Helpful Pediatric Dentistry Tips!

The Most Common Dental Issues in Children & How to Solve Them

by Dr. Steve Whittemore, D.D.S. | Published March 29, 2021

The Importance of Pediatric Dental Hygiene

It is important to address seemingly minor dental issues in childhood before they become bigger and more permanent issues as the child grows. At the Pediatric Dentistry of Central Iowa, we see many variations of teeth abnormalities in our little patients, and we want you to know that we care about your kids and are always eager to partner with parents in their child’s oral health.

Some parents and caregivers minimize the importance of their children’s’ oral health due to the fact that baby teeth are not permanent. Unfortunately, this mindset fails to acknowledge that good habits and healthy teeth today set up your child’s health for better, stronger, and better-aligned permanent teeth in the future.

10 Common Dental Problems to Address Early

Pediatric Tooth Decay & Cavities

Perhaps the most common predicament, tooth decay, may occur even in young children as a result of lackluster brushing and flossing. We always recommend that an adult supervise children while they are brushing and flossing their teeth, especially if they are just starting out. This will help them to not only form good habits and develop skills in proficient cleaning, but will also minimize their risk for early tooth decay. Encourage your child to brush twice a day to avoid plaque build-up and avoid the need to fill a cavity.

Bad Breath in Children

Unfortunately, the sweet smell of baby breath does not last much longer once the baby weans and begins to eat and drink food outside of breastmilk. The most promising way to avoid bad breath, especially in the morning, is to brush teeth thoroughly. Bad breath (also called halitosis) is typically most noticeable in the mornings, because during the night, bacteria in the mouth feed on leftover food, fluids, and plaque and multiply while your child sleeps. 

If bad breath persists, we advise trying an antibacterial mouthwash and/or brushing the tongue in order to fight the bacteria in the mouth. If it still does not go away, consult your pediatric dentist; chronic bad breath can be caused by a number of issues.

Sensitive Teeth

Some kids experience discomfort or pain when their teeth are exposed to particularly hot or cold foods and fluids. Sometimes sensitive teeth can point to another dental problem, such as an undiagnosed cavity/tooth decay or receding gums. Teeth become sensitive as a result of either of these conditions. The best way to prevent and combat sensitive teeth at home is by making sure your child uses a soft-bristled toothbrush. This reduces the risk of irritating and scraping off enamel on the tooth over time. Your pediatric dentist may also recommend applying a tooth sealant to strengthen the enamel and fill in any pits and grooves that may be causing the sensitivity.

Thumb-Sucking or Lip-Sucking Habits

While watching babies self-soothe and suck on their thumbs or bottom lip is adorable, if the habit is not dropped over time it can have a negative effect on your child’s dental health. In most cases, this is not a problem as long as the child has dropped the habit before the majority of their baby teeth, or even their permanent teeth begin to grow in. At this point, it can sometimes develop an issue with speech due to the formation of something called an open bite over time.

If thumb-sucking or lip-sucking is a concern, work with your dentist to get ideas on how to break the habit early.

Tongue Thrusting

As babies transition from breast/bottle feeding to eating solids or food purees, they naturally change the way their mouth and tongue works in order to feed and swallow. However, we occasionally see patients that continue to thrust the tongue forward as they grow. This can ultimately lead to improper tooth growth and/or interfere with speech development.

Baby & Toddler Teeth Grinding

It is fairly common for children to grind their teeth together to cope with the discomfort of their baby teeth emerging for the first time. Most children will stop doing this on their own after the teeth grow in, but if not this habit can result in tooth wear and eroding of their enamel. To prevent this from occurring, your dentist may advise your child to wear a night guard.

Gum Disease & Gingivitis

Gingivitis is marked by swollen, red gums and is often a result of poor oral hygiene. Fortunately, this can be prevented altogether with proper brushing and flossing habits formed at an early age. If a child is able to keep up with good hygiene practices, it can prevent the later development of gum disease, of which gingivitis is a precursor.

Canker Sores in Children

Canker sores are painful enough to deal with as adults, and it can be especially hard to watch a child experience the same thing. While canker sores are not spread from person to person, they can sometimes be mistaken for cold sores. They often feature a gray or white center with redness surrounding the area and can make eating and drinking difficult. 

While there is no known exact cause for canker sores, most children who get them are otherwise healthy and there are things parents and caregivers can do to help their children get through them. These generally heal in 10-14 days. We recommend focusing on soft and bland foods, using a soft-bristled toothbrush, and avoid sodas.

Difficult Loss of Baby Teeth

For most kids losing teeth is an exciting and painless experience, but sometimes a tooth may refuse to fall out and/or cause your child pain. In this case, consult your pediatric dentist. Your dentist will check to make sure and then advise on strategies to allow for proper development of the emerging permanent tooth.

Dental Emergencies

Roughhousing and sports that are a part of childhood can unfortunately cause accidents like teeth chipping, breaking, or cracking. If this happens, comfort your child and then call your pediatric dentist immediately to get in for an emergency appointment. If your child loses a permanent tooth in an accident, the dentist may be able to place the permanent tooth back if you place it and transport it to the emergency appointment in a glass of milk or clean water. The Pediatric Dentistry of Central Iowa is always open for emergencies, and you can give our office a call at any time.

What is the number one way to prevent childrens’ dental issues? 

While there is only so much a parent can do to protect their children from issues like chipped teeth, many other dental problems in a child can be prevented and/or combated with excellent oral hygiene. At the Pediatric Dentistry of Central Iowa, Dr. Whittemore and the rest of our staff work together to make sure you are equipped with the tools you need to help your child develop healthy habits and happy teeth for a lifetime! Schedule an appointment with us today at either Des Moines or Ankeny offices.