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What Dental X-rays Does My Child Need? Are They Safe?

girl with dentist and x-raysDental x-rays are necessary for determining the present status of a patient’s oral health, along with identifying a patient-specific treatment plan. A request for x-rays can depend on several different factors, including how much dental work has been previously done, the current condition of that dental work, dental hygiene, a patient’s age, a patient’s risk for disease, and any signs or symptoms of dental decay or gum disease. For example, children may need x-rays more often than adults, because their teeth and jaws are continually developing and are more likely to be affected by tooth decay. Each intraoral x-ray shows several teeth, from the upper surface to the supporting bone. Dentists can order multiple images in order to learn more about a specific area of concern.

Dental x-rays are safe. However, they do require extremely low levels of radiation exposure, which makes the risk of potentially harmful effects very minimal. In other words, any level of radiation poses a potential risk to patients. For this reason, team members want to minimize a patient’s exposure as much as possible.

In most dental offices, every precaution is taken to ensure radiation exposure is As Low As Reasonably Achievable, also known as following the ALARA principle. Thanks to advanced dental technology, dental teams operate dental x-ray tools and utilize techniques designed to limit your body’s exposure to radiation. A leaded apron minimizes radiation exposure to your child’s abdomen, while a leaded thyroid collar protects the thyroid from radiation.

Here are 5 different types of dental x-rays your child may need, depending on his or her oral health:

  • Bitewing X-rays (also called cavity-detecting x-rays): These x-rays are used to view the areas between teeth that cannot be easily seen. These X-rays are needed only after the teeth in the back of the mouth are touching each other, as they show where cavities may be forming. In some children, this doesn’t happen until the first permanent molar (also called the 6-year molar) has erupted.
  • Periapical X-rays: These x-rays are used to view the entire crowns and roots of one, two or three teeth that sit next to each other. They also show the supporting bone structure of the teeth, allowing the dentist see your child’s permanent teeth developing below the baby teeth. They are also used to look for abscesses and gum disease.
  • Panoramic X-rays: These x-rays are used to obtain a comprehensive view of all of the teeth on one film, displaying the upper and lower jaws, the temporomandibular joints (TMJs) and the sinuses above the upper teeth. They are often used if a child has hurt his or her face, has orthodontic problems, or is mentally or physically disabled. Panoramic X-rays, unlike other types, do not require a film to be put in the child’s mouth. This is helpful for children who gag easily or have small mouths. This X-ray must be exposed for 12-18 seconds, and the patient must be able to sit or stand still for that whole time.
  • Occlusal X-rays: These are used to view most of the upper or lower teeth on one film. This is useful when the dentist does not have a panoramic X-ray machine or when the child has difficulty in taking bitewing or periapical X-rays.
  • Orthodontic X-rays (also called cephalometric or lateral skull): This type of X-ray shows the head from a side view. It is used to evaluate growth of the jaws and the relationship of bones in the skull. It also helps an orthodontist make an accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding dental x-rays, please do not hesitate to contact us!

Are Thumb-sucking and Pacifiers Bad For My Child’s Teeth?

Japanese baby girl sucking on a pacifier (0 year old)Thumb-sucking and pacifiers have both been a natural source of comfort for children for decades. It’s an instinctual habit; sucking on thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or other objects often help babies relax, boosting their moods and leading to soothing sleeping patterns.

However, as comforting as thumb-sucking may be, these habits can be detrimental to your child’s oral health. The intensity of the sucking, or how aggressive your child is sucking on an object, is the determining factor between a harmless practice and a damaging dental issue. For children who passively rest their thumbs in their mouths, dental damage is rare. On the other hand, for kids who vigorously suck on their thumbs several hours a day, there’s a high risk of developmental problems in baby teeth, proper growth of the mouth, alignment of the teeth and changes in the roof of the mouth.

Pacifiers can affect your child’s teeth in the same ways, but it is usually an easier habit to break compared to thumb-sucking. Children should stop sucking on objects and fingers around the age of two, or by the time the permanent front teeth begin to erupt through the gums.

If your child is a vigorous thumb-sucker, try the following:

  • Reward or praise your child when they are not sucking.
  • Thumb-sucking is often a subconscious solution to feelings of insecurity or boredom. Focus on solving the source of the thumb-sucking, rather than breaking the habit itself.
  • For an older child, involve him or her in the decision to stop sucking. Explain why it is harmful to their teeth, as well as their overall health, due to the intake of unnecessary germs.
  • Bandage the fingers or thumb.
  • Coat the fingers or thumb in a safe, bitter-tasting coating.
  • Ask your dentist about a mouth appliance.

If you have any other questions regarding thumb-sucking or pacifier use, please do not hesitate to contact your dentist, or leave us a comment below!

Be Wise about Your Teen’s Wisdom Teeth

male dentist with woman patient at clinicWisdom teeth, otherwise known as third molars, normally push through the gums between ages 17 to 25. The nickname “wisdom teeth” dates all the way back to the 17th century, implying a person may not be truly wise until he or she receives third molars. These are the last teeth to erupt through the gums for adults. Have your wisdom teeth already arrived?

Here are some symptoms to watch for:

  • Red, inflamed or tender gums behind your molars
  • Discomfort toward the back of the mouth when chewing food or drinking
  • Jaw pain and tenderness
  • Bad breath
  • Unpleasant taste upon chewing food

But what about these symptoms occurring for “tweens”, those from ages 11 to 15? This age range is the time that  second (or 12-year) molars are typically coming into the mouth behind the first (or six-year) molars. The same conditions can occur as the second molars erupt into the mouth as when third molars erupt. Typically there is less room for third molar than second molars so these problems are more common with the third molars. When pain and inflammation is present, a dentist will usually not remove the tooth that is a second molar. He or she will likely clean and medicate the area with an antibacterial rinse and in a few cases perform a simple surgical procedure to remove the inflamed tissue that covers the top of the erupting tooth. Thankfully in most cases there is no need for any treatment as the tooth continues to grow into place and the pain goes away all by itself. Not sure if they’re second molars or wisdom teeth? Ask your dentist. He or she can take a quick look and tell you in a second and save you a lot of worrying and second-guessing.

Dental professionals typically recommend removing wisdom teeth through surgery, due to the common problems associated with their arrival. If the alignment in a patient’s teeth is extremely straight, he or she may not need wisdom teeth removal. However, perfect alignment is rare, and extraction is necessary when wisdom teeth do not grow in properly.

If a smile is already a bit crowded, the arrival of wisdom teeth can make things even more complicated. Overcrowding can lead to problems in the gums and bone, cavities and shifting of existing teeth. If a wisdom tooth only partially breaks through the surface of the gums, an unhealthy amount of bacteria tends to grow, causing infection resulting in swelling, stiffness, pain and other illnesses. When your dentist sees this problem the diagnosis is called pericoronitis and the suggestion is typically that the teeth be removed.

Many wisdom teeth become impacted, which means they cannot erupt through the gums because they grew in facing the wrong angle. Impacted wisdom teeth do not have an open connection to the mouth, which may lead to pain, inflammation, infection or damage to adjacent teeth.

To avoid these risks, early removal is strongly recommended. By waiting until an older age, the risk of the procedure and healing time significantly increase. It is preferable to have wisdom teeth removed before they cause problems in overall oral health.

If you are considering wisdom tooth removal, the biggest variable of the surgery is how you want to be medicated. Options include one or more of the following:

  • Local anesthesiaThis type of on-site injection is used for other dental procedures to numb the area.
  • Laughing gas (nitrous oxide)Laughing gas can be used in conjunction with local anesthesia to “take the edge off”.
  • Oral Conscious sedation—A combination of medications keep the patient in a groggy state for the procedure. You may have heard that this technique is called Chill with the Pill.
  • Oral medications for anxiety—Anti-anxiety medications are used to combat fear and anxiety before and during a procedure.
  • I.V. Sedation—A combination of medications that temporarily put the patient under so that the procedure can be done and they are not aware of it. This is done in many dental practices.
  • General anesthesia —In rare, complex situations, a patient may be “put under” for oral surgery. This type of anesthesia requires advanced training and typically does not take place in a dental clinic setting.

Thankfully, there are many options for making wisdom tooth extractions relatively simple and painless. We know not all wisdom teeth may need to be removed, but if you suspect you may need to have your wisdom teeth taken out, feel free to schedule an appointment with your dentist for further consultation.

Pediatric vs. General Dentistry: Is There a Difference?

Girl in dentists chair toothbrushing a modelThe choice between pediatric dentistry and general dentistry is a dilemma parents have been facing for years. So, what are the benefits of a pediatric dentist, rather than a general dentist?

The main difference between a pediatric dentist and general dentist is education. General dentists must complete at least three or more years of undergraduate education, plus four more years of dental school. On the other hand, pediatric dentists must complete the same schooling as a general dentist, plus an additional two to three years of specialty training following dental school. General dentists do not uniformly receive training regarding the oral care of kids, although some may pursue additional training after dental school individually.

During their training, pediatric dentists learn about kid-specific oral health issues, such as sedatives for children, dental developmental difficulties, and root canals on adult teeth that have not fully formed. Pediatric dentists are also more likely to have affiliations with hospitals and established relationships with pediatricians and other child specialists, which creates a network of health professionals dedicated to finding the best solution for your child’s oral health needs.

In a pediatric dental office, doctors and team members normally have a better understanding of how visual and emotional factors can influence a child’s behavior throughout a visit. Oftentimes, pediatric dentists are better equipped to foster a more soothing, kid-friendly atmosphere for your children. Environment is extremely important when it comes to the relationship kids have with their dentists. Pediatric dental offices usually have brightly-colored walls and interactive toys or videos. These details may just seem like unnecessary bells and whistles, but an environment completely dedicated to kids easily gains a child’s trust.

Pediatric dentists are also trained in the behavior and interactions with children. In other words, pediatric dentists typically have the right personality for treating children. They do not become discouraged or irritated with kids who may cry or have anxiety about visiting the dentist, as they are trained to operate in these kinds of scenarios.

Despite these advantages of having a pediatric dentist, most children are treated by general dentists. A general dentist often has an existing relationship with the entire family, and therefore has a great deal of family history knowledge, which may apply to the diagnosis or treatment of a dental issue with a child.

If your child has abnormal oral health issues or severe dental anxiety, seeing a pediatric dentist may be a great option for you and your family. On the other hand, if your family has a standing relationship with a general dentist, and your child needs a regular checkup, seeing a general dentist would suffice. There are some general dentists who have received advanced training in children’s dentistry, even though they are not pediatric dentists. In this situation, it is up to the family to decide what is best for their child.

Can Breastfeeding Your Child Affect His or Her Dental Health?

mother breast feeding and hugging babyThe answer is yes! Not only does breastfeeding help your baby’s fragile body fight disease and lower health risks, but it also has a significant impact on his or her oral health and development.

According to a June 2015 study conducted by Pediatrics, babies who exclusively breastfed for at least six months were actually 72% less likely to suffer from crooked teeth, including open bites, crossbites and overbites, in comparison with babies who breastfed for less than six months or not at all.

Breastfeeding is beneficial in shaping the hard palate, a bony plate on the roof of our mouths that separates the oral and nasal cavities. The tongue motions involved in breastfeeding set a pattern for correct, normal swallowing habits, as well as mandibular development and a strengthening of jaw muscles. In a study conducted by Brian Palmer, DDS, children who were breastfed experienced proper development of a well-rounded “dental arch.” This U-shaped alignment of the teeth usually helps prevent snoring, sleep apnea and a need for speech therapy or braces later in life.

In addition to the reduced chances of malocclusion, breastfeeding can save your child’s smile from Baby Bottle Tooth Decay. As you may have seen from one of our previous articles, Baby Bottle Tooth Decay stems from repeated, everyday exposure of your baby’s teeth to liquids containing sugar. For example, if a baby is put to bed with a bottle of formula, milk or fruit juice, his or her teeth come in contact with these sugary liquids until morning. However, breastfeeding eliminates the possibility of a bottle lingering in the baby’s mouth once he or she has fallen asleep, therefore avoiding prolonged exposure to these sugary liquids (please note breast milk contains sugar, as well).

Be sure to wipe your baby’s gums and teeth with a clean piece of gauze or a damp cloth after feedings, especially before bed time. If you are concerned about breastfeeding once your baby has developed his or her first tooth, don’t be alarmed – an actively nursing baby will not bite, because his or her tongue covers the lower teeth while feeding.

Take Care of Kids’ Teeth This Summer

jungen beim zähneputzenAcross the country, summer vacation is in full swing. Kids—and parents—are adopting new schedules the leisurely months of summer.

As you’re planning their next few months of relaxation, don’t forget their teeth. When your family hangs out at the pool, zoo or amusement park, you pack sunscreen. When they’re hungry—which is all the time, or at least it can feel that way—you feed them. When they’re thirsty, you make sure they have plenty of fluids. When they’ve gotten muddy or dirty from a day of playing outside, you make them take a shower. But one thing that’s often overlooked is their oral health. What’s going on with your kids’ teeth?

We look for signs to cue us in those other areas—we spot a sunburn or grubby feet, and we can hear reminders for meals and drinks and snacks. But we can’t see what’s happening with their teeth. And with summer’s fresh schedule and spontaneous outings, it can be easy to forget the normal routines that come with school nights and getting up and out the door for the bus.

Here are a few simple ways to help your kids take care of their teeth this summer:

  • Remind them to brush. Bedtime and morning routines be more fluid in summer, if they exist at all, so do what you can to create other reminders. Set an alarm on your phone or write a note on the bathroom mirror in dry erase marker.
  • Try to limit junk food. Just because they’re on the run or in the sun doesn’t mean you have to serve pop-tarts and popsicles. Keep healthy options on hand and save the sweets for occasional treats.
  • Keep water close by. With all of the sunshine, warmth and added activity of summer, your family will need plenty to drink. Be sure you have bottles of water around to make hydration easy and to reduce the temptation to stop for a soda when you’re out and about. There are a variety of great reusable bottle options available to keep waste to a minimum.
  • Pack extras. Have a few extra toothbrushes around in places other than the bathroom cabinet. Stash a few in the car, gym bag, pool bag or backpacks, so kids don’t have to remember to pack a toothbrush. Having extra toothbrushes to offer those visiting your house is helpful as well. It’s not just your kids who forget.
  • Make it fun. When all else fails, you can turn on some goofy music and insist that everyone participates in a family toothbrushing party. It may seem corny, but it’s worth it since healthy mouths make healthy kids.

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