Posts for: July, 2018
Even after decades emphasizing oral hygiene and supplemental fluoride to fight dental disease, we’re now seeing an increase in tooth decay, especially among children. What’s causing this alarming trend?
Many in both the dental and medical professions link this and other health problems to a rise in the amount and consumption of sugar added to food products. A number of years ago our annual average consumption of added sugar was about 4 pounds per person; today, it’s closer to 90 pounds.
The increase in sugar consumption can be traced to the 1970s when the food industry began adding more sugar to make processed foods stripped of oils and fats taste better. Today, 77% of the approximately 600,000 food items sold in the United States contain some form of sugar (under a variety of names).
This additional sugar, however, has produced an unintended consequence: sugar triggers the release of a brain chemical called dopamine that regulates our sense of reward when we engage in a desirable behavior. The excess dopamine creates a weak addiction to sugar, which then leads to overconsumption, contributing to our current obesity epidemic and the rise in health problems like heart disease or Type 2 diabetes. This is especially alarming among children: thirty years ago Type 2 diabetes was unheard of among children — today there are over 55,000 diagnosed pediatric cases.
For both you and your family’s general and dental health, you should consider ways to reduce your sugar intake: purchase and eat most of your food from the “outer edges” of your supermarket — meats, dairy, and fresh vegetables and fruits (which do contain the sugar fructose, but are mostly fiber that slows the liver’s processing of the sugar); limit processed foods with added sugar, and learn to recognize its inclusion in products by reading ingredients labels. You should also be wary of sweetened beverages such as sodas, sports drinks, teas or juices, and try to drink more water.
The recommended daily sugar consumption is less than six teaspoons a day (about two-thirds the amount in one can of soda). By restricting this consumption, you’ll improve your general health and reduce your risk for dental disease.
Anyone at any age, including older children and teenagers, can lose or be born missing a permanent tooth. And while those missing teeth can be restored, replacing them in patients who haven’t yet reached adulthood can be tricky.
That’s because their dental and facial development isn’t finished. This is especially problematic for dental implants because as the jaws continue to grow, a “non-growing” implant could eventually appear out of alignment with the surrounding natural teeth. That’s why it’s often better to install a temporary restoration until the jaws fully mature in early adulthood. Two great choices are a removable partial denture (RPD) or a bonded (“Maryland”) bridge.
While “dentures” and “teens” don’t seem to go together, an RPD in fact can effectively restore a teen’s lost dental function and appearance. Of the various types of RPDs the one usually recommended for teens has a hard acrylic base colored to resemble the gums, to which we attach prosthetic (“false”) teeth at their appropriate positions on the jaw.
Besides effectiveness, RPDs are easy to clean and maintain. On the downside, though, an RPD can break and—as a removable appliance—become lost. They can also lose their fit due to changes in jaw structure.
The bonded bridge is similar to a traditional fixed bridge. But there’s one big difference: traditional bridges crown the natural teeth on either side of the missing teeth to secure them in place. The supporting teeth must be significantly (and permanently) altered to accommodate the life-like crowns on either end of the bridge.
Instead, a bonded bridge affixes “wings” of dental material extending from the back of the bridge to the back of the natural teeth on either side. While not quite as strong as a regular bridge, the bonded bridge avoids altering any natural teeth.
While a fixed bridge conveniently stays in place, they’re more difficult than an RPD to keep clean. And while less prone to breakage, they aren’t entirely immune to certain stresses from biting and chewing especially in the presence of some poor bites (how the upper and lower teeth come together).
Choosing between the two restorations will depend on these and other factors. But either choice can serve your teen well until they’re able to permanently replace their missing teeth.
Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.
“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into cavities. How did this happen?
Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.
While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods. Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.
This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”
Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:
- Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
- Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
- Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.
Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.
“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”
If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”