Other than tooth decay, children don't encounter dental disease to the extent adults do. But injuries are another story: More than 5 million teeth are knocked loose each year, and a high percentage involve children. Roughly a third of these and similar children's injuries are sports-related.
April is National Facial Protection Month: Several oral and facial health organizations, including the American Association of Orthodontists, have joined together to raise awareness about the risks of injury to the face and mouth, especially among children. Many of these injuries have long-term consequences with lifetime treatment costs in the thousands of dollars.
But as the name implies, this awareness month is also about protection—what you can do to help your child avoid a costly and devastating dental injury. Top of the list: Have your child wear an athletic mouthguard during all contact sports activities (including practices).
The National Federation of State High School Associations mandates mouthguard wear for football, lacrosse, and ice and field hockey. But those aren't the only sporting activities where a mouthguard should be standard equipment: In fact, basketball has more orofacial injuries each year than any other sport. Generally, mouthguards should be worn for any sports activity that involves potential contact with other players or objects.
There is a variety of mouthguard choices, but most fall into two basic categories, “boil and bite” and custom-made. The former, readily available in retail sports stores, get their name from the procedure employed when first purchased to adjust their fit to an individual player. Out of the package, they should be soaked in hot or boiling water until softened, and then placed in the wearer's mouth to bite down on. After they cool, they'll retain that bite pattern.
Boil and bite guards are relatively inexpensive, but the fit isn't as precise as a mouthguard that is custom-made by a dentist. This can lead to comfort issues—and players are less likely to wear an uncomfortable mouthguard.
Custom mouthguards, on the other hand, have a more accurate fit, allowing them to be thinner and more comfortable. They also provide the highest level of protection against blows to the face and mouth. These are more costly than boil and bite guards, and younger athletes may need a replacement every few years to accommodate jaw growth development. But compared to the physical, emotional and financial cost of a dental injury, custom mouthguards are worth the investment.
A mouth or face injury can happen in an instant and result in damage that can have lingering effects for years. For the best protection, see that your star athlete has and wears a custom mouthguard.
Soon after the primary (baby) teeth begin to give way, the teeth a child will have the rest of their lives start erupting into the mouth. But while they’re permanent, they’re not as strong and developed as they will be in adulthood.
That’s why we treat young permanent teeth differently from older adult teeth. For example, a decayed adult tooth may need a root canal treatment; but this standard treatment would often be the wrong choice for a child’s tooth.
The reason why involves the pulp, the innermost layer of a tooth, which plays a critical role in early development. Young permanent teeth continue to grow in sync with the jaws and facial structure. Most of this growth is in the dentin, the layer between the enamel and pulp, which increases proportionally to the other layers as the tooth matures. The pulp generates this new dentin.
A root canal treatment completely removes the diseased tissue of the pulp. This isn’t a major issue for a mature tooth because it no longer needs to generate more dentin. But it can have long-term consequences for an immature tooth whose growth may become stunted and the roots not fully formed. The tooth may thus become brittle and darkened, and might eventually require removal.
Because of these potential consequences, a root canal treatment is a last resort for a young permanent tooth. But there are modified alternatives, depending on the degree of pulp exposure or infection. For example, if the pulp is intact, we may be able to remove as much soft decayed dentin as we can, place an antibacterial agent and then fill the tooth to seal it without disturbing the pulp. If the pulp is partially affected, we can remove that part and place substances that encourage dentin growth and repair.
Our main goal is to treat a young tooth with as little contact with the pulp as possible, so as not to diminish its capacity to generate new dentin. Avoiding a full root canal treatment if at all possible by using these and other techniques will help ensure the tooth continues to develop to full maturity.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 “Saving New Permanent Teeth after Injury.”
Lately, you’ve noticed your young child’s primary teeth don’t appear to be coming in straight. Is it a problem?
The answer to that question is best answered by an early orthodontic evaluation performed by an orthodontist. It’s advisable for a child as young as 7 to undergo such an exam.
While a child’s primary teeth have a short life span of a few years, that doesn’t make them less important than the permanent teeth that replace them. In fact, they’re extremely influential for permanent tooth development — each one serves as a guide for its replacement to erupt in a proper position. A future malocclusion (bad bite) that becomes more apparent later in life would have been well underway years before.
Orthodontists have the training and expertise to spot these emerging problems in their early stages. Early detection can reduce the extent — and costliness — of future orthodontic treatment by introducing preventative or interceptive measures — even while there’s still a mix of primary and permanent teeth in the mouth. For example, a child wearing a simple type of retainer that influences the development of the bite could minimize or even correct a growing malocclusion.
You can also take advantage of opportunities to discover potential orthodontic problems early through a general or pediatric dentist. By having regular dental cleanings and checkups, the dentist might observe early bite development that should be reviewed by an orthodontist. If not, it’s still a good idea to undergo an orthodontic evaluation no later than age 7.
Given the stage of jaw and facial structure development, waiting until puberty to focus on orthodontic problems may be too late for some problems — and much more expensive than if caught and treated earlier. Getting ahead of these issues earlier in your child’s dental development will help ensure they’ll have a healthy bite throughout their life.
If you would like more information on early orthodontic monitoring, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Early Orthodontic Evaluation” and “Preventative & Cost Saving Orthodontics.”
If while watching a Seattle Seahawks game you thought you saw wide receiver D. K. Metcalf sucking on a “binky,” your eyes weren’t deceiving you. Well, sort of not—he’s actually been known to wear a mouth and lip guard shaped like a child’s pacifier.
Metcalf isn’t the only pro football player customizing this essential piece of safety equipment. Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman has been seen sporting “vampire fangs.” And Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver with the Cleveland Browns, has a series of interchangeable guards with various designs and colors.
You may say, “That’s the NFL, so of course players have the money and fame to dress up their mouthguards with a little flair.” But custom mouthguards aren’t out of reach for the average athlete—in fact, it’s actually a sound idea. Not so much for expressing personality, but for the comfort and protective advantages that a custom mouthguard may have over retail varieties.
Usually made of high-resistant plastic, an athletic mouthguard absorbs blows to the face and mouth during hard contacts in sports like football, basketball and hockey. Mandated by many organized sports associations, mouthguards can prevent dental and facial injuries like chipped or knocked out teeth, gum abrasions or jaw fractures. There’s even some evidence they reduce the risk of concussion.
Many amateur players use what is known as a “boil and bite” mouthguard, available in retail sporting goods stores. They’re softened first, usually in hot water, and then placed in the mouth and clenched between the jaws to obtain a somewhat individualized fit.
Although they do provide some level of protection, a boil and bite mouthguard can’t match the accuracy of a custom mouthguard produced by a dentist based on impressions and measurements of an individual player’s mouth. As a result, custom mouthguards can be made thinner than many boil and bite guards, increasing their comfort while being worn. More importantly, their accurate fit enhances their protective capabilities.
As you might imagine, custom mouthguards are more expensive than their retail counterparts, and with younger athletes whose mouth structures are still growing, it may be necessary to upgrade a custom guard after a few seasons. Still, the cost of a custom mouthguard may be well worth the superior protection it provides for your own little star athlete. And although it may not necessarily look like a binky or vampire fangs, a custom mouthguard could make their playing experience safer and more comfortable.
As a saying, “Necessity is the mother of invention” is no more appropriate than when you have something caught between your teeth. And humans, as inventive and creative as we are, have used a weird assortment of items—usually within arms' reach—to dislodge a pesky bit of food.
According to a recent survey, more than three-fourths of Americans admit to using a number of “tools” to clean between teeth including twigs, nails (the finger and toe variety), business cards or (shudder!) screwdrivers. And it's one thing to do this alone, but among dinner companions and other folk it's a definite faux pas.
Usually, it's smarter and more economical if you can use a particular tool for many different applications. But when it comes to your teeth, you should definitely go with a “unitasker” designed specifically for the job: dental floss. It's not only the safest item you can use to clean your teeth, it's specifically designed for that purpose, especially to remove disease-causing plaque from between teeth.
Of course, the reason many of us use alternate items for cleaning between teeth is that they're the closest ones at hand. You can remedy this by keeping a small spool (or a short length) of dental floss or floss picks handy for those moments you encounter a wedged piece of food. In a pinch, you can use a rounded toothpick (better for your gums than the flat variety).
At home if you find flossing difficult, consider using a water flosser. This handheld device emits a pulsating stream of pressurized water that loosens and flushes away plaque and bits of food remnant. It's ideal for people who have a hard time maneuvering floss or who wear braces, which can block regular floss thread from accessing between teeth as fully as possible.
In any case, use the other “tools” at hand for whatever they're intended. When it comes to what's best for your teeth, use floss to keep the in-between clear and clean.
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.