Posts for: May, 2018
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.”
When your baby’s first teeth come in, you might not think it necessary yet to worry about tooth decay. But even infants can develop this common dental disease. In fact, it has a specific name in children 6 and under: early childhood caries (ECC).
About one-fourth of U.S. children have ECC, and poor or minority children are at highest risk. Because of primary (“baby”) teeth’s thin enamel layer, ECC can spread to healthier teeth with unnerving speed, causing extensive damage.
While such damage immediately affects a child’s nutrition, speech development and self-esteem, it could also impact their future oral health. Permanent teeth often erupt out of position because of missing primary teeth lost prematurely, creating a poor bite. And children with ECC are more likely to have cavities in their future permanent teeth.
While there are a number of effective treatments for repairing ECC-caused damage, it’s best to try to prevent it before damage occurs. A large part of prevention depends on you. You should, for example, begin oral hygiene even before teeth come in by wiping their gums with a clean, damp cloth after feeding. After teeth appear, switch to daily brushing with just a smear of toothpaste.
Because refined sugar is a primary food source for decay-causing bacteria, you should limit it in their diet. In the same vein, avoid sleep-time bottles with fluids like juices, milk or formula. As they grow older, make sure snacks are also low in sugar.
You should also avoid spreading your own oral bacteria to your baby. In this regard, don’t put their eating utensils or pacifier in your mouth and don’t drink from the same cup. Avoid kissing your baby on the lips. And above all, take care of your own oral health to prevent your own encounter with dental disease.
Finally, start regular dental visits on or before your baby’s first birthday. Regular cleanings and checkups increase the chances for early decay detection, as well as provide for treatments and prevention measures that can reduce the disease’s spread and destruction.
ECC can be devastating to both your baby’s current and future dental health. But with vigilance and good dental practices, you may be able to help them avoid this serious disease.
Primary (baby) teeth don't last long. But despite their short life span, they do a number of important things, like enabling a child to eat solid food. But perhaps their most important long-term function is “paving” the way for their permanent replacements.
If one is lost prematurely, though, the permanent tooth might not come in properly aligned. That's why if a primary tooth is in danger of loss due to decay or injury, we'll do our best to save it.
But that could get a little tricky if the infected or damaged part of the tooth is the innermost pulp. If it were an adult tooth, the best course might be a root canal treatment: access the pulp, clear out the diseased tissue, and then fill the space with a special filling. But with a primary tooth (or a young permanent tooth for that matter) that may not be advisable.
That's because the pulp plays a more important role in a child's tooth than an adult's. Its nerves and other tissues stimulate dentin growth; a full root canal could disrupt that growth and weaken the tooth in the long run.
With a child's tooth, we proceed carefully depending on how infected or damaged the pulp might be. If it's only slightly exposed or not at all, we try then to remove as much decayed tooth material outside the pulp as necessary, then apply antibacterial agents or dentin growth stimulators.
If we do have pulp exposure, we'll try to remove only as much of the affected pulp as necessary through a procedure called a pulpotomy. This technique will only be used if the remaining pulp looks healthy or restorable to health.
If not, we may need to perform a pulpectomy to remove the entire pulp. Most like a typical root canal, it's a last resort: without the pulp, dentin growth could be stunted and the tooth won't develop as healthy as it should.
Of course, the best approach is to prevent teeth from developing such problems in the first place. So, be sure to practice effective daily hygiene with your child and keep up regular dental visits beginning at age one.
If you would like more information on treating decayed 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 “Root Canal Treatment for Children's Teeth.”