Although primary (“baby”) teeth have a lifespan of only a few years, they’re still important to a child’s current and future dental health. In the present, they help a child eat, speak and smile properly. They also help create a healthy future as placeholders for developing permanent teeth yet to come in.
If, however, a child loses a primary tooth prematurely due to decay, the corresponding permanent tooth could come in misaligned. That’s why we do what we can to help a decayed primary tooth reach its full lifespan. And there are different ways to do this depending on the type of tooth.
With front teeth, which don’t encounter the same chewing forces as those in the back, we may use a tooth-colored filling. This approach is also preferable for appearance’s sake since front teeth are highly visible when a child speaks or smiles.
Primary molars, on the other hand, need a more robust solution. A filling may not be able to withstand the level of long-term chewing forces that these back teeth normally encounter. And because they’re less visible than front teeth, there’s less concern about aesthetics.
That’s why many pediatric dentists prefer stainless steel crowns for molars. Just like their permanent teeth counterparts, a primary crown fits over and completely covers a tooth. They’re typically pre-formed, coming in different shapes and sizes that can then be customized for the tooth in question. After preparing and removing any decayed material from the tooth, we can usually install the crown in one visit with local anesthesia and a sedative (if the child needs it for anxiety).
While a steel crown isn’t the most attractive restoration, it typically handles the higher chewing forces in the back of the mouth better and longer than a filling. That’s especially critical for primary molars, which are some of the last teeth to fall out (as late as ages 10-12). And besides preserving it as a permanent tooth placeholder, a crown also helps the tooth function effectively in the present.
Regardless of what method we use, though, preserving primary teeth is a primary goal of pediatric dentistry. And with a stainless steel crown, we can keep those important back molars functioning for as long as they’re intended.
If you would like more information on caring 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 “Stainless Steel Crowns for Kids.”
Before we discuss cosmetic options for transforming your smile, and before any preparations for treatment, there’s one question that needs to be answered: What do you want to be different about your smile?
There’s a common misconception that cosmetic changes to the teeth and gums — a “smile makeover” — is primarily a technical achievement based on rigid principles of beauty. Patients believe they must defer to their dentists for what will look best. But that’s not the entire picture: what’s often lost in the understanding is that it’s your smile — the smile at the end of the process you must be comfortable showing with confidence.
In this regard, there are two types of patients, with no right or wrong view — simply what a patient perceives as the smile they want. Some want the “perfect” smile — the greatest level of regularity between teeth shape, size and alignment and the maximum level of brightness. Others are more comfortable with a “natural” smile, a more subtle look with just enough change to create something new and different. The latter may even desire a less than perfect look that doesn’t “fix” all their imperfections — the ones they believe give their face “character.”
Knowing to which side you lean is important at the outset. It’s then important for you to communicate those expectations with us. While we’re focused on the technical aspects of treatment — tooth length, the lineup of teeth with other facial features or the gum-to-lip distance — only you can express what’s going to be a beautiful yet comfortable smile for you. By meshing the technical requirements with your personal desires, we’re able to formulate a makeover plan that fits you.
It all begins with a comprehensive examination to determine the exact health state of your mouth, and it may be necessary to first perform dental work to improve it. From there we can discuss what is and isn’t possible to change the appearance of your teeth and gums. In the end, we want the same result as you — a beautiful smile you’re happy and confident to show the world.
If you would like more information on smile makeovers, 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 “Great Expectations: Is what you get what you want?”
Along with thumb sucking, childhood teeth grinding is one of the top concerns anxious parents bring to their dentists. It’s so prevalent, though, many providers consider it normal behavior—the sleep-disturbing sound it can generate is often the worst consequence for the habit.
But that doesn’t mean you should brush aside all concern, especially if the habit continues into late childhood. Long-term teeth grinding could eventually damage the teeth and gums.
Teeth grinding (or clenching) is the involuntary movement of the jaws when not engaged in normal functions like chewing, speaking or swallowing. The action often produces higher than normal chewing forces, which over time can accelerate tooth wear, cause fractures, or contribute to loose teeth, all of which could increase the risk of dental disease. While it can occur at any time it’s most common among children during nighttime sleep.
While stress is the usual trigger for teeth grinding in adults, with young children the causes for the habit are more complex and less understood. Most doctors hold to the theory that most pediatric teeth grinding arises during shifts from lighter to heavier, rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. The child’s immature neuromuscular chewing control may engage involuntarily during this shift. Teeth grinding is also prevalent among children who snore or mouth-breathe, or who take anti-depressant medication.
But as mentioned before, there’s usually no cause for concern unless the habit persists beyond about age 11. If the habit isn’t fading, you should speak to your dentist about ways to reduce it or its effects. One way is with a custom-made night guard worn during sleep. The smooth, plastic surface of the appliance prevents teeth from making solid contact with each other during a grinding episode.
You might also seek treatment from an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist if your child is having issues with airway obstruction, which could also relieve teeth grinding. And children experiencing stressful situations or events may find relief both emotionally and physically from psychological therapy.
At younger ages, you can safely regard your child’s grinding habit as normal. But if it persists, it’s worth looking for ways to reduce it.
If you would like more information on your child’s teeth grinding habit, 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 “When Children Grind Their Teeth: Is the Habit of ‘Bruxism’ Harmful?”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
If you had chicken pox as a child, you're at higher risk for a painful viral infection later in life called shingles. Besides a painful skin rash and other symptoms that can develop, shingles could also affect your dental care.
About 90% of children contract chicken pox, a disease caused by the varicella zoster virus (VZV), which usually clears up on its own. But later in life, usually after age 50, about a quarter to a third of chicken pox patients will develop shingles.
The onset of shingles usually produces an itching or burning sensation on the skin that's either numb or overly sensitive to the touch. A red rash may ensue with crusty lesions, accompanied sometimes by pain, fever and fatigue. The rash often forms a belt-like or striped pattern along one side of the face or body.
For most patients this painful rash is the extent of their symptoms. But women who are pregnant, patients undergoing cancer treatment or people with compromised immune systems are at risk for more serious complications if they contract the disease. It's important for these at-risk patients to obtain a vaccination, as well as avoid contact with anyone with shingles.
Which brings us to your dental care: in its early stages shingles can be contagious, the virus passing to others through skin contact or by airborne respiratory secretions. That's why it's important if you're currently experiencing a shingles episode that you let us know before undergoing any kind of dental work.Â Even a routine teeth cleaning with an ultrasonic device could disrupt the virus and increase the chances of it spreading to someone else. We may need to postpone dental work until the virus is under control.
Antiviral drugs like acyclovir or famciclovir are highly effective in bringing the disease under control, especially if treatment starts within three days of the onset of symptoms. And don't forget the shingles vaccination: the U.S. Center for Disease Control recommends it for anyone 60 or older regardless of a past history with chicken pox.
See your physician as soon as possible if you begin to notice symptoms. Don't let shingles interfere with your life — or your dental care.
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