Some Common Dental Problems in Children

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Anyone who has brought their child to the dentist knows it’s not a pleasant experience, neither for the child nor for the parent.

Unfortunately, cavities in children are as common as the seasons. As a parent, knowing some of the common dental issues can help you identify potential problems and improve the oral health of your children. Let’s take a look at what these dental issues are.


Tooth Decay 

During these early years of discovery, children often tend to try foods and stick to habits that are certainly not good for their oral health. The gummy candies, sweets, ice cream, irregular brushing, and missing visits to the dentist all lead to oral health problems. 

Tooth Decay is one of the most common dental problems in children. Around 20% of children in the US between the ages of 5 and 11 suffer from tooth decay. And the untreated and persistent condition continues well into adulthood for 13% of adolescents. In Australia, the problem is much more severe. There, half of all 12-year-olds have decay in their permanent teeth. This dental problem accounts for more than hundreds and thousands of lost school days throughout the world.

Tooth decay is caused by poor oral hygiene. This includes irregular brushing as well as not seeing a dentist regularly and eating carbohydrate-rich diets which include soda, juices, and canned fruit. All these factors allow a certain type of bacteria to thrive in the mouth. As a result, a sticky build-up known as plaque builds up in the mouth. Over time, when exposed to food, plaque produces acid which erodes the outer layer of the tooth (known as enamel). Eventually, the inner layers of the teeth continue to get affected by the plaque, which gradually leads to tooth decay. 

On a positive note, tooth decay is a preventable condition. Proper brushing, a healthy diet, and regular visits to a dentist can help reduce the chances of a child developing this condition. It is important to brush properly twice a day with fluoride-rich toothpaste. Also, ensure that children as young as two years old floss their teeth regularly. Yes, easier said than done but worthwhile if you can get them to do it! You also need to make sure that your child avoids sugary foods, especially before bedtime, and visits a dentist at least once a year. 

Bad Breath 

Bad breath is another most common dental issue among adults as well as children. Often, bad breath is a result of the foods we consume. Foods with a strong smell such as garlic can lead to this. But if this is a persistent issue, it is an indication of other underlying issues. 

Bad breath, medically known as halitosis, is caused by bacteria that reside in the mouth. This bacteria lives in colonies and survives on leftover food particles and plaque. As they eat food, they produce hydrogen sulfide which results in bad breath. The problem is most common in children in the morning. Since the bacteria continue to thrive at night, it results in halitosis. Sometimes, bad breath can be a result of other oral conditions such as gum problems, poor hygiene, and problems of the digestive system. 

One of the best ways to prevent the problem of bad breath is regular and proper brushing. It is important to brush the tongue as well to remove the bacteria in the mouth. The use of antibacterial mouthwash can also help reduce this problem. If the problem persists throughout the day, you should get a dentist’s appointment for your child. 

Tooth Sensitivity 

Tooth anatomy isolated on white background

Another common dental issue in children is tooth sensitivity. This happens when the top layer of the tooth gets damaged by the bacteria.

The top layer of the tooth (AKA enamel) helps protect the inner parts of the teeth and nerves from getting damaged. When the enamel gets eroded by bacteria, it can expose the inner parts and nerve endings of the teeth. As a result, the tooth becomes more sensitive to cold and heat. If a child has tooth sensitivity, hot and cold food will cause irritation and discomfort. But in more severe cases where teeth are extremely sensitive, even breathing in hot and cold air can cause pain. 

While anyone, regardless of age, can have tooth sensitivity, the problem is more common among kids. This is because their enamel is thinner compared to adults. Also since their diet includes too many carbohydrates, it results in damage to the enamel along with a buildup of plaque. While tooth sensitivity is primarily caused by damage to the enamel, other problems such as cavities can also lead to tooth sensitivity.  

Just like most other dental problems, tooth sensitivity can be treated. However, this time good oral hygiene practices alone won’t help much and you will need to see the dentist. Dentists often recommend the application of a fluoride sealant to the teeth. This helps reduce sensitivity and strengthens tooth enamel. Also, it is recommended that children use a toothbrush with soft bristles. Using a toothbrush with hard bristles can damage the surface of the teeth over time. 

Keeping Your Child’s Teeth Healthy 

The solution to all dental issues in children lies in maintaining oral hygiene and visiting dentists regularly. Regular brushing and other oral hygiene practices such as flossing and the use of mouthwash will help keep dental problems to a minimum. But in case something arises, a visit to the dentist can certainly allow you to diagnose and treat any potential dental problem and set up your child’s teeth for a healthier future.    

Elderly At Highest Risk for Dental Problems

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A few decades ago, losing your teeth and getting dentures was the norm. Today, with better hygiene and fluoridated toothpaste and water, older people have more teeth to preserve than ever before. Unfortunately, most Americans that retire or leave the workforce find themselves losing their employer dental insurance. 

Medicare covers dental care except for specific conditions. Medicaid varies by state and usually only pays for limited procedures. More elderly patients are going longer without seeing a dentist, leaving many vulnerable for periodontal disease.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 20 percent of Americans over 65 have untreated cavities. Among Americans over 75, 25 percent have lost all their teeth. 

Dental care gets more complicated as one gets older. Older people produce less saliva, leaving teeth vulnerable to decay. Receding gums also expose teeth to more decay and bone loss makes teeth less stable. Over 500 medications taken by the elderly, such as those for asthma, allergies, blood pressure, cholesterol, Parkinson’s or Alzheimers, produce the side effect of dry mouth. Dry mouth leads to an increase of cavities, mouth sores, and infections.

The best way to protect your oral health as you age is to plan for your dental expenses before you retire. Organizations like AARP offer supplemental dental insurance plans for their members. Discount dental plans are another option and they usually have lower monthly fees than traditional dental insurance. The best way to prevent dental disease is with preventative care. Having your teeth checked and cleaned twice a year has shown to lower costs in the long run, according to researchers at University of Maryland Dental School.

If caring for a disabled or elderly loved one, it is important to help them keep their mouth clean and remind them to brush and floss daily, as well as making sure they get to a dentist regularly. Nursing home residents that need dental care and are enrolled in Medicaid have access to a regulation called Incurred Medical Expense, that can help pay for medically necessary care as determined by a dentist.

Lifestyle and diet changes are also important for the elderly when it comes to their oral health. For those suffering from dry mouth due to medication, drinking plenty of water and chewing sugarless gum can increase flow of saliva. Using an alcohol-free fluoride mouthwash won’t dry out the mouth and can also help. It is also important to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco, which dry out the mouth.