Common Problems

Tooth Decay

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Caries, or tooth decay, is a preventable disease. While caries might not endanger your child’s life, it may negatively impact his or her quality of life.

When teeth and gums are consistently exposed to large amounts of starches and sugars, acids may form that begin to eat away at tooth enamel. Carbohydrate-rich foods, such as candy, cookies, soft drinks and even fruit juices, leave deposits on teeth. Those deposits bond with the bacteria that normally survive in your child’s mouth and form plaque. The combination of deposits and plaque forms acids that can damage the mineral structure of teeth, which results in tooth decay.

Sensitive Teeth

Teeth expand and contract in reaction to changes in temperature. Hot and cold food and beverages can cause pain or irritation to people with sensitive teeth. Over time, tooth enamel can be worn down, gums may recede or teeth may develop microscopic cracks, exposing the interior of the tooth and irritating nerve endings. Just breathing cold air can be painful for those with extremely sensitive teeth.

Gum Disease

Gum disease (periodontal disease) can cause inflammation, tooth loss and bone damage. Gum disease begins with a sticky film of bacteria called plaque. Gums in the early stage of disease (known as gingivitis) can bleed easily and become red and swollen. As the disease progresses to periodontitis, teeth may fall out or need to be removed by a dentist. Gum disease is highly preventable and can usually be avoided with daily brushing and flossing. One indicator of gum disease is consistent bad breath or a bad taste in the mouth.

Bad Breath (Halitosis)

Daily brushing and flossing helps to prevent the build-up of food particles, plaque and bacteria in your child’s mouth. Food particles left in the mouth deteriorate and cause bad breath. While certain foods, such as garlic or anchovies, may create temporary bad breath, consistent bad breath may be a sign of gum disease or another dental problem.

Canker Sores

Canker sores (aphthous ulcers) are small sores inside the mouth that often recur. Generally lasting one or two weeks, the duration of canker sores can be reduced by the use of antimicrobial mouthwashes or topical agents. The canker sore has a white or gray base surrounded by a red border.

Orthodontic Problems

A bite that does not meet properly (a malocclusion) can be inherited, or some types may be acquired. Common causes of a malocclusion include missing teeth, having extra teeth, crowded teeth or misaligned jaws. Accidents or developmental issues, such as finger or thumb sucking over an extended period of time, may cause a malocclusion as well.

Thumb Sucking

Sucking is a natural reflex that relaxes and comforts babies and toddlers. Children usually cease thumb sucking when the permanent front teeth are ready to erupt. Typically, children stop between the ages of 2 and 4 years old. Thumb sucking that persists beyond the eruption of primary teeth can cause improper growth of the mouth and misalignment of the teeth. If you notice prolonged and/or vigorous thumb sucking behavior in your child, talk to your dentist.

Here are some ways to help your child outgrow thumb sucking:

  • Don’t scold a child when they exhibit thumb sucking behavior; instead, praise them when they don’t thumb suck.
  • Focus on eliminating the cause of anxiety—thumb sucking is a comfort device that helps children cope with stress or discomfort.
  • Praise them when they refrain from the habit during difficult periods.
  • Place a bandage on the thumb or a sock on their hand at night.