Although teething is a natural part of your baby's dental development, it can be quite uncomfortable for them—and upsetting to you. During teething, children can experience symptoms like pain, drooling or irritability.
Teething is the two or three-year process of intermittent episodes of the primary ("baby") teeth moving through the gums. These episodes are like storms that build up and then subside after a few days. Your aim as a parent is to help your baby get through the "stormiest" times with as little discomfort as possible. To that end you may have considered using over-the-counter products that temporarily numb irritated gums.
Some of those numbing products, however, contain a pain reliever called benzocaine. In recent years, this and similar ingredients have been found to increase the level of a protein called methemoglobin in the bloodstream. Too much methemoglobin can result in less oxygen delivered to body tissues, a condition known as methemoglobinemia.
This oxygen decrease can cause shortness of breath, fatigue or dizziness. In its severest form it could lead to seizures, coma or even death. Children and infants are at high risk for benzocaine-induced methemoglobinemia, which is why the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned marketing for benzocaine products as pain relievers for teething infants and children.
Fortunately, there are alternatives for helping your child weather teething episodes. A clean, chilled (not frozen) teething ring or pacifier, or a cold, wet washcloth can help numb gum pain. You can also massage their gums with a clean finger to help counteract the pressure exerted by an emerging tooth. Be sure, though, that you're not allowing anything in your child's mouth like lead-based paint that could be toxic. And under no circumstances should you use substances containing alcohol.
For severe pain, consult your physician about using a pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen, and the proper dosage for your child. With these tips you can help your child safely pass through a teething episode.
A baby’s teeth begin coming in just a few months after birth—first one or two in the front, and then gradually the rest of them over the next couple of years. We often refer to these primary teeth as deciduous—just like trees of the same description that shed their leaves, a child’s primary teeth will all be gone by around puberty.
It’s easy to think of them as “minor league,” while permanent teeth are the real superstars. But although they don’t last long, primary teeth play a big role in a person’s dental health well into their adult years.
Primary teeth serve two needs for a child: enabling them to eat, speak and smile in the present; but more importantly, helping to guide the developing permanent teeth to erupt properly in the future. Without them, permanent teeth can come in misaligned, affecting dental function and appearance and increasing future treatment costs.
That’s why we consider protecting primary teeth from decay a necessity for the sake of future dental health. Decay poses a real threat for children, especially an aggressive form known as early childhood caries (ECC). ECC can quickly decimate primary teeth because of their thinner enamel.
There are ways you can help reduce the chances of ECC in your child’s teeth. Don’t allow them to drink throughout the day or to go to sleep at night with a bottle or “Sippy” cup filled with milk, formula, or even juice. These liquids can contain sugars and acids that erode enamel and accelerate decay. You should also avoid sharing eating utensils with a baby or even kissing them on the mouth to avoid the transfer of disease-causing bacteria.
And even before teeth appear, start cleaning their gums with a clean, wet cloth right after feeding. After teeth appear, begin brushing and flossing to reduce plaque, the main trigger for tooth decay. And you should also begin regular dental visits no later than their first birthday. Besides teeth cleanings and checkups for decay, your dentist has a number of measures like sealants or topical fluoride to protect at-risk teeth from disease.
Helping primary teeth survive to their full lifespan is an important goal in pediatric dentistry. It’s the best strategy for having healthy permanent teeth and a bright dental health future.
If you would like more information on tooth decay in 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?”
Although primary (“baby”) teeth have a lifespan of only a few years, they’re still important to a child’s current and future dental health. In the present, they help a child eat, speak and smile properly. They also help create a healthy future as placeholders for developing permanent teeth yet to come in.
If, however, a child loses a primary tooth prematurely due to decay, the corresponding permanent tooth could come in misaligned. That’s why we do what we can to help a decayed primary tooth reach its full lifespan. And there are different ways to do this depending on the type of tooth.
With front teeth, which don’t encounter the same chewing forces as those in the back, we may use a tooth-colored filling. This approach is also preferable for appearance’s sake since front teeth are highly visible when a child speaks or smiles.
Primary molars, on the other hand, need a more robust solution. A filling may not be able to withstand the level of long-term chewing forces that these back teeth normally encounter. And because they’re less visible than front teeth, there’s less concern about aesthetics.
That’s why many pediatric dentists prefer stainless steel crowns for molars. Just like their permanent teeth counterparts, a primary crown fits over and completely covers a tooth. They’re typically pre-formed, coming in different shapes and sizes that can then be customized for the tooth in question. After preparing and removing any decayed material from the tooth, we can usually install the crown in one visit with local anesthesia and a sedative (if the child needs it for anxiety).
While a steel crown isn’t the most attractive restoration, it typically handles the higher chewing forces in the back of the mouth better and longer than a filling. That’s especially critical for primary molars, which are some of the last teeth to fall out (as late as ages 10-12). And besides preserving it as a permanent tooth placeholder, a crown also helps the tooth function effectively in the present.
Regardless of what method we use, though, preserving primary teeth is a primary goal of pediatric dentistry. And with a stainless steel crown, we can keep those important back molars functioning for as long as they’re intended.
If you would like more information on caring for primary teeth, 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 “Stainless Steel Crowns for Kids.”
It’s often best health-wise to preserve even the most troubled tooth—including a child’s primary (“baby”) tooth. If that sounds like too much effort for a tooth that lasts only a few years, there’s a big reason why—if it’s lost prematurely, the incoming permanent tooth above it could erupt out of position.
Preserving a decayed primary tooth could include procedures similar to a root canal treatment, commonly used in adult permanent teeth with inner decay. However, we may need to modify this approach to protect the primary tooth’s pulp. This innermost layer plays a critical role in early dental development.
Because an adult tooth has reached maturity, removing diseased pulp tissue has little effect on its permanent health. But the pulp contributes to dentin growth (the layer between it and the outer enamel) in primary and young permanent teeth, so removing it could ultimately compromise the tooth’s long-term health.
Our goal then with a child’s tooth is to remove as much diseased tissue as possible while involving the pulp as little as possible. What techniques we use will depend on how much of the pulp has become infected.
For example, if decay has advanced to but hasn’t yet penetrated the pulp, we may remove all but a small amount of the decayed structure just next to the pulp to avoid its exposure. We may then apply an antibacterial agent to this remaining portion and seal the tooth to curb further infection.
If on the other hand the pulp has become infected, we may try to remove only the infected portion and leave the remaining pulp intact. We’ll only be able to do this, however, if we deem the remaining pulp healthy enough to remain infection-free after the procedure. If not, we may need to remove the entire pulp as with a traditional root canal. This option, though, is a last resort due to the possible effect on dentin growth and the tooth’s long-term health.
As you can see attempts to preserve a primary tooth can be quite involved. But if we can help it reach its full life span, it could mean better dental health for a lifetime.
If you would like more information on caring for primary teeth, 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 “Root Canal Treatment for Children’s Teeth.”
Your child’s dental care wouldn’t be the same without x-ray imaging. It’s one of our best tools for finding and treating tooth decay.
But since x-rays emit radiation, is your child in any danger when they’re exposed?
X-rays, an invisible form of electromagnetic energy, will form images on exposed film after passing through the body. Because it takes longer for x-rays to pass through dense tissue like teeth and bones, the corresponding areas appear lighter on the film than less dense tissue like the gums. We can detect decay because the diseased tooth structure is less dense and thus appears darker against healthier tooth structure.
The downside of x-rays, though, is the radiation they emit could potentially alter cell structure and increase the risk of future cancer, especially with children. That’s why we follow a principle known as ALARA when using x-ray imaging. ALARA is an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable,” meaning the doses for an x-ray session will be as low as possible while still gaining the most benefit.
Advances in technology, particularly the development of digital processing, has helped reduce the amount of radiation exposure. We’re also careful with what types of x-rays we use. The most common type is the bitewing, a device with the film attached to a long piece of plastic that the child holds in their mouth while biting down.
Depending on the number of our patient’s teeth, we can usually get a comprehensive view with two to four bitewings. A typical bitewing session exposes them to less radiation than what they’re receiving from natural environmental background sources each day.
Keeping the exposure as low and as less frequent as possible greatly reduces health risks while still getting the full benefit of early decay detection. Still, if you have concerns about your child’s x-ray exposure, we’ll be happy to discuss our approach and all the precautions we take using x-ray imaging.
If you would like more information on x-ray diagnostics and your child, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”