Caries, or tooth decay, is a 100% preventable disease. Dental caries is the most common disease of childhood. It is more common than asthma and pretty much anything else you can think of, including cooties. A recent report from the CDC found that the number of cavities in adults has decreased, however the opposite is happening in the two to five year old group. It is a real epidemic.
When your children's teeth and gums are consistently exposed to large amounts of starches and sugars, the bacteria in the mouth forms acids that begin to eat away at tooth enamel. Carbohydrate-rich foods such as candy, cookies, soft drinks and even fruit juices leave deposits on the teeth. Those deposits bond with the bacteria that normally survive in the mouth and form plaque. The combination of deposits and plaque forms acids that can damage the mineral structure of teeth, with tooth decay resulting. Waiting on a tooth that has a cavity because "it's only a baby tooth and it's going to fall out anyway", can have life threatening results. Any cavity in your child's teeth should be checked by a dentist. The best and easiest way to care for cavities is to prevent them!
Tooth ache or swelling
By the time a tooth aches in a child, it means that the cavity is advanced. Many times food gets stuck in between the cavity and the adjacent tooth causing pain. When a tooth ache wakes the child from sleep, it needs to be addressed soon. Swelling needs to be taken care of right away because infections tend to progress rather quickly in children.
Knocked out tooth
Children are more prone to accidents to their front teeth when they are beginning to walk or when the adult front teeth first come in. If a young child knocks a baby tooth out, it is best not to try to put it back in. Trying to re-implant a baby tooth can damage the adult tooth which is forming. Just let it be.
Thumb sucking or Pacifiers
There is no safe age at which the thumb sucking or use of the pacifier will cause bite changes. Sometimes it happens as early as age one and sometimes by age three or four. The use of the pacifier or thumb normally stops on its own by the time they start daycare or school. It definitely has to stop by the time the adult teeth start to come in. This is the last chance the patient will have to have the teeth come in normally. Once the adult teeth come in with an open bite, they will need the help of an orthodontist. There are many tricks to help children quit sucking their thumb or using a pacifier, usually the earlier the better. Please ask your dentist what they recommend you should do.
Accidents involving the mouth Accidents to the face and mouth come in all forms, from the trauma to the gum, to the displaced tooth. Call your dentist and follow their advice, no matter how big or small the accident, with children it is best to have them checked out.
Bites after dental treatment
After dental treatment involving the use of anesthetic, it is not uncommon to have a patient bite their lip on accident or on purpose. It is actually a very interesting sensation for the child, so they play with their lip and cheeks. Some bites can look scary and can show swelling, no matter how bad it looks, it will get better, usually on its own. The best thing to do is to prevent the bite by reminding the child not to play with their numb lip. Once it happens, keep the area clean, have the patient rinse with warm salt water and let it heal.
Canker sores (aphthous ulcers) are small sores inside the mouth that often recur and generally last one or two weeks. The canker sore has a white or gray base surrounded by a red border and is very tender the first three days to a week. Even after the pain improves, the ulcer leaves a sore that looks very much like a scar. This eventually goes away. Children often mistake the pain from a canker sore with a tooth ache.
A bite that does not meet properly (a malocclusion) can be inherited, or some types may be acquired. Some causes of malocclusion include missing or extra teeth, crowded teeth or misaligned jaws. Accidents or developmental issues, such as finger or thumb sucking over an extended period of time, may cause malocclusions. At every exam appointment, the bite is checked and when indicated, the patient is referred to an orthodontist for their expert opinion.
Gum disease (gingivitis) in young children is common. This is why it is important to start healthy habits early. Gum or periodontal disease can cause inflammation, tooth loss and bone damage. Gum disease begins with a sticky film of bacteria called plaque. Gums in the early stage of disease, or gingivitis, can bleed easily and become red and swollen. As the disease progresses to periodontitis, teeth may fall out or need to be removed by a dentist. Gum disease is highly preventable and can usually be avoided by daily brushing and flossing. One indicator of gum disease is consistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth.
Bad Breath (Halitosis)
Daily brushing and flossing helps to prevent the buildup of food particles, plaque and bacteria in your child's mouth. Food particles left in the mouth deteriorate and cause bad breath. While certain foods, such as garlic or anchovies, may create temporary bad breath, consistent bad breath may be a sign of inefficient brushing and especially flossing. It is also very helpful to brush your child's tongue since most bad breath comes from the tongue.
Many young children grind their teeth. There are many theories as to why teeth grind, the reality is that we do not know why. However, one thing is for certain, most will stop on their own by the time their six year molars come in or for sure by the time the rest of the adult teeth come in. If it is a severe problem and the patient is substantially grinding tooth structure away, the teeth can be crowned. Of course, there are no assurances that they will not grind through the crowns. Teeth grinding is not normal but it is common. Always mention this at your next dental appointment.