As if the preteen years didn’t give kids and their parents enough to think about, new oral health concerns loom on the horizon. Along with major changes to the body, brain and emotions, additional risk factors for tooth decay and gum disease appear during adolescence — the period of development starting around age 10 and extending through the teen years that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Even with declining rates of tooth decay across the nation, the cavity rate remains high during adolescence. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 in every 5 adolescents has untreated tooth decay. What’s more, the onset of puberty — usually beginning around age 10-11 in girls and 11-12 in boys — brings changes in hormone levels that can affect gum health.
We all have millions of microorganisms in our mouth, representing hundreds of different species of mostly helpful, but some harmful, bacteria. Research has shown that total oral bacteria increases between ages 11 and 14, and new types of bacteria are introduced, including some that are not friendly to teeth and gums. Some unfamiliar microbes trigger an exaggerated inflammatory response to dental plaque, so gum bleeding and sensitivity are experienced by many children in this age group. In fact, “puberty gingivitis,” which peaks around age 11-13, is the most common type of gum disease found during childhood.
A combination of hormones, lifestyle changes and poor oral hygiene habits raises the risk of oral health problems among adolescents. A more independent social life may be accompanied by a change in eating habits and easier access to snacks and beverages that are sugary, acidic (like sports drinks and soda) or full of refined carbohydrates — none of which are tooth-healthy choices. And as children move toward greater independence, parents are less likely to micromanage their children’s personal care, including their oral hygiene routines. Good oral hygiene can keep dental plaque at bay, lowering the chance of having gingivitis and cavities. But let’s face it: Adolescents have a lot to think about, and keeping up with their oral health may not be top of mind.
To help your preteen stay on top of their oral health, keep healthy snacks at home for your children and their friends and make sure you are well stocked with supplies such as new toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste. In addition, most preteens (and teens) can benefit from gentle reminders about oral hygiene routines.
For optimal oral health through all stages of life, make sure your preteen keeps up with professional teeth cleanings and exams, and talk with us about whether fluoride treatments or sealants may be appropriate for your child.
For more on your child’s oral health, read “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Dentistry & Oral Health For Children” in Dear Doctor magazine.
The various structures in your mouth — your teeth and gums, of course, as well as periodontal tissues that hold teeth in place within the jaw — all function together to create your smile. This includes muscles like the frenum, a fold of muscle tissue that connects the gums to the upper lip, which helps pull the lip upward when you smile.
Unfortunately, an overly large frenum could contribute to an unattractive space between your two upper front teeth. The problem occurs when the frenum grows beyond its normal range and runs between the front teeth to connect with the gums behind them at the forefront of the roof of your mouth. The resulting space that may develop can be closed with orthodontics, but unless the excess frenum tissue is addressed the space may eventually reopen.
The frenum is just one cause among many for a noticeably wide space, including bite problems (malocclusions), finger-sucking habits or missing teeth. We would, therefore, need to examine your mouth to determine the exact cause before beginning any treatment. If indeed the frenum is the source of the problem, it will be necessary to ultimately remove the excess portion through a procedure known as a frenectomy.
A frenectomy is a minor surgical procedure performed by a periodontist, oral surgeon or a general dentist with surgical training. After numbing the area with local anesthesia, the tissue behind the teeth is dissected or reduced in size with a small scalpel or a surgical laser. The wound is then closed with a few stitches; any post-surgical discomfort is usually minimal and managed with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain medication. The wound will completely heal within a few weeks.
Most frenectomies are performed after orthodontics to close the space. Removing it prior to tooth movement may result in scar tissue that prevents the space from closing. It’s also easier for the surgeon to gauge how much tissue to remove after space closure to avoid removing too much, which can leave a “black” triangular hole where gum tissue should normally be.
Treating an abnormally large frenum isn’t difficult, but it needs to be coordinated with orthodontic treatment for the best outcome. The end result is a smile that’s both healthy and attractive.
If you would like more information on teeth spacing problems, 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 “Space between Front Teeth.”
When we refer to periodontal (gum) disease, we’re actually talking about a family of progressive, infectious diseases that attack the gums and other tissues attached to the teeth. Caused primarily by bacterial plaque left on tooth surfaces from inefficient oral hygiene, gum disease can ultimately lead to tooth loss.
There’s only one way to stop the infection and restore health to diseased tissues — remove all of the offending plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) possible from tooth and gum surfaces, including below the gum line at the roots. The basic tools for this task are specialized hand instruments called scalers or ultrasonic equipment that vibrates plaque loose. A series of cleaning sessions using these tools could stop the infection and promote healing if followed with a consistent, efficient daily hygiene habit.
There are times, however, when the infection has progressed so deeply below the gum line or into the tissues that it requires other procedures to remove the plaque and infected tissue. One such situation is the formation of an abscess within the gum tissues, a pus-filled sac that has developed in response to infection. After administering local anesthesia, the abscess must be treated to remove the cause and allow the infectious fluid to drain. The area is then thoroughly flushed with saline or an antibacterial solution.
The gum tissues are not completely attached to the tooth surface for a small distance creating a space. These spaces are called periodontal pockets when they are inflamed and continue to deepen as the disease progresses. These inflamed and sometimes pus-filled pockets form when tissues damaged by the infection detach from the teeth. If the pockets are located near the gum line, it may be possible to clean out the infectious material using scaling techniques. If, however, they’re located four or more millimeters below the gum line a technique known as root planing may be needed, where plaque and calculus are shaved or “planed” from the root surface. As the disease progresses and the pockets deepen, it may also be necessary for surgical intervention to gain access to the tooth roots.
To stop gum disease and promote soft tissue healing, we should use any or all treatment tools at our disposal to reach even the most difficult places for removing plaque and calculus. The end result — a saved tooth — is well worth the effort.
If you would like more information on treating periodontal disease, 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 “Treating Difficult Areas of Periodontal Disease.”
Energy drink makers would have you believe their products are a healthy rehydration choice for athletes while also giving them keener focus and renewed vitality. But before adding them to your sports regimen, you should also consider what effect these beverages could have on your teeth.
Energy drinks are similar in ingredients to sports drinks like Gatorade® and PowerAde®, which mostly consist of water, salts, vitamins, sugars and acids. In addition, energy drinks like Red Bull® and Monster Energy® add caffeine to boost energy.
Besides their sugar content, the main threat from a dental health perspective for both of these drinks is their acidity, which can severely erode tooth enamel. The irreplaceable loss of enamel significantly increases your risk of tooth decay and eventually tooth loss.
The threat of enamel erosion is especially pronounced whenever the mouth’s pH level falls below 5.5. The acidity of both sports and energy drinks falls well below this mark. In one experimental study samples of enamel exposed to a number of sports drinks lost an average of 1.5% of mineral content over five days; energy drinks more than doubled that loss at 3.1%.
Given the potential harm these beverages, especially energy drinks, can cause your teeth, you should exercise caution when consuming them. In fact, our best advice is for you to avoid energy drinks altogether, for your overall health as well as your teeth’s sake.
Unless you’re participating in a physically intense sport, water is your best source for hydration after exertion. Â If you do drink sports beverages, try to limit them to meal times when your saliva is most active to neutralize mouth acid. You can also rinse out your mouth with water after drinking to help further reduce mouth acidity.
As an athlete, you’ve trained your body to be at its optimum physical peak. Don’t let energy or sports drinks take the edge off your health, especially your teeth.
If you would like more information on the effects of sports or energy drinks on dental health, 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 “Sports and Energy Beverages Bathe Teeth in Erosive Acids.”
October is national Dental Hygiene month—and it’s a great time to renew your commitment to good oral health. Everyone knows that to enjoy clean teeth and fresh breath, we need to brush and floss every day. But when it comes to the finer points of tooth brushing, there’s a lot of misunderstanding. So here are five tips to help you get the most bang from your brush.
A soft brush is much better for your mouth than a medium or hard one. That’s because stiffer bristles can actually damage soft gum tissue, and over-vigorous brushing can result in gum recession; this may lead to tooth sensitivity and an increased chance of decay. So always choose a soft-bristled tooth brush—and change your brush every three or four months, when its bristles begin to stiffen with use.
It Isn’t (Just) the Brush…
It’s the hand that holds it. Don’t brush too forcefully, or too long. If you consistently brush too hard, try using just three fingers to grip your brush so you apply less force. And if you have questions or need a refresher, just ask us to demonstrate proper brushing and flossing techniques next time you’re here.
Think Fluoride First
With many different flavors, whiteners and other ingredients in toothpastes, which one should you choose? It’s up to you, as long as your toothpaste contains one vital ingredient—fluoride. This natural mineral has been proven to strengthen tooth enamel and fight cavities. Look for the seal of the American Dental Association (ADA) on the toothpaste tube: this certifies that it’s been tested for safety and effectiveness.
2x2 = Terrific Teeth
According to the ADA, brushing gently for two full minutes, two times a day, is the best way to get rid of plaque and prevent cavities. That’s why it should be an essential part of your oral hygiene routine. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to use dental floss (or another method) to clean the spaces in between your teeth. If you don’t remove plaque from these areas, your cleaning isn’t complete.
Preserve Your Enamel
There are some times when you should avoid brushing—like after you’ve consumed soda, or been sick to your stomach. That’s because the acids in soda and stomach juices actually soften tooth enamel, and brushing can quickly wear it away. In these situations, rinse your mouth out with water and wait at least an hour before you brush.
Practicing good oral hygiene is the best thing you can do for your teeth at home. But don’t forget to come in to the office for regular checkups and professional cleanings! Because no matter how thorough you are, you can’t clean hardened deposits (calculus, or tartar) from your teeth at home: It takes special tools and the skilled hand of your hygienist or dentist to do that.
If you would like more information about tooth brushing and oral hygiene, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Sizing Up Toothbrushes” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
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