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Common Oral Health Problems in Children

August 16, 2021

School is nearly back in session which means it’s time to check those last few items off your back-to-school list -- and that includes checking in on your kids’ oral health.

Summer has a habit of throwing even the strictest dental hygiene routine off kilter. Without the structure of a classroom schedule, healthy habits can fall to the wayside.

Fortunately, we’ve compiled this guide to help your family get their dental care back on track for fall. Below are 5 common oral health issues in children, and how to treat them.

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Tooth Decay (Cavities)

Cavities are small holes that form from tooth decay, caused by a sticky film of bacteria called plaque. Plaque clings to teeth and releases acid that eats away at protective tooth enamel. As plaque accumulates, a cavity grows larger and destroys healthy tooth structure.

Fortunately, cavities are preventable, and treatable in their early stages.

Cavity Treatments

Here are some of the most common cavity treatments:

  • Fluoride Treatment: Fluoride is a mineral that contains tooth-strengthening properties. If tooth decay is in its very early stages, a fluoride treatment may help restore the enamel and reverse decay.
  • Tooth Filling: A filling is the most common cavity treatment. They’re available in amalgam (silver), composite (white), and other tooth-colored, non-metal materials. When placing a filling, the dentist removes decay from the tooth and restores it with a filling.
  • Dental Crown: A dental crown is a cap that covers and restores the size and shape of an entire tooth.

How to Prevent Cavities

The best way to prevent cavities is to clean the mouth of food particles and bacteria that cause plaque. You can do this through:

  • Brushing and Flossing: Brushing and flossing twice a day is the best type of cavity prevention. Always make sure to supervise your little ones when they’re brushing their teeth until they can grasp a toothbrush on their own.
  • Healthy Diet: A healthy diet that’s low in sugar and starches, like candy, chips, and soda, can protect against plaque and bacteria.
  • Teeth Cleaning: When you bring your child in for a cleaning twice a year, their dentist removes plaque and tartar (hardened plaque) that accumulates. These regular cleanings also allow your child’s dentist to check on the health of their teeth and monitor any decay that may be present.
  • Dental Sealants: A dental sealant is a protective coating most often applied onto the chewing surfaces of the back teeth. Sealants literally seal out plaque and bacteria to prevent cavities.

Periodontal Disease

Periodontal disease, or gum disease, is an infection of the gums. Like cavities, gum disease is caused by plaque buildup. Oftentimes, cavities and gum disease go hand in hand — but not always.

Symptoms of Periodontal Disease

Common symptoms of periodontal disease in children include:

  • Red, swollen gums
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Bad breath
  • Tender gums
  • Bleeding when brushing

Once gum disease progresses, it can lead to more concerning dental issues, such as bone loss, gum recession and loose teeth.

How to Prevent Periodontal Disease

Gum disease is reversible in its early stages, but prevention is the best way to avoid symptoms is to care for your children’s teeth and gums. To promote healthy gums, make sure your kids:

  • Brush and floss twice-a-day
  • Use gentle strokes when brushing teeth
  • Replace sugary drinks with water
  • Schedule a cleaning twice-a-year

Maintaining healthy gums can also help keep your children’s teeth healthy and secure.

Orthodontic Issues

Many children develop orthodontic issues as they age. Unfortunately, some children are more vulnerable than others. This can happen for many different reasons, but the most common are:

  • Thumb-sucking: When your little one sucks their thumb, it pulls their teeth forward. Over time, their teeth can form an open bite which is when the teeth jut outward instead of fitting together.
  • Pacifier Use: Like thumb-sucking, prolonged pacifier use can lead to an open bite, crooked teeth, or gapped teeth. It can also affect your little one’s speech pattern and chewing abilities.

You can also ask your child’s dentist about thumb-sucking appliances to protect your little one’s teeth.

How to Prevent Orthodontic Issues in Children

You can help prevent orthodontic issues in your child by weaning them off pacifiers and thumb-sucking. Here are a few tricks:

  • Gradually shorten pacifier time
  • Coat pacifier in lemon juice
  • Bandage the thumb
  • Cover the hand with a sock at night

You can also ask your child’s dentist about thumb-sucking appliances to protect your little one’s teeth.

Dental Emergencies

A dental emergency requires immediate attention. Common dental emergencies in children include:

  • Chipped or broken tooth
  • Sudden or severe toothaches
  • Cut gums or bit lips
  • Knocked out teeth

While you can’t always predict a dental emergency, you can make sure you’re prepared.

How to Handle a Dental Emergency

The first step in any dental emergency is to call your family dentist for an urgent care visit. Here are some tips to manage a dental emergency in the meantime:

  • Knocked-out Tooth: Carefully remove any obvious dirt or other debris, place the tooth back in its socket root-end first, and have your child gently bite down. If you can’t replace the tooth in its socket, store it in a glass of milk or saline solution.
  • Broken Tooth: If possible, take the broken tooth fragment with you to the emergency visit. If the accident involved injury to the lips or face, apply an ice pack to help reduce swelling.

Tips to Relieve Dental Anxiety

It’s difficult to get your child the dental care they need when they’re scared of the dentist. To make sure your little one never misses a dental checkup, try to make the experience fun and relaxing. If your child struggles with dental anxiety, try these tips and tricks:

  • Bring a book, coloring book, or a small toy
  • Schedule the visit after naptime
  • Model good dental hygiene
  • Use positive language
  • Stay calm and relaxed
  • Offer positive reinforcement

Remember, if you’re concerned about any of the dental issues above, or any other issues with your child’s oral health, consult their dentist.

Get their teeth back-to-school ready with a checkup or cleaning! Need coverage? Shop our Individual & Family plans to find the coverage that’s right for you!

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