Dental professionals are urging new parents to take infants to the dentist and warning them of the outcomes of postponing their first visit.
Up until recently, a child’s first dental visit traditionally took place at the age of three or four, largely because there was little concern over baby teeth that would eventually fall out. It is also currently not uncommon for a child to develop cavities as young as five or six years old and only come to understand the importance of good oral health habits after having them filled.
This is just part of the reason why dentists around the world are now recommending that toddlers first visit the dentist when they are only six months to one year old.
Start Seeing the Dentist Early
South Carolina pediatric dentist Dr. Thom Atkins told the Aiken Standard that the earlier a child visits the dentist, the better his or her oral health will be as they grow older.
“We like to see children earlier than most people anticipate,” he said. “We prefer to see them within six months of the first tooth coming in or by the age of 1, whichever comes first.”
Early dental visits can identify potential problems before they evolve and allow the child to become comfortable in a dentist’s office, similar to the way they become comfortable in the office of their pediatrician around the same time.
Professor Nigel Hunt, dean of the Faculty of Dental Surgery at England’s Royal College of Surgeons, suggested that it’s only natural for children to become frightened of the dentist if their visit involves treating cavities or rotting teeth.
“If a first dental visit results in a stressful, traumatic experience, this could have a serious life-long effect on a child’s willingness to engage in the dental process,” he told the Telegraph.
Parents Can Hold Infants
Infants who visit the dentist are held by a parent while the dentist performs an examination and applies fluoride which, surprisingly, doesn’t cause discomfort in most infant patients.
According to the Aiken Standard, studies have proven that children who receive fluoride applications during infancy are less likely to develop oral health problems such as cavities, saving their parents a great deal of money.
Early Visits Help Parent’s as Well
Much of these early visits are additionally devoted to informing parents about brushing and flossing routines as well as potentially harmful effects of pacifiers, sippy cups and sugary snacks.
New research from England shows that most parents still believe children shouldn’t visit the dentist until they are three or four. Within the last year, 80% of one to two-year-olds in England did not visit the dentist, which seems to explain why 9,220 tooth extractions on children aged one to four were performed throughout the same period. Of these extractions, 48 involved infants who were less than a year old.
Most of the extractions were attributed to tooth decay, the most common reason young British children find themselves in the hospital.
Along with many other widespread dental problems, tooth decay is highly preventable as long as the patient practices good oral hygiene. These annual figures mark a 24% increase in tooth extractions on British children aged one to four over the past ten years.
Patients who are afraid of the dentist might soon be able to escape to an alternate universe during check-ups and leave their fears behind.
According to Science Daily, a recent experiment found that dental patients who are immersed in virtual reality experience less stress and even pain while undergoing dental work.
Researchers from Plymouth, Exeter and Birmingham University enlisted 80 participants who needed to have a cavity filled or a tooth pulled. The participants were split into three groups, two of which wore VR headsets during their procedures while the third acted as the control group and did not wear headsets. Pain medication and/or sedation was administered to any patient who required it.
Which Universe to Choose?
Of the two groups that wore headsets, one was transported to a virtual beach during treatment while the other explored a virtual cityscape.
Patients completed a survey immediately after treatment and a second survey one week later.
Those who visited a virtual beach reported less stress and pain than both of the remaining groups. When asked about their procedure a week later, the former group also had a far more positive recollection of the treatment than the other two, making them more likely to return to the dentist. Patients who visited the city apparently reported the same amount of stress and pain as the control group, meaning this particular virtual environment had no effect on their experience.
Virtual Reality in Health Care is on the rise
Lead author Dr. Karin Tanja-Dijkstra said: “The use of virtual reality in health care settings is on the rise but we need more rigorous evidence of whether it actually improves patient experiences. Our research demonstrates that under the right conditions, this technology can be used to help both patients and practitioners.”
The experience of the group that was transported to a virtual city shows that simply distracting the patient with any sort of virtual environment might not necessarily make a dental procedure any more relaxing. It seems that in order for the VR environment to inhibit pain or stress, the environment must be particularly calm and soothing, like a beach.
The success of the virtual beach, however, is not exactly a surprise considering previous research has shown that the average person is most relaxed in this type of environment.
A 2015 study found that even spending time in an aquarium can not only improve mood but reduce heart rate and blood pressure as well.
Beaches are relaxing
The real surprise from the recent study was the stark difference between the experiences of the two VR groups. Dr. Melissa Auvray, a dentist involved in the study, said that the feedback the researchers received from the patients who visited a virtual beach was “fantastic,” which suggests that they might have been so absorbed in the virtual environment that they actually enjoyed their dental procedures.
Adding to the findings’ significance is the current popularity of sedation dentistry.
“The benefit of the VR is that with sedation patients need to have someone with them to help them home afterwards, and the dentist and dental nurse need further training,” Dr. Auvray noted. “However, with the VR, any dentist with a dental degree could learn to use the VR kit, and it could benefit patients.”
The research team plans to determine whether a virtual beach could achieve the same results for patients undergoing more serious procedures. Such studies will likely involve improved versions of the beach environment that were designed to make medical treatment as relaxing as humanly possible.
The traditional solution for unhealthy teeth has long been to save the tooth, eliminating pain or the potential for worsening condition as quickly as possible. It might only be a matter of time before the tooth begins to cause trouble again but long-term risks were typically unknown to the patient, regardless of how much money has been put towards saving what could be a lost cause.
Another common situation is a patient spending thousands of dollars to save one side of the mouth only to see the other side fail just a few months later. These days of pouring money down the drain might be over thanks to tremendous advancements in dental implant treatment.
Rather than immediately choosing to save unhealthy teeth, many dentists first show patients panoramic x-rays and a 3D CT scan that displays what all of their teeth will look like in five or ten years. If the future doesn’t look good, your dentist might recommend replacing the teeth with full mouth implants because the newly-updated procedure will greatly outweigh the long-term cost of ongoing, preventative treatment.
Patients are naturally surprised to hear such a drastic suggestion since they were likely under the impression that the only people who received full mouth implants had little if any healthy teeth. But in 2017, the actual procedure is far less time-consuming, reliable and costly than more root canals, crowns or bridgework.
For example, today’s dental implants can now require just 5 or 6 actual implants as opposed to treating each individual tooth. This is why some patients need just three appointments to replace every single tooth in their mouths. Patients with more than a few unhealthy teeth might also eventually resort to dentures, which, unlike dental implants, do not provide stimulation for bone health and can potentially worsen the patient’s appearance, creating a permanently sunken expression.
Rochester Hybridge in upstate New York is one of many practices around the US that allows patients to customize their new teeth based on tooth shade, size, and even material in order to look authentic.
According to Science Daily, dental implants have the potential to become even more advanced following the success of a new type of nano coating material. The primary reason dental implants fail is peri-implantitis, an inflammatory process that occurs when biofilm, an evolved form of oral bacteria, develops on implants and destroys the tissue surrounding them.
But in a recent study, a UK research team created a nano coating made of silver, titanium oxide and hydroxyapatite that restricted the development of bacteria and the formation of biofilm on dental implants by 97.5%.
In addition to reducing the risk of peri-implantitis, the nano coating accelerated bone healing and supported integration of the implants into the surrounding bone. Researcher and University of Plymouth Professor Richard Handy told Science Daily that the team now plans on replicating their findings “with animal models and then human volunteers.”
Figures from the American Academy of Implant Dentistry state that three million Americans currently have dental implants, a number that is supposed to rise by at least 500,000 this year. In about five years, the AAID said, the American and European market for dental implants will be worth at least $4.2 billion.
A major reason dentists strongly recommend making appointments every 6 months is because many symptoms of oral health problems are hard to spot on your own. It’s not always as simple as, say, ongoing toothaches or teeth shifting out of place. There are other symptoms that do not involve severe pain or a blatant change in appearance that can be seen in the mirror.
Making these symptoms even easier to ignore is the fact that they seem normal, especially for people of a certain age. But as your dentist will tell you, even the slightest problem can be a sign of a potentially serious condition.
Here are the 4 most commonly overlooked oral health problems:
Some people are naturally plagued with particularly bad breath, which becomes increasingly noticeable as you get older, like body odor. Maybe you have a taste for pungent cuisine or tend to drink alcohol a little more than you should, giving your bad breath an excuse. But bad breath can be an early sign of conditions like liver disease, kidney disease, advanced gum disease, halitosis, or diabetes. It’s difficult, however, to know that your breath is worse than the average person of your age and lifestyle if you don’t brush and floss at least twice a day. If your breath remains just as bad despite this routine, your dentist might recommend a tongue scraper. Only after brushing, flossing and tongue scraping have failed might you know that you are at risk for one of the aforementioned conditions.
Like bad breath, this is something that is often mistaken as a natural part of getting older or a certain lifestyle. You might have become used to having a dry mouth because you don’t drink that much water throughout the day or are taking a medication that may cause it. This is why the best way to truly ascertain whether or not your mouth is producing too little saliva is to ask your dentist or go for a check-up. Your dentist will quickly be able to tell if you should increase your consumption of liquids or try a saliva substitute. A lack of saliva prevents bacteria from being washed away, which could lead to cavities or gum disease. Dry mouth is also a common sign of diabetes, scleroderma or rheumatoid arthritis.
Sensitivity To Hot And Cold Food Or Beverages
So you’re eating ice cream and it stings a little. No big deal, right? But then you start to feel pain while eating hot food as well. Increased sensitivity to either type of food or beverage is a sign of cavities or bruxism (teeth grinding), both of which are fairly easy to alleviate. The combination of a night guard and regular exercise will trim your teeth grinding habit, since it is usually triggered by stress. But if the pain from hot or cold foods or liquids is almost too painful to bear, it could be a symptom of enamel decay. The nerves at the center of tooth become decayed and therefore more sensitive, making it very painful to eat. So even if you think it’s just a cavity, call your dentist in the event that you develop sensitivity to hot and cold foods.
Everybody snores, right? And even if you do, how are you supposed to know unless someone else is sleeping in the same room? Besides, everyone else seems just as tired as I am during the day. Much like the three previous symptoms, snoring is only considered completely harmless if it doesn’t reach a level of extremity. Excessive snoring could be an indication of sleep apnea, which causes the airway to close as you sleep deeply. Your dentist could have a mandibular advancement device made for you, allowing your airway to stay open so the snoring stops.
Think You Have One Of These Symptoms?
If you are affected by one of these problems but aren’t sure about the severity, you’ll get all the answers you need with just a single trip to the dentist. In addition to identifying oral health problems, your dentist can tell if you are at risk of more serious conditions simply by examining your mouth. It’s important to remember that just because you are experiencing these problems doesn’t mean you are inevitably going to face their worst potential outcomes. Chances are, if you bring them to your dentist’s attention as early as possible, you won’t have to worry about facing any of their consequences again!
A dental visit is usually pretty quick and therefore doesn’t seem particularly reliable to the average patient. Unless you have gum disease or another oral condition, each visit likely involves the exact same services, making you wonder whether or not it’s actually necessary to schedule appointments every six months.
But aside from the usual cavity check, most patients probably aren’t aware of the numerous types of examinations their dentists perform in order to assess the whole span of their oral health. This shroud of mystery could very well explain the hesitancy or nervousness many patients experience before each visit.
Here is a simple breakdown of every examination that takes place each time you go to the dentist for a check-up:
Tooth Decay/Cavity Exam
That metal stick with a thin, curved end your dentist uses to touch the surface of your teeth is a sickle probe, aka an “explorer.” This instrument can detect cavities but this is just one of its many functions. The explorer can also determine how much enamel, plaque and tartar are on your teeth in addition to a tooth’s hardness. Oral and systemic acid produced by oral bacteria can weaken enamel, which can cause cavities, tooth decay and a series of other problems.
X-rays are another part of the tooth decay and cavity exam because they allow the dentist to see decay and cavities that have just begun to form, especially in areas that are not easy to see, like the tiny gaps in between teeth. In addition to spotting tooth decay and cavities, this exam can identify the cause of each problem and help the dentist figure out what kind of treatment will reduce them.
Periodontal probes look just like a sickle probe with the exception of its blunted edge, which is used to assess the state of your gums. Your dentist will measure pocket depth, or the amount of space between your gum tissue and tooth. The numbers your Dentist calls out are measurements read off the periodontal probe. (Numbers between one and three are generally healthy and normal.) They will then compare the findings with previous measurements in order to determine the presence of gum disease. A loss of connective tissue is a sign of bone loss.
Pocket depth must be measured and recorded twice a year in order to monitor changes in bone and tissue attachment levels. Many patients with gum disease don’t find out they have it until it’s too late, so it is crucial that they are examined for a condition that is often difficult to detect at home.
Oral Cancer Exam
That blue light your dentist shines on your mouth comes from a VELscope, which is used to examine the mucous membrane lining inside the mouth. Any abnormalities in this area, which is known as the oral mucosa, could be an early sign of oral cancer. If oral cancer is caught early through an oral cancer exam, however, there is a chance only minimal surgery will be needed to prevent the cancer from spreading.
This is when your dentist puts his or her fingers near your ears and asks you to open and close your mouth. In this exam, your dentist is checking your Temporal Mandibular Joints, which connect the jawbone to the skull. If the dentist detects poor bite alignment, tenderness in the joint and connecting muscles, or any particularly sensitive areas, the patient might have TMJ, an abbreviation used to describe any disorder or symptoms related to your Temporal Mandibular Joints. The exam will help the dentist identify the cause of the problem and figure out what type of treatment should be applied.
A cleaning removes all plaque in addition to biofilm, which is a layer of oral bacteria that can stick to your teeth, and calculus, a byproduct of hardened biofilm. Having plaque, calculus and biofilm removed at least twice a year dramatically decreases your risk of developing cavities, gum disease, and even bad breath.
Now Does It Seem Worth It?
These examinations are purely routine and do not include the services your dentist could provide for any individual problems you might have. So when you consider everything your dentist does in a single visit, doesn’t it make sense to say that a check-up is most definitely worth your time and money? Besides, not visiting the dentist regularly increases your chances of developing a potentially serious oral health problem, which would only cost you more money in the long-term. Remember, your dentist is trying to address issues before they become exacerbated so that your two visits per year are the only days you spend in the dental chair!