My work in higher education has taken me to Ohio, Kentucky, Texas, California and Missouri. One of the first things I have always done after relocating is to find a competent dentist.
My column today is intended to answer questions that many of us have about our teeth and the teeth of our children and grandchildren. Although American media focuses on white, straight, healthy teeth, some have not yet received that message and are clueless about how to take care of their teeth and their children’s teeth.
Occasionally, I have a student to whom I would like to whisper, “Get to a dentist. Now.”
We never like to reinforce stereotypes about certain sections of the country, but every dentist who has been in practice for any length of time has encountered situations which are problematic. Dr. Matt Nunez, a graduate of the University of Louisville Dental School, asserts that the Kentucky law that requires that children have dental care prior to entry into kindergarten and periodically after that has helped in terms of the problems he faces in his practice in southeastern Kentucky.
Nunez says, “I see parents in their 30s and 40s who have no teeth, and they assume the same will be true for their children. One of my major jobs is to educate the parents, to teach them that their children can be different and that today’s dentistry is very different from the dentistry they might have experienced. The needles are smaller; the anesthesia is more effective, the procedures are faster.”
He indicates that when parents don’t bring their children to the dentist because “they just love them to death and don’t want to hurt them,” they often wait until a child is in pain. Then the child associates the dentist with an unpleasant experience and pain.
“It’s not a matter of money for lower-income families as they are covered by Medicaid: it is about a realization that their children’s experiences in a host of areas can be different and the parents’ responsibility is to translate their caring into positive choices,” says Nunez.
The hypothetical questions I pose in today’s column have been answered by my dentist, Dr. Gary Coons, a graduate of The Ohio State University College of Dentistry.
At what age should children start brushing?
I recommend that caregivers start cleaning the baby’s teeth as soon as they come in. While they are wiping off the child’s face with a washcloth, place the index finger in the washcloth and gently rub over the baby’s teeth and gums. Not only does this clean the baby’s teeth, but it also conditions the child to having something in his/her mouth and the sensation of “clean” teeth. As the baby get a little older, the caregiver can use a toothbrush and the child can be given the opportunity to assist in the brushing process.
My husband thinks that our daughter’s baby teeth are not important because they’re going to fall out anyway. I think I agree with him. What do you think?
Obviously, your daughter’s baby teeth are essential to allow your child to chew food to get the nutrition necessary for a growing body. The baby molar teeth are necessary to guide the first permanent molars into place and then hold the space for permanent bicuspids to erupt. This doesn’t begin to happen until somewhere between the ages of 10 and 12 years old. Permanent loss or decay of the baby back teeth will result in crowding of the teeth and malocclusion, increasing the need for braces or a lifetime of crooked teeth which are not attractive and more difficult to keep clean.
My son, age 2, loves his pacifier and can’t get to sleep without it. He doesn’t use it during the day. Will his use at night hurt his teeth?
Long-term use of a pacifier will not only affect the position of a child’s teeth but can promote a forward “tongue thrusting” swallowing pattern that may remain with the individual for the rest of his/her life. This would result in a lisping speech pattern and a lack of contact between upper and lower front teeth when they do close down.
My toddler loves a Coke or a Mountain Dew in his baby bottle. It’s a good way to keep him cool on these hot summer days. What’s your thinking on this?
It is a terrible idea! Mountain Dew contains citric acid and high fructose corn syrup. Together they are disastrous on teeth. Throw in the fact that Mountain Dew has the highest caffeine content of the soda pops, and you now have an addicted infant who is now craving a high-sugar beverage. This excessive consumption has been linked to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes that now plagues our nation.
How old should my child be before she starts flossing, and what are the benefits of flossing? We never flossed when I was a kid.
It would be good to start your child flossing as soon as she shows an interest in watching what you are doing. Good habits are best to start at an early age. Floss gets between your teeth and down into the gum tissue, areas your toothbrush can’t reach. Not only does flossing help stop tooth decay and gum disease but it also has a profound effect upon overall health. Chronic inflammation in gums has been shown to contribute to other inflammatory-based diseases in the body. Periodontal disease has been linked to Diabetes, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, and even Alzheimer’s disease.
Lifestyle studies have shown that flossing would add seven years to your life. Flossing can literally save your life, so get your child in the habit of flossing every day for a lifetime of health benefits.
My teen daughter has been nagging me about getting her teeth whitened. Is this harmful? If it isn’t, what process do you recommend?
Bleaching teeth is a very safe process. I recommend a technique using custom-made trays that patients wear at their convenience. These trays are like a very thin mouth guard, and are designed to keep the bleaching agent on the teeth and away from the gum tissue. This is the safest and most effective way to lighten natural teeth.
My daughter, age 10, was trying out a climbing wall and fell. One of her front teeth is turning gray. What should I do?
The child should be seen by a dentist soon. Upon examination, the dentist can determine whether the tooth is beginning to abscess or only “bruised” inside. Left untreated, she may get a prognosis for saving the tooth that is not favorable.
I’ve spent a good deal of money in getting my son’s teeth straightened, and now he wants to play football. What should he do to protect his teeth?
To protect your son’s teeth, he should be wearing a mouth guard. A custom mouth guard made by your dentist from impressions of his teeth is the best option, but many “boil and bite” mouth guards work reasonably well.
My stubborn son has agreed to brush his teeth once a day. What’s the best time for this and why?
The best time to brush his teeth is before he goes to bed – this removes the plaque and food debris that will become stagnant at night. Decreased saliva flow and decreased natural self-cleansing agents by the movement of the lips, cheek, and tongue over the tooth are what leads to that “morning mouth”. But, on the other hand, if your son is too tired to do a good job of brushing at night, I would defer to a time when he can do a thorough job.
My back teeth have spots of decay, but the front teeth are all right. Why is that?
There are numerous reasons for that:
1. You only polish the “grill work” (You are only brushing your front teeth because you see them the most);
2. In the pits and grooves on the tops of your back teeth the enamel may not have completely sealed during the development of the tooth. These microscopic openings allow bacteria to enter the tooth, causing decay. This is how a lot of young adults first get cavities and a reason for placing sealants on the teeth to prevent this.
I’m not too concerned about my back teeth, because no one sees them. When they start to hurt, I’ll just have them pulled. Are they all that important?
Your back teeth are essential for chewing your food. Without them you may suffer nutritionally by not being able to digest your food properly. If the back teeth are taken out, eventually the forces from your jaw muscles on your much smaller front teeth cause them to wear down rapidly, and with the extra force focused on them, they will become loose.
I’ve seen tongue cleaners in stores. Is cleaning the tongue important?
Some cultures think that tongue scraping is more important than brushing. The top of your tongue is a breeding ground for bacteria. Cleaning the tongue will remove a lot of the bacteria and result in a clean mouth, fresher breath, and it may help reduce respiratory infections.
Is there a substitute for toothpaste when we run out? Food in our house is more important than toothpaste.
Toothpaste is not necessary when you brush your teeth. Plain water is not as refreshing as toothpaste, but still gets the job done. Baking soda is a mild abrasive that can also safely be used.
We don’t have dental insurance and no money to pay for check ups or repairs. What are our options?
If you don’t have insurance or the money to get your teeth fixed, prevention is still the best solution. Brushing your teeth twice a day and flossing daily will prevent tooth decay and gum problems. If you are having problems with your teeth and don’t have the funds to get them taken care of, many cities have clinics that take patients at a reduced fee based upon their ability to pay.
In conclusion, our children will often not pay attention to us but they might to a professional, so here is your opportunity to clip the column and place it in a spot where your son or daughter is most likely to find it.
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