A child with a chronic illness or condition often requires a lot of focus on care for their special needs. Other aspects of their health can often take a back seat — too often including dental care.
Proper dental care can be a challenge for special needs children if they have diminished physical, intellectual or behavioral capacities. Children with autism or attention deficit disorders may not be able or willing to perform tasks like brushing and flossing. Other conditions could make them intolerant to toothpaste in the mouth, or create an inability to keep their mouths open or to spit.
Some chronic conditions also seem predisposed to dental defects. For example, enamel hypoplasia, a lack of sufficient tooth enamel, is common with Down, Treacher-Collins or Turner Syndromes, and can greatly increase the risk of tooth decay.
But even though difficult, effective dental care isn't impossible. It begins with your dental provider.
Pediatric dentists are often excellent in this regard: they often have the training and experience to treat children with chronic conditions. Whoever you choose must be able to partner with you in caring for your child's dental needs.
Daily hygiene is also a critical factor. Your goal should be the same as with any child — to teach them to brush and floss for themselves. Depending on their condition, however, you may need to assist them for a longer term, perhaps permanently. But it is imperative — daily hygiene is their best defense against oral diseases.
You should also consider their medication and how it may impact their dental health. Antidepressants, antihistamines or drugs that assist with breathing function can cause mouth dryness. This, as well as drugs with sugar or acid compounds, can increase risk for dental disease. If they must take these types of medications, try to give them at mealtime to reduce their effect in the mouth.
Above all, pursue the same professional dental care as you would for any other child. Keep up regular dental visits beginning around their first birthday for cleanings and preventive measures like topical fluoride or sealants. By taking these measures you'll help ensure their dental health won't suffer.
If you would like more information on dental care for special needs 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 “Managing Tooth Decay in Children with Chronic Diseases.”
Want to know the exact wrong way to pry open a stubborn lid? Just ask Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC-TV’s popular “Tonight Show.” When the 40-year-old funnyman had trouble opening a tube of scar tissue repair gel with his hands, he decided to try using his teeth.
What happened next wasn’t funny: Attempting to remove the cap, Fallon chipped his front tooth, adding another medical problem to the serious finger injury he suffered a few weeks before (the same wound he was trying to take care of with the gel). If there’s a moral to this story, it might be this: Use the right tool for the job… and that tool isn’t your teeth!
Yet Fallon is hardly alone in his dilemma. According to the American Association of Endodontists, chipped teeth account for the majority of dental injuries. Fortunately, modern dentistry offers a number of great ways to restore damaged teeth.
If the chip is relatively small, it’s often possible to fix it with cosmetic bonding. In this procedure, tough, natural-looking resin is used to fill in the part of the tooth that has been lost. Built up layer by layer, the composite resin is cured with a special light until it’s hard, shiny… and difficult to tell from your natural teeth. Best of all, cosmetic bonding can often be done in one office visit, with little or no discomfort. It can last for up to ten years, so it’s great for kids who may be getting more permanent repairs later.
For larger chips or cracks, veneers or crowns may be suggested. Veneers are wafer-thin porcelain coverings that go over the entire front surface of one or more teeth. They can be used to repair minor to moderate defects, such as chips, discolorations, or spacing irregularities. They can also give you the “Hollywood white” smile you’ve seen on many celebrities.
Veneers are generally custom-made in a lab, and require more than one office visit. Because a small amount of tooth structure must be removed in order to put them in place, veneers are considered an irreversible treatment. But durable and long-lasting veneers are the restorations of choice for many people.
Crowns (also called caps) are used when even more of the tooth structure is missing. They can replace the entire visible part of the tooth, as long as the tooth’s roots remain viable. Crowns, like veneers, are custom-fabricated to match your teeth in size, shape and color; they are generally made in a dental lab and require more than one office visit. However, teeth restored with crowns function well, look natural, and can last for many years.
So what happened to Jimmy Fallon? We aren’t sure which restoration he received… but we do know that he was back on TV the same night, flashing a big smile.
If you would like more information about tooth restorations, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers” and “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
“To gain something, sometimes you have to give up something else.”
No, that isn't the latest viral meme on the Internet. It's actually a practical consideration that could arise in orthodontics.
In this case, the “something” to gain is a straighter, more attractive smile; the “something” you may have to part with is a few teeth. This may be necessary if there are too many teeth on a dental arch for its capacity, a situation called crowding. A lack of space is the main reason teeth come in misaligned.
Before we can correct this, we'll need to free up space to allow for tooth movement by removing one or more of the existing teeth. The ideal candidates are those that are near to the teeth we wish to move but not highly visible. The first bicuspids are the most frequent choices for removal: they're located behind the cuspids or eyeteeth (the pointed teeth right under the eyes).
Ideally, we'll remove the target teeth some time before we apply braces to give the gums a chance to heal. At the same time we want to preserve the bone that once supported the teeth we've extracted. This is because when we chew the forces generated by the teeth stimulates bone replacement growth. When a tooth is no longer there the supporting bone doesn't receive this stimulation and may ultimately reduce in volume.
We may try to prevent this by placing a bone graft in the empty socket immediately after removing the tooth. The graft serves as a scaffold to encourage new bone to grow. Hopefully when we're ready to apply braces, the bone will be strong and healthy to handle the movement of the teeth.
As the teeth move under the influence of braces, they'll begin to fill up the space created by tooth removal. Once it's completed, the extracted teeth won't be missed — the other teeth now straightened will completely fill out the smile.
The different steps in this process must be carefully planned and executed precisely, and it will take months or even years to complete. In the end, though, this complicated bite problem can be corrected and replaced with an attractive, straight smile.
If you would like more information on correcting a poor bite, 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 Removal for Orthodontic Reasons.”
Some people are lucky — they never seem to have a mishap, dental or otherwise. But for the rest of us, accidents just happen sometimes. Take actor Jamie Foxx, for example. A few years ago, he actually had a dentist intentionally chip one of his teeth so he could portray a homeless man more realistically. But recently, he got a chipped tooth in the more conventional way… well, conventional in Hollywood, anyway. It happened while he was shooting the movie Sleepless with co-star Michelle Monaghan.
“Yeah, we were doing a scene and somehow the action cue got thrown off or I wasn't looking,” he told an interviewer. “But boom! She comes down the pike. And I could tell because all this right here [my teeth] are fake. So as soon as that hit, I could taste the little chalkiness, but we kept rolling.” Ouch! So what's the best way to repair a chipped tooth? The answer it: it all depends…
For natural teeth that have only a small chip or minor crack, cosmetic bonding is a quick and relatively easy solution. In this procedure, a tooth-colored composite resin, made of a plastic matrix with inorganic glass fillers, is applied directly to the tooth's surface and then hardened or “cured” by a special light. Bonding offers a good color match, but isn't recommended if a large portion of the tooth structure is missing. It's also less permanent than other types of restoration, but may last up to 10 years.
When more of the tooth is missing, a crown or dental veneer may be a better answer. Veneers are super strong, wafer-thin coverings that are placed over the entire front surface of the tooth. They are made in a lab from a model of your teeth, and applied in a separate procedure that may involve removal of some natural tooth material. They can cover moderate chips or cracks, and even correct problems with tooth color or spacing.
A crown is the next step up: It's a replacement for the entire visible portion of the tooth, and may be needed when there's extensive damage. Like veneers, crowns (or caps) are made from models of your bite, and require more than one office visit to place; sometimes a root canal may also be needed to save the natural tooth. However, crowns are strong, natural looking, and can last many years.
But what about teeth like Jamie's, which have already been restored? That's a little more complicated than repairing a natural tooth. If the chip is small, it may be possible to smooth it off with standard dental tools. Sometimes, bonding material can be applied, but it may not bond as well with a restoration as it will with a natural tooth; plus, the repaired restoration may not last as long as it should. That's why, in many cases, we will advise that the entire restoration be replaced — it's often the most predictable and long-lasting solution.
Oh, and one more piece of advice: Get a custom-made mouthguard — and use it! This relatively inexpensive device, made in our office from a model of your own teeth, can save you from a serious mishap… whether you're doing Hollywood action scenes, playing sports or just riding a bike. It's the best way to protect your smile from whatever's coming at it!
If you have questions about repairing chipped teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Chipped Teeth With Composite Resin” and “Porcelain Veneers.”
When does dental care begin for a child? In the truest sense, before they're born. Although the first teeth won't erupt until months after birth, they're already forming in the baby's jaw while still in the womb.
During the prenatal period a baby's dental health depends on the mother's health and diet, especially consuming foods rich in calcium and other minerals and nutrients. Once the baby is born, the next dental milestone is the first appearance of primary teeth in the mouth. That's when you can begin brushing with just a smear of toothpaste on a toothbrush.
Perhaps, though, the most important step occurs around their first birthday. This is the recommended time for you to bring them to visit our office for the first time.
By then, many of their primary teeth have already come in. Even though they'll eventually lose these to make way for their permanent set, it's still important to take care of them. A primary tooth lost prematurely could cause the permanent tooth to come in improperly. Saving it by preventing and treating tooth decay with fluoride applications and sealants, fillings or even a modified root canal treatment could stop a bad bite and costly orthodontic treatment down the road.
Regular trips to the dentist benefit you as a caregiver as much as they do your child. We're your best source for information about dental health and development, including concerns like teething and thumb sucking. We'll also keep you informed on your child's growth process as their teeth, jaws and facial structure develop.
Beginning regular dental visits at age one will also help make your child comfortable with seeing the dentist, more readily than if you wait until they're older. It's an unfortunate fact that many people don't seek out the clinical dental care they need because of anxiety over visiting the dentist. Starting early, not only will your child be getting the best in dental care, they'll be developing a habit that can continue to benefit their oral health the rest of their lives.
If you would like more information on your child's dental care, 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 “Age One Dental Visit.”
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