enamel.
Daily home care is just as important in the fight against tooth decay. Oral hygiene should be a part of your child's daily life even before teeth: It's a good habit to wipe an infant's gums with a clean cloth after nursing. As teeth arrive, oral hygiene turns to brushing and flossing—perhaps the best defense of all against dental disease.
It's also important to watch their intake of sugar, a prime food source for bacteria that produce harmful acid. Instead, encourage a "tooth-friendly" diet of whole foods to keep teeth and gums healthy.
Even if they do develop tooth decay, there are effective treatments to minimize any damage and preserve affected primary teeth until they've served their purpose. By adopting these prevention strategies and prompt treatment, you can stay ahead of this destructive disease.
In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.
Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.
Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.
The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.
If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.
Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.
Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth conditions, 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
The big day finally arrives when your braces come off. And there it is—your new, beautiful, straight smile! But on closer inspection you notice something else: tiny white spots on your teeth.
Those pale, chalky spots are called white spot lesions (WSLs). They occur when acid has contacted the tooth enamel for too long, dissolving essential minerals like calcium in those particular areas. The occurrences of WSLs during and after braces highlights a major challenge during orthodontic treatment—keeping your teeth clean.
Braces' wires and brackets tend to get in the way of brushing and flossing, making it easier to miss plaque—the bacterial film that produces acid—on tooth areas around the hardware. Those missed areas could in time lead to WSLs.
The main objective with WSLs is prevent them from occurring during braces wear as much as possible. To do this, you'll need to increase your time and effort brushing and flossing, especially around orthodontic hardware. You can make it easier, though, by using a few tools that often work better than regular toothbrushes and floss like interproximal toothbrushes, power brushes, floss threaders or water flossers.
You can also help lower your mouth's acidity by avoiding or limiting acidic foods and beverages, including juices, sodas, sports and energy drinks. And, by all means, keep up your regular dental cleaning schedule with your general dentist.
Should WSLs develop while you're wearing braces, don't panic. It's possible they'll diminish on their own, or at least not worsen. We can also foster re-mineralization of the enamel with applied fluoride, short bursts of laser light or a procedure called microabrasion that restores damaged areas below the enamel surface.
For more resistant WSLs, we can also inject a liquid tooth-colored resin into them that when hardened by a curing light can make those areas look translucent like normal enamel. We can also use other cosmetic solutions like bonding or veneers to improve your teeth's appearance.
Like other dental problems, dealing with a WSL is usually more successful if caught and treated early. So, check your teeth often while wearing braces, and if you notice anything unusual don't hesitate to call your dentist.
If you would like more information on oral care 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.”
A few months into wearing braces you may notice your gums are swollen. It's likely you've developed periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is a bacterial infection that usually begins with dental plaque. This thin, accumulated biofilm on teeth is filled with bacteria that cause dental disease. The more of it that remains on your teeth, the higher your risk for a gum infection.
In addition to regular dental cleanings, the best way for a person to reduce their gum disease risk is to remove plaque on a daily basis through brushing and flossing. Unfortunately, wearing braces complicates this: The brackets and wires affixed to your teeth can get in the way of your toothbrush and regular dental floss. As a result, you can easily miss plaque hidden around these bits of hardware.
Aside from gum disease, the braces themselves can irritate your gums. This irritation inflames the gums and may even cause more tissue to grow. Compound this overgrowth with a possible gum infection and it's no wonder your gums are severely swollen.
To lessen the chances of swollen gums with braces, you'll need to beef up your daily hygiene efforts. Simply put, it will typically take more time than normal to thoroughly clean around your braces. A few specialized tools, though, might make it easier.
An interproximal brush with a narrower head than a regular toothbrush is useful for accessing tight places around brackets. And a floss threader or a water flosser (which uses pressurized water to loosen and remove plaque) may help you better maneuver around wires to remove plaque between teeth.
Keeping your teeth clean as possible will certainly help you avoid gum swelling due to disease. But swelling from tissue overgrowth may not be resolved until your braces come off. In severe cases, it may even be necessary to remove the braces to treat the gums before resuming orthodontic treatment.
In any case, be as thorough as possible with your oral hygiene efforts during orthodontics and see your regular dentist for cleanings every six months. When you have completed orthodontic treatment, cleanings every six months are usually recommended. It's the best way to keep your gums healthy while you're wearing braces.
If you would like more information on dental care 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”
We instinctively know when a smile looks normal—and when it doesn't. It could be that something simply looks out of place like crooked teeth. But we might also notice when something is missing—as with one or both of the canine teeth.
The canine teeth align just under the eyes and are recognizable by their pointed ends. When they're missing, the smile looks “incomplete.” But “missing” in this case could mean “invisible”—the teeth are there, but hidden within the gums because they failed to come in properly and became impacted. This often happens on a smaller jaw where other teeth have crowded into the space intended for them.
Fortunately, we may have a remedy, and not just for appearance's sake—any impacted tooth can cause health problems, from gum abscesses to root damage of neighboring teeth. Although this might necessitate their surgical removal, we might also be able to coax them through the gums into better position in the jaw, if they're in a reasonably good position. This could result in both a boost to a patient's oral health and a more normal looking smile.
First, though, a patient will need to undergo a thorough bite evaluation by an orthodontist. Besides pinpointing the impacted teeth's precise location with x-rays or CT technology, an orthodontist will also want to assess the positions and condition of the rest of the teeth. If the conditions are right and there's enough room in the jaw, the orthodontist may recommend drawing the impacted canines into proper alignment in the jaw.
The process starts when an oral surgeon exposes the impacted teeth by surgically cutting through the gum tissue. They then attach a small bracket to the tooth with a tiny metal chain attached, the other end of which is looped over orthodontic hardware attached to other teeth. The tension on the chain by the hardware gradually nudges the teeth downward out of the gums. This is usually done in coordination with other measures to fully correct the bite.
If the procedure is successful, bringing the canines out of impaction reduces the problems those teeth could cause the person's oral health. But just as important, it can restore normality to their smile.
If you would like more information on treating impacted teeth, 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
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