Infancy is perhaps the only time in a person's life where a smile with just a few tiny teeth is still endearing. More will come—and then each will gradually depart, succeeded by permanent replacements.
That short lifespan, though, doesn't diminish their importance. Primary teeth not only provide children the ability to eat solid food and develop speech, but they set the stage for future dental health.
The latter arises from primary teeth's role as placeholders for incoming permanent teeth. Because permanent teeth eruption occurs in stages, primary teeth prevent earlier erupted teeth from drifting into the space intended for a later tooth. If they're lost prematurely and other teeth crowd into the space, the intended tooth may not have enough room to erupt properly, cascading from there into a poor bite (malocclusion).
The most common reason for premature loss is an aggressive form of tooth decay in children under 6 called early childhood caries (ECC). About one in four U.S. children encounter ECC, with those in poverty at higher risk. Infection in one tooth can spread to others, including newly erupted permanent teeth.
The goal then is to prevent ECC as much as possible, and initiate prompt treatment should it still occur. A good prevention strategy has two prongs: the actions and habits of parents or caregivers; and the prevention and treatment measures taken by dental providers.
At home, it's important that you wipe your newborn's gums with a clean, damp cloth after each feeding to reduce bacterial growth. As teeth erupt, switch then to gentle brushing with a rice grain-sized amount of baby toothpaste. You should also limit their sugar consumption, including not allowing them to sleep with a bedtime bottle of any liquid other than water.
It's also important that you start your child's regular dental visits around their first birthday. This allows us to detect any developing cavities, as well as apply sealants and topical fluoride to help prevent decay. And should a cavity develop, regular visits help ensure prompt treatment to preserve the tooth.
Your child's set of primary teeth only last a few short years, but their contribution echoes for a lifetime. Taking these measures to protect them from tooth decay ensures they'll fully make that contribution.
If you would like more information on dental care for 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 “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?”
Professional Hockey player Keith Yandle is the current NHL “iron man”—that is, he has earned the distinction of playing in the most consecutive games. On November 23, Yandle was in the first period of his 820th consecutive game when a flying puck knocked out or broke nine of his front teeth. He returned third period to play the rest of the game, reinforcing hockey players’ reputation for toughness. Since talking was uncomfortable, he texted sportswriter George Richards the following day: “Skating around with exposed roots in your mouth is not the best.”
We agree with Yandle wholeheartedly. What we don’t agree with is waiting even one day to seek treatment after serious dental trauma. It was only on the following day that Yandle went to the dentist. And after not missing a game in over 10 years, Yandle wasn’t going to let a hiccup like losing, breaking or cracking nearly a third of his teeth interfere with his iron man streak. He was back on the ice later that day to play his 821st game.
As dentists, we don’t award points for toughing it out. If anything, we give points for saving teeth—and that means getting to the dentist as soon as possible after suffering dental trauma and following these tips:
Although keeping natural teeth for life is our goal, sometimes the unexpected happens. If a tooth cannot be saved after injury or if a damaged tooth must be extracted, there are excellent tooth replacement options available. With today’s advanced dental implant technology, it is possible to have replacement teeth that are indistinguishable from your natural teeth—in terms of both look and function.
And always wear a mouthguard when playing contact sports! A custom mouthguard absorbs some of the forces of impact to help protect you against severe dental injury.
If you would like more information about how to protect against or treat dental trauma or about replacing teeth with dental implants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Dental Implants: A Tooth-Replacement Method That Rarely Fails” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
One of the major signs that a young person's dental development is nearing completion is the eruption of the last four permanent teeth: the third molars, located rear-most on either side of both the upper and lower jaws. But the advent of these molars, also called wisdom teeth, isn't always a cause for celebration: They can give rise to serious dental problems.
Wisdom teeth often arrive on an already crowded jaw, making them subject to erupting out of position or becoming impacted, totally or partially submerged in the gums. This can cause harm not only to themselves, but also to other teeth: They can impinge on and damage the roots of their neighbors; impede brushing and flossing and increase the risk of disease; and skew the alignment of other teeth to create poor bites that affect dental health and function.
Wisdom teeth are considered so prone to these problems (an estimated 70% between ages 20 and 30 have at least one impacted molar) that it's been a common practice to remove them before they show signs of disease or poor bite development. As a result, third molar extractions are the most common surgical procedure performed by oral surgeons.
But the dental profession is now reevaluating this practice of early removal. On the whole, it's difficult to predict if the eruption of wisdom teeth in a particular person will actually lead to problems. It may be premature, then, to remove wisdom teeth before there's sufficient evidence of its necessity.
As a result, many dentists now follow a more nuanced approach to wisdom teeth management. An impacted wisdom tooth that's diseased or contributing to disease is an obvious candidate for removal. But if the eruption is proceeding without signs of impaction, disease or poor bite development, many providers recommend not removing them early. Instead, their development is allowed to continue, although monitored closely.
If signs of problems do begin to emerge, then removal may again be an option. Until then, a more long-term watchful approach toward wisdom teeth may be the best strategy for helping a young person achieve optimal dental health.
If you would like more information on managing wisdom teeth treatment, 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 “Wisdom Teeth: Coming of Age May Come With a Dilemma.”