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By Bruce P. Mercado, DDS, PC
January 27, 2019
Category: Oral Health
DidYouKnowFebruaryIsNationalChildrensDentalHealthMonth

Every February, the American Dental Association sponsors a campaign called National Children’s Dental Health Month. The purpose of this operation is to raise awareness about how important it is to get an early start on developing good dental hygiene habits — and how this can lead to a lifetime of healthy teeth and gums. So we thought this might be a good time to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about how to do exactly that:

When is it time to start cleaning my baby’s teeth?
As soon as you see one! The earlier your child gets used to a daily dental hygiene routine, the better. Baby teeth that have not fully emerged from beneath the gums can be wiped with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings. A tooth that has grown in completely should be brushed twice daily (once in the morning and once in the evening) with a soft, child-sized tooth brush and a thin smear of fluoride toothpaste. Fluoride is an important weapon against tooth decay, but you don’t want your child to swallow too much.

Can babies get cavities?
Absolutely — especially if they are allowed to fall asleep routinely with a bottle filled with anything but water. Milk, formula — even breast milk — all contain sugars that should not be left to pool around your baby’s teeth during sleep, facilitating decay. Juice is an even bigger no-no because it is not only sugary but also acidic.

Can’t I give my child sweets once in a while?
We realize total avoidance of sweets may not be realistic, as beneficial as this would be for your child’s teeth. If you are going to allow your child to have sweets once in a while, better that the treat be given immediately following a meal, and not as a between-meal snack. Soda should really be avoided completely — it’s that bad.

When should I take my child to the dentist for the first time?
The experts say: Get it done in year one. That’s right — even though your child won’t have many teeth by age 1, there’s a lot we can do at that first visit to ensure good oral health now and well into the future. We will do everything possible to make sure your little one has a positive first experience in the dental chair; this helps set the tone for the many important preventive visits yet to come. It’s also a great opportunity for you to ask any specific questions you may have, and receive hands-on instruction on how to care for your child’s teeth and gums.

If you would like more information about children’s oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Taking the Stress Out of Dentistry for Kids” and “Age One Dental Visit.”

TakeTheseStepstoPreventEarlyDecayinYourBabysFirstTeeth

When your baby’s first teeth come in, you might not think it necessary yet to worry about tooth decay. But even infants can develop this common dental disease. In fact, it has a specific name in children 6 and under: early childhood caries (ECC).

About one-fourth of U.S. children have ECC, and poor or minority children are at highest risk. Because of primary (“baby”) teeth’s thin enamel layer, ECC can spread to healthier teeth with unnerving speed, causing extensive damage.

While such damage immediately affects a child’s nutrition, speech development and self-esteem, it could also impact their future oral health. Permanent teeth often erupt out of position because of missing primary teeth lost prematurely, creating a poor bite. And children with ECC are more likely to have cavities in their future permanent teeth.

While there are a number of effective treatments for repairing ECC-caused damage, it’s best to try to prevent it before damage occurs. A large part of prevention depends on you. You should, for example, begin oral hygiene even before teeth come in by wiping their gums with a clean, damp cloth after feeding. After teeth appear, switch to daily brushing with just a smear of toothpaste.

Because refined sugar is a primary food source for decay-causing bacteria, you should limit it in their diet. In the same vein, avoid sleep-time bottles with fluids like juices, milk or formula. As they grow older, make sure snacks are also low in sugar.

You should also avoid spreading your own oral bacteria to your baby. In this regard, don’t put their eating utensils or pacifier in your mouth and don’t drink from the same cup. Avoid kissing your baby on the lips. And above all, take care of your own oral health to prevent your own encounter with dental disease.

Finally, start regular dental visits on or before your baby’s first birthday. Regular cleanings and checkups increase the chances for early decay detection, as well as provide for treatments and prevention measures that can reduce the disease’s spread and destruction.

ECC can be devastating to both your baby’s current and future dental health. But with vigilance and good dental practices, you may be able to help them avoid this serious disease.

If you would like more information on tooth decay prevention in young children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.

By Bruce P. Mercado, DDS, PC
November 20, 2017
Category: Oral Health
ActorDavidRamseyDiscussesBabyBottleToothDecay

Cavities can happen even before a baby has his first piece of candy. This was the difficult lesson actor David Ramsey of the TV shows Arrow and Dexter learned when his son DJ’s teeth were first emerging.

“His first teeth came in weak,” Ramsey recalled in a recent interview. “They had brown spots on them and they were brittle.” Those brown spots, he said, quickly turned into cavities. How did this happen?

Ramsey said DJ’s dentist suspected it had to do with the child’s feedings — not what he was being fed but how. DJ was often nursed to sleep, “so there were pools of breast milk that he could go to sleep with in his mouth,” Ramsey explained.

While breastfeeding offers an infant many health benefits, problems can occur when the natural sugars in breast milk are left in contact with teeth for long periods.  Sugar feeds decay-causing oral bacteria, and these bacteria in turn release tooth-eroding acids. The softer teeth of a young child are particularly vulnerable to these acids; the end result can be tooth decay.

This condition, technically known as “early child caries,” is referred to in laymen’s terms as “baby bottle tooth decay.” However, it can result from nighttime feedings by bottle or breast. The best way to prevent this problem is to avoid nursing babies to sleep at night once they reach the teething stage; a bottle-fed baby should not be allowed to fall asleep with anything but water in their bottle or “sippy cup.”

Here are some other basics of infant dental care that every parent should know:

  • Wipe your baby’s newly emerging teeth with a clean, moist washcloth after feedings.
  • Brush teeth that have completely grown in with a soft-bristled, child-size toothbrush and a smear of fluoride toothpaste no bigger than a grain of rice.
  • Start regular dental checkups by the first birthday.

Fortunately, Ramsey reports that his son is doing very well after an extended period of professional dental treatments and parental vigilance.

“It took a number of months, but his teeth are much, much better,” he said. “Right now we’re still helping him and we’re still really on top of the teeth situation.”

If you would like more information on dental care for babies and toddlers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Age One Dental Visit” and “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”

By Bruce P. Mercado, DDS, PC
May 27, 2014
Category: Oral Health
FluorideisaProvenWeaponintheFightAgainstToothDecay

In the early 1900s, a Colorado dentist noticed many of his patients had unusual brown staining on their teeth — and little to no tooth decay. What he unknowingly observed was the power of a chemical substance in his patients' drinking water — fluoride. While commonplace today, fluoride sparked a revolution — and some controversy — in dental care during the 20th Century.

After decades of research and testing, most dentists now agree that fluoride reduces decay by interfering with the disease process. The optimum pH level for the mouth is neutral; however, this environment constantly changes as we eat, especially if we ingest foods or beverages high in acidity. A high acid level softens tooth enamel (a process called de-mineralization) and can lead to erosion if not neutralized. In addition, a thin layer of bacteria-rich plaque called biofilm that adheres to tooth surfaces is also acidic and is the cause of tooth decay, possibly more so in teeth made more susceptible from enamel erosion.

When fluoride is in “the right place” (present on the tooth surface and in our saliva, the body's natural acid neutralizer), it helps inhibit de-mineralization and aids in the re-hardening of the enamel (re-mineralization).

Although fluoride needs to come into direct contact with tooth enamel for optimum effectiveness, ingesting it can also prove beneficial. The fluoride we ingest eventually becomes deposited in bone. As bone grows and changes it releases this reserved fluoride back into the bloodstream where it eventually becomes part of saliva; the saliva brings it into contact with tooth surfaces.

The two most prominent ways we encounter fluoride are through fluoridated drinking water and in toothpaste. There continues to be concerns about what constitutes safe levels of fluoride in drinking water and over possible side effects like teeth staining and changes in bone structure. However, extensive studies have conclusively shown that even minimal levels of water fluoridation and the use of fluoride toothpaste have reduced tooth decay.

As the Colorado dentist discovered over a hundred years ago, fluoride is truly remarkable as a cavity fighter. Whether you have access to fluoridated water or not, we encourage you to use fluoride toothpaste to strengthen your teeth against decay.

If you would like more information on fluoride, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”

By Bruce P. Mercado, DDS, PC
August 06, 2013
Category: Oral Health
CavityPreventionforBabyFromDay1

Even before your infant's first tooth emerges, you can take steps to reduce the risk for cavities!

Cavities occur when decay-causing bacteria living in the mouth digest carbohydrates (sugars) introduced into the mouth via food and beverages. This produces acid, which can eat through the protective enamel surface of teeth and attack the more vulnerable dentin below. Infants aren't born with decay-promoting bacteria; however, they can acquire them from their caregiver(s) through close contact, for example:

  • Kissing on the mouth
  • Sharing food
  • Sharing eating utensils (e.g., a spoon or glass)
  • Cleaning off a pacifier by mouth

Tooth decay is the most common chronic childhood disease! It can start as soon as the first tooth erupts — which generally happens around age 6 to 9 months but can be as early as 3 months or as late as 1 year. Besides being potentially painful, severe tooth decay may cause your child to lose the affected primary (baby) tooth before it's due to fall out on its own. That, in turn, can raise the risk of orthodontic problems because primary teeth maintain space for permanent teeth, which also use them as their guide for coming in properly.

It's important to clean your child's teeth regularly once they appear and to refrain from certain feeding activities that have been linked with early tooth decay. For example, use of a sleep-time bottle containing a liquid with natural or added sugars, such as formula or juice, can result in a pattern of severe decay once referred to as “baby bottle tooth decay.” These days, the term early childhood caries (ECC) is more commonly used to also encompass decay linked to continuous sippy-cup use, at-will breast-feeding throughout the night, use of a sweetened pacifier, or routine use of sugar-based oral medicines to treat chronic illness.

We recommend that you schedule a dental visit for your baby upon eruption of his or her first tooth or by age 1. This first visit can include risk assessment for decay, hands-on instruction on teeth cleaning, nutritional/feeding guidance, fluoride recommendations, and even identification of underlying conditions that should be monitored. Your child's smile is a sight to behold; starting early improves the odds of keeping it that way!

If you would like more information about infant dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Age One Dental Visit.”