Starting good dental care early promotes good health
By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
For children 6 months to 5 years, “the big concerns are making sure the teeth are erupting in the proper sequence,” said Igor Kaplansky, dentist and owner of Dentistry by Dr. Kaplansky, PLLC, in Gasport. “If there’s delayed eruption or the teeth are not coming in symmetrically or if they’re incorrectly positioned or rotated or discolored or misshaped: all these things parents need to pay attention to.”
While it may seem early to bring in a baby who is just starting to cut teeth, Kaplansky said that these visits are mostly about parent education. Parents should begin wiping teeth off with a washcloth or cleaning them with a soft brush and flossing between them at home at least twice per day. This keeps plaque off the teeth. Plaque causes tooth decay. Although baby teeth eventually fall out, they serve as placeholders for adult teeth. Losing them early can mean a greater chance of misalignment.
In addition to keeping the teeth clean, parents need to stick with only water in bottles and sippy cups between meals and at bedtime.
“The temptation a lot of time is to put something sweet in their mouth so they calm down and go to sleep,” Kaplansky said. “That is a very horrible thing to do to teeth. Baby bottle tooth decay is what happens. It could be milk, juice and we’ve even seen pop — in a baby bottle. It creates an environment for decay.”
Since babies do not swallow all the liquid, some pools in their mouths feeding the bacteria that will damage their tooth enamel and cause cavities.
By the time children can write their own name, they should be able to brush their teeth, but parents should monitor them to ensure good hygiene and maintain regular checkups to keep cavities away.
“You need to check on their brushing and also the flossing,” Kaplansky said. “They also need fluoride applied to protect against cavities.
“There’s a big misconception out there that baby teeth are not important because they’ll fall out anyway. They hold room for permanent teeth. Permanent teeth will come in crooked and crowded if baby teeth are lost early.”
He has cared for young patients who have lost all their baby teeth early and as a result suffer from speech problems and malnourishment because they cannot chew properly.
By the preteen years, the baby teeth have left and parents should continue encouraging good hygiene.
“If kids develop good habits with eating healthy foods and keeping teeth clean, it’ll continue,” Kaplansky said.
Parents should keep an eye on their children’s consumption of sugary treats and beverages. These contribute to cavities. Acidic beverages such as citrus fruit juice, energy drinks and soda particularly damage tooth enamel.
For the teen and young adult years, periodontal problems become the biggest threat, mainly caused by smoking, poor oral hygiene habits and diabetes. It is easy for teens to become lax about brushing when they leave home and go to college. They may not keep up with their dental cleaning visits, too.
“You still need a good diet,” Kaplansky said. “Avoid tobacco and drugs. Tobacco is a known factor in gum disease spread. Those who smoke lose their teeth earlier.”
When a person reaches middle age, many health issues that they have ignored become more apparent. Many studies have found an association between periodontitis and many other diseases and conditions, including respiratory disease, chronic kidney disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer.
Kaplansky encourages anyone with missing teeth to seek replacements right away.
“If people go with missing teeth, their adjacent teeth will shift,” he said. “The gap opens up a gateway to plaque, gum disease and cavities. It’s a chain reaction – a domino effect. You’ll lose the next tooth. Don’t wait; replace teeth as they’re lost.”
He prefers dental implants over bridges as the latter can damage adjacent teeth over time.
By the 50s, many people begin to experience cracked teeth and need dental caps. Dentist Antonio Calascibetta, owner of Celestial Dental in Henrietta, said that stress-induced tooth grinding and the age-related wear on the teeth are primary causes of cracks.
“We have seen a lot more cracks since the pandemic began because of everyone’s stress,” Calascibetta said.
Anyone 65 or older is “pushing the limits of our teeth,” Calascibetta said. “We will see frequently that the elderly have gum and bone recession.”
Negligent home care and smoking contribute to this process, among other reasons. The problem with receded gums is that the root surface has thinner enamel and is more prone to cavities for this reason. The more teeth lost, the more the jawbone breaks down.
Many older adults take medications that can cause dry mouth.
“Any patient with dry mouth is more prone to having dental issues without the saliva flushing away bacteria,” Calascibetta said.
Moisturizing mouth rinses and drinking plenty of water may help.
Arthritis can make brushing properly more challenging. To promote better oral care in these cases, Calascibetta recommends clients use an electric brush and prescription toothpaste with extra fluoride.