Your child’s dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-ray imaging. It’s one of our best tools for finding and treating tooth decay.
But since x-rays emit radiation, is your child in any danger when they’re exposed?
X-rays, an invisible form of electromagnetic energy, will form images on exposed film after passing through the body. Because it takes longer for x-rays to pass through dense tissue like teeth and bones, the corresponding areas appear lighter on the film than less dense tissue like the gums. We can detect decay because the diseased tooth structure is less dense and thus appears darker against healthier tooth structure.
The downside of x-rays, though, is the radiation they emit could potentially alter cell structure and increase the risk of future cancer, especially with children. That’s why we follow a principle known as ALARA when using x-ray imaging. ALARA is an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable,” meaning the doses for an x-ray session will be as low as possible while still gaining the most benefit.
Advances in technology, particularly the development of digital processing, has helped reduce the amount of radiation exposure. We’re also careful with what types of x-rays we use. The most common type is the bitewing, a device with the film attached to a long piece of plastic that the child holds in their mouth while biting down.
Depending on the number of our patient’s teeth, we can usually get a comprehensive view with two to four bitewings. A typical bitewing session exposes them to less radiation than what they’re receiving from natural environmental background sources each day.
Keeping the exposure as low and as less frequent as possible greatly reduces health risks while still getting the full benefit of early decay detection. Still, if you have concerns about your child’s x-ray exposure, we’ll be happy to discuss our approach and all the precautions we take using x-ray imaging.
If you would like more information on x-ray diagnostics and your child, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
There are usually two moments when primary (“baby”) teeth generate excitement in your family: when you first notice them in your child’s mouth, and when they come out (and are headed for a rendezvous with the “tooth fairy”!).
Between these two moments, you might not give them much thought. But you should—although primary teeth don’t last long, they play a pivotal role in the replacing permanent teeth’s long-term health.
This is because a primary tooth is a kind of guide for the permanent one under development in the gums. It serves first as a “space saver,” preventing nearby teeth from drifting into where the permanent tooth would properly erupt; and, it provides a pathway for the permanent tooth to travel during eruption. If it’s lost prematurely (from injury or, more likely, disease) the permanent tooth may erupt out of position because the other teeth have crowded the space.
That’s why we try to make every reasonable effort to save a problem primary tooth. If decay, for example, has advanced deep within the tooth pulp, we may perform a modified root canal treatment to remove the diseased tissue and seal the remaining pulp from further infection. In some circumstances we may cap the tooth with a stainless steel crown (or possibly a white crown alternative) to protect the remaining structure of the tooth.
Of course, even the best efforts can fall short. If the tooth must be removed, we would then consider preserving the empty space with a space maintainer. This orthodontic device usually takes the form of a metal band that’s cemented to a tooth on one side of the empty space with a stiff wire loop soldered to it that crosses the space to rest against the tooth on the other side. The wire loop prevents other teeth from crowding in, effectively “maintaining” the space for the permanent tooth.
Regular dental visits, plus your child’s daily brushing and flossing, are also crucial in preventing primary teeth from an “early departure.” Keeping them for their full lifespan will help prevent problems that could impact your child’s dental health future.
If you would like more information on the right care approach for primary 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
While they're resilient, your child's teeth aren't invincible. Daily hygiene and regular dental visits are important, but you should also be alert for problems and take action when they arise.
Here are 4 areas that could cause problems for your child's teeth, and what you should do — or not do — if you encounter them.
Teething. This is a normal experience as your child's first teeth erupt through the gums. The gums become tender and painful, causing constant gnawing, drooling, disturbed sleep and similar symptoms. You can help relieve discomfort by letting them bite on a chilled (not frozen) teething ring or a cold, wet washcloth. Pain relievers like ibuprofen in appropriate dosages can also help — but don't apply ice, alcohol or numbing agents containing Benzocaine directly to the gums.
Toothache. Tooth pain could be a sign of decay, so you should see us for an examination. In the meantime you can help relieve pain with a warm-water rinse, a cold compress to the outside of the face, or appropriately-dosed pain relievers. If the pain is intense or persists overnight, see us no later than the next day if possible.
Swollen or bleeding gums. If you notice your child's gums are red and swollen or easily bleed during brushing, they could have periodontal (gum) disease. This is an infection caused by bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that build up on the teeth. You can stop plaque buildup by helping them practice effective, daily brushing and flossing. If they're showing symptoms, though, see us for an exam. In the meantime, be sure they continue to gently brush their teeth, even if their gums are irritated.
Chipped, cracked or knocked out tooth. If your child's teeth are injured, you should see us immediately. If part of the tooth has broken off, try to retrieve the broken pieces and bring them with you. If it's a permanent tooth that was knocked out, pick it up by the crown (not the root), rinse it with clean water and attempt to place it back in the socket. If you can't, bring the tooth with you in a container with clean water or milk. The sooner you see us, the better the chances for saving the tooth — minutes count.
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Like many other families, you may use formula instead of breast milk as a safe and healthy alternative to feed your infant. But, if you use a powdered form that you mix with water your child may be taking in more fluoride than they require.
Fluoride is a natural chemical that can strengthen tooth enamel and help prevent decay. After decades of study it's also been shown to pose no serious health risks. Because of fluoride's benefits and safety, many water utilities add tiny amounts to their drinking water supply.
But it can have one side effect called enamel fluorosis. If a child ingests too much fluoride during early development it can cause discoloring mottled spots or streaking in permanent teeth. Although it doesn't affect their health, the teeth can be unattractive and require cosmetic attention.
That's why it's best to keep fluoride consumption to a healthy minimum for children. That, however, is often easier said than done, since we can encounter hidden fluoride in a variety of places. Besides hygiene products and fluoridated drinking water, you may find fluoride in prepared juices and other beverages, bottled water or in foods processed with fluoridated water. There are no labeling requirements for fluoride, so you'll have to research to find out if a product contains fluoride.
There are, however, some things you can do to control your child's fluoride intake. First, know as much as you can about known sources your child may encounter like your water supply. You can find out if your utility adds fluoride and by how much by contacting them or visiting My Water's Fluoride online at https://nccd.cdc.gov/DOH_MWF/.
If you use fluoride toothpaste apply only a “smear” on the end of the brush for children under two and a pea-sized amount for older children. If you have fluoridated drinking water, consider breastfeeding your infant, use ready-to-feed formula or mix powdered formula with bottled water labeled “de-ionized,” “purified,” “demineralized” or “distilled.”
And, do feel free to discuss your concerns with us during your child's regular checkup. We'll help you adjust their diet, water intake and hygiene habits to be sure they're receiving the right amount they need for developing strong teeth — and no more.
If you would like more information on appropriate fluoride levels 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 “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
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