What Services Does a Pediatric Dentist Perform?
The short answer is that a pediatric dentist does their best to ensure your child’s teeth remain healthy and strong into adulthood. Without question the sooner you start working with a pediatric dentist to protect your child’s teeth, the less likely they will be to develop painful and costly dental problems later in life.
To earn the title of Pediatric Dentist, an individual must complete two years of specialized training in addition to their regular dental studies. This specialized training helps Pediatric Dentists recognize potential problems early and initiate a course of proactive treatment before your child reaches puberty. This includes the administration of preventative and prophylactic treatments, as well as the education and guidance that reinforces healthy dental habits.
Dental Radiographs (X-Rays)
Dental x-rays are essential to your child’s dental health. Pediatric Dentists rely on x-rays to help survey your child’s mouth and detect the presence of carries (cavities) that may not be visible to the eye. They are also highly effective when used to survey erupting teeth and diagnose bone diseases as you plan for and prepare for orthodontic treatment.
For these reasons, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests taking dental x-rays every six months for children with a high risk for tooth decay. and once every year if they are not. Furthermore, it’s recommended that you ask your pediatric dentist to take panoramic and bitewing, or periapicals and bitewings once every three years.
It’s understandable to be concerned over this frequency. Even so, the exposure to radiation is minimal as the doses administered via dental x-rays are small and represents a mere fraction of the cumulative radiation children are exposed to annually. To protect patients, protective measures to minimize exposure are deployed during every dental x-ray procedure, including the use of protective aprons and shields that leave only the immediate area surrounding the teeth exposed.
Administering Pulp Therapy
The pulp is the core of the tooth where the nerves, blood vessels, connective tissues, and reparative cells are located. It is important that it remain in good health. Pulp therapy is administered if your child develops a cavity or suffers injury to the tooth.
Pulp therapy may require either a pulpotomy, or a pulpectomy. In a pulpotomy, the diseased tissue is removed and an agent applied to stem bacterial growth and calm the tissue. This is followed by restorative treatment that may include a filling or the placement of a crown. A pulpectomy is more commonly known as a root canal. In this, the pulp is removed entirely and the canals of the tooth are cleansed, disinfected, and filled with reabsorbable material before being covered with a crown.
Baby Bottle Tooth Decay
A common form of decay children experience comes from their suckling of baby bottles. Referred to as “Baby Bottle Tooth Decay,” it results from frequent and prolonged suckling of the bottle which exposes the infant’s teeth to sugary liquids such as breast milk, baby formula, fruit juices, and sweetened drinks such as lemonade.
Baby bottle tooth decay is preventable as long as you gently brush your child’s teeth before putting them down for naps or at bedtime. If you don’t brush their teeth, then the liquid is allowed to settle and pool around the teeth and gums. This gives plaque bacteria a food source they thrive upon. As they thrive, they eagerly attack tooth enamel which leads to cavities.
Another way to reduce the possibility of baby bottle tooth decay is to gradually dilute the solution in the pre-nap time/bed time bottle with water for a period of 2-3 weeks. This will reduce the amount of sugar rich liquid bacteria can feed upon while your child snoozes.
When Will My Infant’s Teeth Come in?
Most infants will begin teething at between 6 to 8 months of age. It’s impossible to definitely say when your child will begin teething, and family history is not always a good predictor as every child’s biological timetable is highly variable. However, the following is a timetable of the ranges when you can expect your children’s teeth to erupt. If your children’s teeth do not erupt within these windows, don’t panic but do contact your pediatric dentist to seek their advice:
Upper Teeth (time in months)
- Central Incisors (8-12)
- Lateral Incisors (9-13)
- Canines (16-22)
- First Molar (13-19)
- Second Molar (25-33)
- Second Molar (23-31)
- First Molar (14-18)
- Canines (17-23)
- Lateral Incisor (10-16)
- Central Incisor (6-10)
Responding to Dental Emergencies
In a child’s parlance, boo boos are absolutely no fun, and dental emergencies take the cake because of the large number of nerve endings within the oral cavity. For this reason, it’s important to respond to each emergency appropriately so as to minimize your child’s discomfort and to prevent the potential for infection.
Toothaches require you to thoroughly clean the area around the tooth. You should administer warm salt water to do this. Make sure to remove any food debris using a combination of dental floss and a tooth brush. While you may give your children aspirin to swallow, you should never place it directly on the gum or the aching tooth. Most toothaches can wait until the dentist’s office is open. However, if swelling and redness are present, apply a cold compress and contact your pediatric dentist immediately as this can be a sign of infection.
Other common emergencies include cut lips, bit tongues, and bleeding cheeks. Children’s mouths are growing and these occur frequently as their oral cavity develops. Coupled with “rough housing” and normal play, and you’ll see these injuries quite frequently. Most can be treated by applying ice to the affected area to reduce swelling and impede blood flow. However, if after 15 minutes the bleeding has not stopped from these injuries, then you should take your child to the emergency room of the nearest hospital and notify your pediatric dentist of the situation.
Lost teeth are another common problem as teeth can be knocked out during sporting activities, childhood fights, slips and falls from bicycles, etc. If your child losses a tooth, you should locate the tooth and handle it by the crown. Be careful not to touch the root of the tooth. You should contact your pediatric dentist immediately and gently rinse and clean the tooth using only warm water. As you are rinsing the tooth, visually inspect the surface and make note of any damage. If possible, reinsert the tooth into the socket and have your child bite gauze to hold it in place. If reinsertion is not possible for any reason, place the tooth in milk, or a cup containing the child’s saliva and head to your pediatric dentist’s office immediately. In many cases, teeth that have been knocked out can be successfully reinserted if they are attended to promptly.
Selecting the Right Toothpaste
Avoid toothpastes that contain harsh abrasives as these can easily damage tooth enamel. Always look for the American Dental Association symbol to ensure the toothpaste’s safety and consult with your pediatric dentist to determine which toothpaste they recommend for their patients.
Further, teach your children how to brush their teeth and practice with them, being sure that they spit and rinse thoroughly after brushing. This helps ensure effective removal of food debris and reduces exposure to excessive fluoride levels.
Safe Use of Fluoride
When administered to the proper degree, fluoride has positive benefits for tooth health. However, too much fluoride can lead to a condition known as dental fluorisis which turns teeth patchy white or brown. Too little fluoride, and the teeth won’t resist carries.
Balance is key when administering fluoride and you want to avoid the overuse of fluoride rich toothpastes and supplements including vitamins and drops. You’ll also want to watch out for fluoride hidden in consummables such as infant formula, cereals, teas, vegetables such as spinach, and fruit juices.
Using Mouth Guards to Control Grinding & Protect Teeth
Nocturnal grinding, or Bruxism, is a common behavior among children. It often goes away on its own without the need for treatment. However, you should discuss it with your pediatrician or pediatric dentist. They can help you determine the appropriate course of action which may include a wait and see approach, or fitting a mouth guard to protect the teeth. In most cases, grinding will occur less and less frequently as your child matures.
Additionally, your child will become more active as they mature and they may pick up an interest in sports. This is normal and you should encourage them to be active and to channel their energy in these directions. As they do, be certain they use a mouth guard to protect their teeth. This helps protect their beautiful smile for the camera as they run towards the goal line or swing the bat in search of a homerun.
Common Causes of Dental Damage Among Children
As your child matures, piercings and tobacco use are something you will want to discuss with them. Pierced tongues, cheeks, and lips may look cool, but they can easily cause chips and cracks in teeth. More seriously, they can also lead to blood clots and/or blood poisoning. For these reasons and many others, the American Dental Association recommends avoiding dental jewelry altogether. It’s a fad that can have serious consequences.
In regard to tobacco use, it can cause incurable damage to your adolescents mouth. Smokeless tobacco, commonly known as “chew,” damages the gums and is highly addictive. It’s also a leading cause of oral cancer and periodontal disease. Thus, you should explain this thoroughly as you discuss tobacco use with your child in order to dissuade their desire to experiment with chew, smoking, and other tobacco products including e-cigarettes whose impact on oral health is unclear and still being studied.