While pediatric dentistry has made great strides in making young patients’ dental visit experiences more relaxing, some children and teenagers still have difficulty with anxiety. Their anxiety in turn can make necessary care much harder to provide.
For difficult cases, many dental providers for children now incorporate a technique known as conscious sedation to help ease anxiety. With this technique, they’re able to perform procedures like cavity-filling or tooth-extraction that are more difficult with an anxiety-prone patient.
While general anesthesia creates a total loss of consciousness, conscious sedation uses precise medications to suppress consciousness at different levels ranging from light to deep suppression, and create a relaxed state for the patient. A child under sedation can still breathe normally and respond to certain stimuli, including touch and verbal commands. For only a light or minimal effect, a dentist normally administers the sedation drug as a pill the child takes orally. For deeper sedation, the medication is most likely delivered through a vein (intravenously).
Sedation reduces fear and anxiety but not necessarily pain, so it’s often accompanied by some type of anesthesia, either a local anesthetic delivered by injection to the procedure site or with a nitrous oxide/oxygen gas combination that’s inhaled through a mask worn by the patient.
Even though the child isn’t completely unconscious, one of the dentist’s staff will monitor vital signs (heart and respiration rates, blood pressure and blood oxygen level) throughout the procedure. This continues even after the treatment is over until the child’s vital signs return to pre-sedation levels. Once released, they will need a ride home and should rest for the remainder of the day. They can then return to school and resume other normal activities the next day.
With the advent of newer and safer drugs, conscious sedation is becoming a more widespread technique in both medicine and dentistry. Using it to ease a child’s anxiety increases the chances they’ll receive all the dental care they need without unpleasant memories of their visit that could follow them into later life.
If you would like more information on the role of conscious sedation 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 “Sedation Dentistry for Kids.”
Your child's dental health is just as important as any other aspect of their physical development. That's why we recommend beginning regular dental visits around their first birthday.
Besides getting them used to and comfortable with visiting the dentist, there are other solid reasons for starting this habit by age one. Here are 4 benefits for regular early childhood dental visits.
Disease prevention. Children's teeth are just as susceptible to tooth decay as adults. Even primary (baby) teeth need protection so they can fulfill their role as guides for incoming permanent teeth. Besides monitoring and treatment for decay, we can also perform measures to protect teeth (especially in children at high risk) through topical fluoride applications or sealants.
Bite development. We can get early clues that a child's teeth are not erupting properly and are on the way to developing a poor bite (malocclusion). If so, we can initiate measures to lessen the impact of a developing malocclusion, like installing spacers to help guide an erupting permanent tooth. Early intervention can lessen the extent and cost of later orthodontic treatment.
Accident prevention. Disease isn't the only danger your child's teeth and mouth face. Even young toddlers can suffer mouth injuries falling onto furniture while playing or learning to walk. And the risk doesn't diminish as they get older, especially if they're active in sports. We can advise you on accident prevention tips and help fashion a custom mouth guard for that budding athlete in your family.
Caregiver assistance. The most important aspect of children's dental care is what happens every day at home. We can serve as your dental “coaches” to help you get on the right track with daily brushing and flossing, as well as give you helpful tips on good dietary habits that promote nutrition and deter dental disease. We'll also help you work through other childhood issues like teething, thumb sucking or teeth grinding.
Think of us as your partners when it comes to your child's dental care. We'll do our part, and help you do your part too.
Like many other families, you may use formula instead of breast milk as a safe and healthy alternative to feed your infant. But, if you use a powdered form that you mix with water your child may be taking in more fluoride than they require.
Fluoride is a natural chemical that can strengthen tooth enamel and help prevent decay. After decades of study it's also been shown to pose no serious health risks. Because of fluoride's benefits and safety, many water utilities add tiny amounts to their drinking water supply.
But it can have one side effect called enamel fluorosis. If a child ingests too much fluoride during early development it can cause discoloring mottled spots or streaking in permanent teeth. Although it doesn't affect their health, the teeth can be unattractive and require cosmetic attention.
That's why it's best to keep fluoride consumption to a healthy minimum for children. That, however, is often easier said than done, since we can encounter hidden fluoride in a variety of places. Besides hygiene products and fluoridated drinking water, you may find fluoride in prepared juices and other beverages, bottled water or in foods processed with fluoridated water. There are no labeling requirements for fluoride, so you'll have to research to find out if a product contains fluoride.
There are, however, some things you can do to control your child's fluoride intake. First, know as much as you can about known sources your child may encounter like your water supply. You can find out if your utility adds fluoride and by how much by contacting them or visiting My Water's Fluoride online at https://nccd.cdc.gov/DOH_MWF/.
If you use fluoride toothpaste apply only a “smear” on the end of the brush for children under two and a pea-sized amount for older children. If you have fluoridated drinking water, consider breastfeeding your infant, use ready-to-feed formula or mix powdered formula with bottled water labeled “de-ionized,” “purified,” “demineralized” or “distilled.”
And, do feel free to discuss your concerns with us during your child's regular checkup. We'll help you adjust their diet, water intake and hygiene habits to be sure they're receiving the right amount they need for developing strong teeth — and no more.
If you would like more information on appropriate fluoride levels 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 “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
Taking care of your child’s teeth is a high priority, not only for their health now but for the future too. And that means dealing with their teeth’s most common and formidable enemy, tooth decay.
Your focus, of course, should be on preventing decay through good oral hygiene practices, a healthy diet low in foods with added sugar and regular office visits for cleaning and checkups. But some children at higher risk or who’ve already encountered tooth decay may also need a little extra help in the form of dental sealants.
The most common use of sealants addresses a weakness in young teeth that disease-causing bacteria exploit. Deep grooves known as pits and fissures form within the biting surfaces of developing back teeth and in the rear of front teeth.Â It’s very difficult to reach these areas with daily brushing, so some plaque may be left behind (hence the importance of semi-annual office cleanings).
Inside the mouth, these pits and fissures are in a warm and moist environment and are a haven for bacteria that feed on plaque and produce high levels of acid as a by-product. The acid softens enamel to eventually create a hole, or a “cavity” in the tooth. Children’s young enamel is highly susceptible to this process — it hasn’t developed enough strength to resist the adverse effects of acid.
A “pit and fissure” sealant made of resin fills in the grooves in the teeth to inhibit the buildup of plaque — a kind of “mini” filling. It’s an added layer of protection that complements other prevention efforts. But applying them isn’t an automatic practice — we only recommend it for children at high risk, especially where decay is beginning or it appears the conditions are conducive for it. When needed, though, it can be quite effective in preventing decay or minimizing its effects.
The best way to know if your child could benefit from a sealant is to have them undergo a complete dental exam. From there we can advise you on whether a sealant application is an important investment in their current and future health.
If you would like more information on dental disease prevention 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 “Sealants for Children.”
Since the discovery a century ago of its beneficial effect on tooth enamel, fluoride has become an important part of tooth decay prevention. It's routinely added to toothpaste and other hygiene products, and many water utilities add minute amounts of it to their drinking water supplies. Although there have been questions about its safety, multiple studies over the last few decades have eased those concerns.
Children especially benefit from fluoride during their teeth's developing years. Some children are at high risk for decay, especially an aggressive form known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC). ECC can destroy primary (baby) teeth and cause children to lose them prematurely. This can have an adverse effect on incoming permanent teeth, causing them to erupt in the wrong positions creating a bad bite (malocclusion).
For children at high risk for decay, dentists often recommend applying topical fluoride directly to the teeth as added protection against disease. These concentrations of fluoride are much higher than in toothpaste and remain on the teeth for much longer. Topical applications have been shown not only to reduce the risk of new cavities, but to also stop and reverse early decay.
Children usually receive these applications during an office visit after their regular dental cleaning. There are three different ways to apply it: gel, foam or varnish. To prevent swallowing some of the solution (which could induce vomiting, headache or stomach pain) the dentist will often insert a tray similar to a mouth guard to catch any excess solution. Varnishes and a few gels are actually painted on the teeth.
The American Dental Association has intensely studied the use of topical fluoride and found its application can result in substantial decreases in cavities and lost teeth. They've concluded this benefit far outweighs the side effects from ingesting the solution in children six years and older. With proper precautions and waiting to eat for thirty minutes after an application, the possibility of ingestion can be reduced even further.
While topical fluoride can be effective, it's only one part of a good dental care strategy for your child. Consistent daily brushing and flossing, a nutritious diet low in added sugar, and regular dental visits still remain the backbone of preventive care.
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