By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
The increased use of telemedicine during these unprecedented times has hit all areas of the medical field. Often overlooked is the essentialness of dental care.
“The total body is connected and that includes oral health,” said Dian Wells, a board-certified pediatric dentist. “While everyone may know the basics with brushing and flossing, there have been some interesting questions and situations that our patients are looking at during this pandemic.”
Wells, vice chairwoman and clinical assistant professor of pediatric and community dentistry in the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine, talks about five dental issues that she has been hearing about through interaction with her patients in telehealth appointments.
1. Baby teeth
When baby teeth are beginning to come out and adult teeth are coming in, it can be very stressful for kids and their parents. Because of the previous stay-at-home orders throughout, Wells said she has found parents coming into her office and being more in tuned with their children’s oral care. While it is a natural process of growth to go through teeth, sometimes the process doesn’t always go smoothly.
“We tell parents they should focus on a couple of symptoms if they need to come to the dentist when their child’s teeth are coming in because we don’t want them to unnecessarily come in for something they can handle at home,’” said Wells. “If you see severe bleeding and gum swelling, you should come in because it might be an infection. They could be dealing with the old tooth blocking the adult tooth from coming in properly. If your child can’t sleep or eat, it may be an emergency and we want to look at their teeth as soon as possible.”
Wells believes it is essential to keep the area clean where the new teeth are coming to prevent inflammation.
2. Sucking your thumb
While it is common to see a child sucking their thumb or using a pacifier, dental experts say there are consequences of letting that action last too long. Many children stop sucking their thumbs on their own, often by age 6 or 7 months or between ages 2 and 4.
“By the age of 3, you should do your best to make sure your child isn’t sucking their thumbs because that can result in overbites and underbites,” said Wells. “They are at higher risks for trauma when it comes to doing activities because when they fall their teeth are not in alignment.”
3. Sugary Vitamins
Stores are filled with gummy vitamins for children and adults for those who don’t like taking pills. However, oral health experts say the nutritional benefits may not outweigh the potential damage to the teeth.
“The issue with those gummy vitamins or any gummy treats is that sugar sticks on and in between the teeth, and are often the cause of first and lasting cavities,” said Wells. “Many times parents are surprised because they say they feed their children nutritious meals and even stay away from juices and they wonder where these cavities come from. Then we deduced that the gummy vitamins are often the culprit.”
Wells said parents should even be careful about gums making sure they are sugar free and have xylitol. That substance is found in small amounts in many fruits and vegetables and is considered natural. It is found in sugar free mints, diabetes-friendly food and oral care products.
“Kids can have abscesses and infections that can cause decay in their oral health. We want to avoid having to do large dental procedures like root canals on children and the first key is preventative early detection,” added Wells.
Fluoride varnish can prevent about 33% of cavities in baby’s teeth, according to the CDC. Children living in communities with fluoridated tap water have fewer cavities than children whose water is not fluoride. Fluoride in water is the most efficient way to prevent one of the most common childhood diseases, tooth decay. The American Dental Association estimated 51 million school hours and 164 million work hours are lost each year due to dental-related illness.
“Fluoride is known to prevent cavities and strengthen your teeth,” said Wells. “It is found in toothpaste and is recommended by the dental community. It can help prevent tooth decay for children and adults.”
5. Visit your dentist
Regular visits to your dentist for teeth cleanings every six months can help early detection of potential problems. Experts want people to floss once a day when they are young and continue that into adulthood. It prevents food and other particles from being trapped within the barriers. Make sure to floss between and around each tooth. Gently hook the floss like a C around the tooth. Slide the floss up and down and around all tooth surfaces, even the hard-to-reach back molars. Avoid snapping the floss between teeth. Experts also suggest changing your toothbrush every three months.
“I know we are at a time where people are being cautious about leaving their house and the safety of their children so that is why we make sure that we have separate entrances and exits in our office. You can even check in from your car and we take temperatures as you enter. We don’t want any barriers to people maintaining their oral health,” said Wells.