Preventing tooth decay in babies and infants

The habits of good dental care should begin as early as possible and it’s important to take steps to avoid problems with infants and children.

Children need strong, healthy teeth to chew their food and baby teeth also keep a space in the jaw for the adult teeth.

If a baby tooth is lost too early, the teeth beside it may drift into the empty space. So, when it’s time for the adult teeth to come in, there may not be enough room. This can make the teeth crooked or crowded.

The name given to decay in infants and children is baby bottle tooth decay.

It can destroy the teeth and most often occurs in the upper front teeth – though other teeth may also be affected.

Decay can happen when sweetened liquids are given to an infant and are then left clinging to their teeth for long periods. Many sweet liquids cause problems, including milk, formula and fruit juice.

What happens is that bacteria in the mouth use these sugars as food and then produce acids that attack the teeth.

It’s not just what you put in your child’s bottle that causes decay, but how often. Giving your child a bottle of sweetened liquid many times a day isn’t a good idea.

Here are some tips to avoid baby bottle tooth decay in your children:
– After each feeding, wipe the baby’s gums with a clean gauze pad. Begin brushing your child’s teeth when the first tooth erupts. Clean and massage gums in areas that remain toothless, and begin flossing when all the baby teeth have erupted, usually by age 2 or 2�.
– Never allow your child to fall asleep with a bottle containing milk, formula, fruit juice or sweetened liquids.
– If your child needs a comforter between regular feedings, at night, or during naps, give them a clean pacifier recommended by your dentist or physician. Never give your child a pacifier dipped in any sweet liquid.
– Avoid filling your child’s bottle with liquids such as sugar water and soft drinks.
– If your local water supply does not contain fluoride (a substance that helps prevent tooth decay), ask your dentist how your child should get it.

Start dental visits by the child’s first birthday and make visits regularly.

If you think your child has dental problems, take the child to the dentist as soon as possible.

How braces can be made to look good

Orthodontic appliances such as braces can be used to help straighten out crooked and crowded teeth.

This is not just about looking better; it also helps improve your dental health.

How they look may determine how you feel about wearing them but, these days, braces can be as inconspicuous as you want.

Brackets � the part of the braces that attaches to each tooth – can sometimes be attached to the back of the tooth, making them less noticeable.

The brackets can be made in a wide range of different materials such as metal, ceramic or plastic.

They can also be designed to look appealing. For example, they may be clear or tooth-colored. There can also be shaped in a variety of ways like hearts and footballs or created in favorite colors.

You could even go for gold-plated braces or glow-in-the-dark retainers!

How braces help both children and adults

Crowded or crooked teeth – known as malocclusion – not only spoil your smile, they also increase your risk of dental health problems.

Corrective procedures and appliances such as braces straighten teeth and correct jaw alignment.

Malocclusions are often noticed around ages 6 – 12, when the adult teeth begin to erupt.

The process of straightening out teeth, known as orthodontic treatment, often begins between ages 8 and 14. The best results are obtained when a child begins treatment while they are still growing.

This means it’s a good idea for a child to have an orthodontic evaluation by age 7. At this stage, they have a mix of baby teeth and adult teeth.

It’s possible for braces to work later � and even in adults � but there are many advantages in starting as soon as possible.

Your dentist will be able to spot problems with emerging teeth and jaw growth early on, while the primary teeth are present.

That’s why regular dental examinations are important.

For adults, it’s not too late to correct problems such as crooked or crowded teeth, overbites, underbites, incorrect jaw position or jaw-joint disorders. The biological process involved in moving teeth is the same at any age.

The difference is that adult treatment takes a little longer than a child’s treatment. As an adult’s facial bones are no longer growing, certain corrections may not be accomplished with braces alone.

But, whatever your age, it’s never too late to improve your dental health and improve your smile.

How dentures can replace your smile

If you’ve lost all of your natural teeth, whether from gum disease, tooth decay or injury, complete dentures can replace your missing teeth and your smile.

Replacing missing teeth will benefit your appearance and your health.

Without support from the denture, facial muscles sag, making a person look older. You’ll also find it harder to eat and speak – things that people often take for granted until their natural teeth are lost.

There are various types of complete dentures.

A conventional full denture is made and placed in the patient’s mouth after the remaining teeth are removed and tissues have healed which may take several months.

An immediate complete denture is inserted as soon as the remaining teeth are removed. The dentist takes measurements and makes models of the patient’s jaws during a preliminary visit. With immediate dentures, the denture wearer does not have to be without teeth during the healing period.

Even if you wear full dentures, you still must take good care of your mouth. Brush your gums, tongue and palate every morning with a soft-bristled brush before you insert your dentures to stimulate circulation in your tissues and help remove plaque.

And even if you wear full dentures, it’s important to visit your dentist regularly to maintain your overall oral health and get early warning of serious issues such as oral cancer.

Your options if you have many missing or damaged teeth

People who have not followed adequate dental care for some years may have already lost most of their teeth and feel a little hopeless.

Sometimes they ask a dentist to remove the remaining teeth as they are often broken and have deep cavities.

It’s true that, sometimes, removal of the remaining teeth and replacing them with full dentures is the only option.

But more often there are other options available.

Some or all of the remaining teeth could be repaired and used in conjunction with a partial denture. While a full denture replaces all of the teeth on the upper or lower jaw, a partial denture replaces some of the teeth.

If only a few weak teeth remain on the upper jaw, it might be preferable to have them extracted and a full upper denture made. Full upper dentures can be more secure than lower ones as the upper denture gets added stability from the palate and is not easily dislodged by the tongue.

If only a few teeth remain on the lower jaw, however, the dentist will usually aim to save them and use a partial denture if necessary.

Ideally, all teeth that can be saved should be saved but this is not always possible – often due to finances.

In such cases, having teeth removed and dentures may be the only option.

How your oral health links with your general health

Research has shown strong links between periodontitis (advanced form of gum disease) and other health problems such as cardiovascular disease, stroke and bacterial pneumonia.

And pregnant women with periodontitis may be at increased risk of delivering pre-term and/or having babies with low birth weight.

However, just because two conditions occur at the same time, doesn’t necessarily mean that one condition causes the other. The relationship could work the other way.

For example, there is evidence that diabetics are more likely to develop periodontitis and have more severe periodontitis than non-diabetics.

Alternatively, two conditions that occur together may be caused by something else.

In addition, people who smoke or use alcohol have a higher than average risk of developing periodontitis and other conditions, including oral cancer.

Research is looking at what happens when periodontitis is treated in individuals with these problems.

The aim is to find out whether periodontitis does have an effect on other health problems.

If one caused the other, improvement in periodontal health would also improve other health problems.

While the research is not yet conclusive, the potential link between periodontitis and systemic health problems, means that preventing periodontitis may be an important step in maintaining overall health.

In most cases, good oral health can be maintained by brushing and flossing every day and receiving regular professional dental care.

How orthodontic treatment could help you

Orthodontic treatment is the process of straightening out crooked and crowded teeth, often using appliances such as braces.

Most dentists are trained to treat some minor orthodontic problems but, if they feel a patient needs specialist treatment, they will provide a referral to an orthodontist.

An orthodontist is a dentist who specializes in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of dental and facial irregularities.

One of the main aims of orthodontics is to straighten teeth and correct jaw alignment through braces, corrective procedures and other “appliances”.

Braces are the most common appliance and there are two types:

– Fixed, which are worn all the time and can only be removed by the dentist
– Removable, which the patient can take out of the mouth

Most patients wear braces for between one and three years, depending on what conditions need correcting. This is followed by a period of wearing a “retainer” that holds teeth in their new positions.

There may be a little discomfort during treatment but modern braces are more comfortable than ever before. They apply a constant, gentle force to move teeth and usually require fewer adjustments than older apparatus.

While braces work best when children are still growing, they can be effective at any age.

What will it be like living with dentures?

People who are new to wearing dentures naturally have many questions about how their life will change.

New dentures may feel awkward for a few weeks until you become accustomed to them. The dentures may feel loose while the muscles of your cheek and tongue learn to keep them in place.

During this time, it’s not unusual to experience minor irritation or soreness. You may find that saliva flow temporarily increases.

As your mouth becomes accustomed to the dentures, these problems should diminish.

Dentures can be made to closely resemble your natural teeth so that little change in appearance will be noticeable. Dentures may even improve the look of your smile and help fill out the appearance of your face and profile.

Eating will take a little practice. Start with soft foods cut into small pieces. Chew slowly using both sides of your mouth at the same time to prevent the dentures from tipping. As you become accustomed to chewing, add other foods until you return to your normal diet.

Continue to chew food using both sides of the mouth at the same time. Be cautious with hot or hard foods and sharp-edged bones or shells.

Initially you may also find that wearing dentures changes how you speak. Pronouncing certain words may require practice. Reading out loud and repeating troublesome words will help. If your dentures “click” while you’re talking, speak more slowly.

You may find that your dentures occasionally slip when you laugh, cough or smile.

After your dentures are fitted, you’ll have a few follow-up appointments with your dentist to take care of any initial issues and to answer any questions you have.

Dental plaque – what it is and how to avoid it

You’ve probably heard people talking about plaque and maybe you’ve some idea of what it is.

But it’s useful to know a bit more about it so that you can do what’s necessary to minimize the risks.

Plaque is a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth and gums.

When you’ve eaten a meal or snack, the bacteria in plaque release acids that attack tooth enamel. When this happens regularly, the enamel can weaken. This eventually leads to tooth decay.

The food we eat often causes plaque bacteria to produce acids. So, if you eat a lot of snacks, your teeth may be suffering acid attacks all day.

If you don’t remove the plaque through effective daily brushing and cleaning between the teeth, it can eventually harden into calculus or tartar.

Another effect of plaque is that it also produces substances that irritate the gums, making them red and tender or causing them to bleed easily.

If you want to prevent tooth decay and gum disease, make sure you have a balanced diet and avoid having too many snacks between meals.

When you feel like a snack, go for foods such as raw vegetables, plain yogurt, cheese or a piece of fruit.

Building a strong relationship with your dentist

You’ll give yourself the best chance of good oral health if you build a strong relationship with your dentist.

That can sometimes mean asking the right questions and helping them to assist you in the best way possible.

So you want to make sure you have a dentist who will first of all explain techniques that you should use to help prevent dental health problems. They should be willing to show you step-by-step what you need to do.

You should also choose a dentist who is willing to take time to answer your questions, especially when they are recommending a course of treatment.

If you don’t understand any part of what your dentist recommends, don’t be afraid to ask for more information.

You may want to ask if there are other options to the solution they recommend. For example:

– How do the options differ in cost?
– Which solution will last the longest?
– Do all the options solve the problem?

Ask the dentist which treatments are absolutely necessary, which are elective and Which are cosmetic.

Ask which procedures are urgently needed, and which ones are less urgent. Your dentist will help you prioritize between problems which need immediate attention and those that are less urgent.

Often, treatment can be planned over a period of time but make sure you understand any consequences of delaying treatment.

It’s naturally also important to make sure that you are given full information about fees and payment plans before treatment is scheduled.