X-rays are so interwoven into dental care that we often don't think twice about them. Even so, we shouldn't take this invisible form of radiation lightly—regular exposure at high levels can affect the human body, especially in children.
The ability of x-rays to pass through tissue greatly improves our ability to diagnose tooth decay and other dental diseases. But x-rays can also potentially harm those same tissues. Because children are more sensitive to x-ray energy, they run a greater risk for cellular damage that could lead to cancer later in life.
In reality, though, these potential risks from x-rays are extremely low—so low, in fact, dental professionals regard their use as altogether safe for children. Here's why.
The ALARA principle. Dentists and other healthcare providers perform x-ray diagnostics based on a principle known as ALARA (“As low as reasonably achievable”). This means dentists only utilize x-rays to gain the most diagnostic benefit at the lowest amounts of radiation exposure. As such, ALARA guides both the development of x-ray equipment and the protocols involved in using them.
Equipment advances. Today's x-ray devices are safer and more efficient, restricting x-ray emissions to a single beam without scattering radiation into the environment. A child's radiation exposure is further lowered with the use of digital x-rays, which produce images in less time than conventional film. Because of these and other advances, children are exposed to less radiation during x-rays than what they typically receive in a day from the outside environment.
Safe practices. Following the ALARA principle, dentists are quite conservative in their use of x-rays in children. The most common means of x-ray is the bitewing, which captures images primarily of the back teeth that are more prone to decay. Bitewings, which require a lower x-ray dosage than a full mouth x-ray, are usually spaced at least six months apart or longer depending on a child's risk for dental disease.
The efficiency of modern radiographic equipment coupled with their judicious use has drastically reduced the amount of x-ray radiation to which a child may be exposed, thus lowering their risk of future health issues. The benefit for saving a child's teeth from disease is well worth their use.
If you would like more information on x-ray safety, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
Kids get pretty inventive pulling a loose primary (baby) tooth. After all, there's a profit motive involved (aka the Tooth Fairy). But a young Kansas City Chiefs fan may have topped his peers with his method, revealed in a recent Twitter video that went viral.
Inspired by all-star KC quarterback Patrick Mahomes (and sporting his #15 jersey), 7-year-old Jensen Palmer tied his loose tooth to a football with a line of string. Then, announcing “This is how an MVP gets their tooth out,” the next-gen QB sent the ball flying, with the tooth tailing close behind.
It appears young Palmer was no worse for wear with his tooth removal technique. But if you're thinking there might be a less risky, and less dramatic, way to remove a loose tooth, you're right. The first thing you should know, though: Primary teeth come out when they're good and ready, and that's important. Primary teeth play an important role in a child's current dental and speech function and their future dental development. For the latter, they serve as placeholders for permanent teeth developing within the gums. If one is lost prematurely, the corresponding permanent tooth might erupt out of position and cause bite problems.
In normal development, though, a primary tooth coming out coincides closely with the linked permanent tooth coming in. When it's time, the primary tooth lets you know by becoming quite loose in the socket.
If you think one of your children's primary teeth is ready, clean your hands first with soap and water. Then using a clean tissue, you should be able to easily wiggle the tooth with little tension. Grasp the tooth with the tissue and give it a little horizontal twist to pop it out. If that doesn't work, wait a day or two before trying again. If it does come out, be sure you have some clean gauze handy in case of bleeding from the empty socket.
Normally, nature takes its course from this point. But be on the lookout for abnormal signs like fragments of the tooth left behind in the socket (not to be mistaken for the top of the permanent tooth coming in). You should also look for redness, swelling or complaints of pain the following day—signs of possible infection. If you see anything like this, make a prompt appointment so we can take a look. Losing a primary tooth is a signpost pointing the way from childhood to adulthood (not to mention a windfall for kids under their pillows). You can help make it a smooth transition—no forward pass required.
If you would like more information about caring for primary teeth, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Importance of Baby Teeth” and “Losing a Baby Tooth.”
If you suffer frequent sinus infections, you might want to see a dentist. No, really—your recurring sinusitis might stem from a decayed tooth.
Tooth decay can start as a cavity, but left untreated can advance within the tooth and infect the pulp and root canals. If it reaches the end of the root, it can cause the root tip and surrounding bone to break down.
A severe toothache is often a good indicator that you have advanced tooth decay, which can usually be stopped with a root canal treatment. But a decayed tooth doesn't always produce pain or other symptoms—you could have a “silent” infection that's less likely to be detected.
A symptomless, and thus untreated, infection in an upper back tooth could eventually impact the maxillary sinus, a hollow air-filled space located just above your back jaw. This is especially true for people whose tooth roots extend close to or even poke through the sinus floor.
That “silent” infection in your tooth, could therefore become a “loud” one in the sinuses causing chronic post-nasal drip, congestion and, of course, pain. Fortunately, a physician or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist might suspect a dental origin for a case of recurring sinusitis, a condition known as maxillary sinusitis of endodontic origin (MSEO).
Antibiotic treatment can clear up sinusitis symptoms short-term. It's unlikely, though, it will do the same for a dental infection, which may continue to trigger subsequent rounds of sinusitis. The best approach is for a dentist, particularly a specialist in interior tooth disease called an endodontist, to investigate and, if a decayed tooth is found, treat the source of the infection.
As mentioned earlier, the solution is usually a root canal treatment. During this procedure, the dentist completely removes all infected tissue within the pulp and root canals, and then fills the empty spaces to prevent future infection. In one study, root canal therapy had a positive effect on alleviating sinusitis in about half of patients who were diagnosed with a decayed tooth.
If your sinusitis keeps coming back, speak with your doctor about the possibility of a dental cause. You may find treating a subsequently diagnosed decayed tooth could alleviate your sinus problem.
If you would like more information on how your dental health could affect the rest of your body, 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 “Sinusitis and Tooth Infections.”
If your child has seen the dentist regularly, and brushed and flossed daily, there's a good chance they've avoided advanced tooth decay. But another problem might already be growing right under your nose—a poor dental bite (malocclusion).
A dental bite refers to the way the upper and lower teeth fit together. In a normal bite the teeth are in straight alignment, and the upper teeth slightly extend in front of and over the lower when the jaws are shut. But permanent teeth erupting out of position or a jaw developing abnormally can set the stage for a malocclusion.
Although the full effects of a malocclusion may not manifest until later, there may be signs of its development as early as age 6. If so, it may be possible to identify a budding bite problem and “intercept” it before it goes too far, correcting it or reducing its severity.
Here are 6 signs your school-age child could be developing a malocclusion.
Excessive spacing. If the spacing between teeth seems too wide, it could mean the size of your child's teeth are out of proportion with their jaw.
Underbite. Rather than the normal upper front teeth covering the lower, the lower teeth extend out and over the upper teeth.
Open bite. There's a space or gap between the upper and lower teeth even when the jaws are shut.
Crowding. Due to a lack of space on the jaw, incoming teeth don't have enough room to erupt and may come in misaligned or “crooked.”
Crossbites. Some of the lower teeth, either in front or back of the jaw, overlap the upper teeth, while the rest of the upper teeth overlap normally.
Protrusion or retrusion. This occurs if the upper front teeth or jaw appear too far forward (protrusion) or the lower teeth or jaw are positioned too far back (retrusion).
Besides watching out for the preceding signs yourself, it's also a good idea to have your child undergo a comprehensive bite evaluation with an orthodontist around age 6. If that does reveal something amiss with their bite, intervention now could correct or lessen the problem and future treatment efforts later.
Tooth decay is perhaps the biggest danger your child's teeth can face. Not only can it rob them of primary teeth now, but the loss of teeth at this early age could also lead to future bite problems.
That's why it's important to reduce the risk of tooth decay through daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. You child may also benefit from another measure that enhances those other hygiene efforts—topical fluoride applied directly to tooth surfaces.
Fluoride is a naturally occurring chemical that's been demonstrated to strengthen tooth enamel against contact with acid, the main cause of tooth decay. Today, fluoride is added not only to toothpastes and other dental hygiene products, but also in minute amounts to drinking water supplies across the country.
Even if your child takes in fluoride through one or more of these sources, there may still be a benefit to a topical application. For one, topical applications are usually stronger than fluoride toothpaste or fluoridated water supplies and can have greater effect. And because fluoridated water is ingested first before traveling through the bloodstream to the teeth, directly applied fluoride can strengthen them much faster.
But are these stronger concentrations of topical fluoride safe? Studies have shown no long-term health risk, but there can be temporary side effects like stomach pain, vomiting or headaches if the patient accidently swallows too much of the solution during the application. These side effects, however, can be minimized through safety measures dentists put in place during the procedure.
One study by the Cochrane Oral Health Research Group seems to show that the long-term benefit of topical fluoride is well worth this minor risk of side effects. After reviewing several scientific studies involving thousands of patients, the group found an overall 28% reduction in decayed, filled or missing teeth over a number of years among those who received a topical fluoride treatment.
Because of these and other forms of evidence, fluoride applications in either gel, foam or varnish forms have become a routine part of preventive care for children. Discussing it with your dentist, you may find it could be an extra weapon for your child in fighting tooth decay.
If you would like more information on how to protect your child's teeth from decay, 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 Gels Reduce Decay.”
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