It’s common for kids to be less than enthusiastic about visiting the dentist. For some, though, it’s even more of a challenge: A child with extreme anxiety and fear during dental visits could interfere with them receiving the dental care they need. The impact could even extend into adulthood.
Recognizing the need to reduce this high anxiety, dentistry has used a number of pharmacological tools for many years that relax a child during dental care. Sedatives have often been the only choice for reducing anxiety, especially during extensive procedures and treatments. But now there’s a promising new approach in dentistry that doesn’t depend on drugs.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a psychotherapeutic method used for decades to treat depression, phobias and eating disorders, has been investigated recently as a possible approach for relieving children’s dental anxiety. During CBT, trained therapists use specific behavioral techniques to help patients develop mental and emotional strategies for dealing with stress.
During the usual course of CBT therapy, a therapist meets in counseling sessions with patients weekly over several months to help them change their routine thinking or behavior surrounding a stressful issue. Initially, the therapist guides the patient toward understanding the underlying causes for their negative reaction to the issue. They then work with the patient to devise an objective way to test whether those emotions and beliefs about the issue are true.
Using this effective method for changing behavioral and emotional responses for dental anxiety has had encouraging results from initial research. One study found CBT successfully reduced dental anxiety among a majority of a group of European children ages 9 through 16 who participated in the method.
CBT isn’t an overnight cure, often requires a number of months to achieve results. But for children who suffer from extreme fear of professional dental care, this drug-free method may provide long-term benefits that extend well past their childhood years.
In her decades-long career, renowned actress Kathy Bates has won Golden Globes, Emmys, and many other honors. Bates began acting in her twenties, but didn't achieve national recognition until she won the best actress Oscar for Misery — when she was 42 years old! “I was told early on that because of my physique and my look, I'd probably blossom more in my middle age,” she recently told Dear Doctor magazine. “[That] has certainly been true.” So if there's one lesson we can take from her success, it might be that persistence pays off.
When it comes to her smile, Kathy also recognizes the value of persistence. Now 67, the veteran actress had orthodontic treatment in her 50's to straighten her teeth. Yet she is still conscientious about wearing her retainer. “I wear a retainer every night,” she said. “I got lazy about it once, and then it was very difficult to put the retainer back in. So I was aware that the teeth really do move.”
Indeed they do. In fact, the ability to move teeth is what makes orthodontic treatment work. By applying consistent and gentle forces, the teeth can be shifted into better positions in the smile. That's called the active stage of orthodontic treatment. Once that stage is over, another begins: the retention stage. The purpose of retention is to keep that straightened smile looking as good as it did when the braces came off. And that's where the retainer comes in.
There are several different kinds of retainers, but all have the same purpose: To hold the teeth in their new positions and keep them from shifting back to where they were. We sometimes say teeth have a “memory” — not literally, but in the sense that if left alone, teeth tend to migrate back to their former locations. And if you've worn orthodontic appliances, like braces or aligners, that means right back where you started before treatment.
By holding the teeth in place, retainers help stabilize them in their new positions. They allow new bone and ligaments to re-form and mature around them, and give the gums time to remodel themselves. This process can take months to years to be complete. But you may not need to wear a retainer all the time: Often, removable retainers are worn 24 hours a day at first; later they are worn only at night. We will let you know what's best in your individual situation.
So take a tip from Kathy Bates, star of the hit TV series American Horror Story, and wear your retainer as instructed. That's the best way to keep your straight new smile from changing back to the way it was — and to keep a bad dream from coming true.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.” The interview with Kathy Bates appears in the latest issue of Dear Doctor.
The journey to a straighter smile with braces can be difficult. One of the biggest dangers you'll face is an increased risk of periodontal (gum) disease.
Gum disease is caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles on tooth surfaces. To curtail plaque growth, you must brush and floss daily and visit your dentist regularly for more thorough cleanings. If you don't, accumulated plaque can trigger an infection with potentially disastrous consequences for your dental health.
But wearing braces can make you more vulnerable to gum disease. The braces and wires can get in the way of brushing and flossing. To add to the difficulty, the gums often react to being in close proximity to braces, causing their tissues to swell or overgrow. And if the patient is a teenager, the normal hormonal surge that occurs during these years could compound this vulnerability even more.
To prevent an infection, you'll need to practice extra diligence cleaning your teeth with brushing and flossing. It takes more time and effort, but it's worth it to lower your disease risk. To help even more, consider using tools like specialized brushes that can maneuver better around hardware and floss threaders that can get floss under wires. You might also consider a water flosser, which uses pressurized water to remove plaque between teeth.
In addition to your orthodontic visits, you should also maintain your regular cleaning schedule with your family dentist—or more often if they recommend. Besides cleaning, your dentist also monitors for signs of developing gum disease. They can also prescribe mouthrinses for controlling bacterial growth.
Even with diligent hygiene, your gums may still adversely react to the braces. This may not be a problem if your gum tissues don't appear to be detaching from the teeth. But your dentist or orthodontist may recommend you see a periodontist (a gum specialist) to help monitor that aspect of your care. In extreme cases, it may be necessary to remove the braces and allow the gums to heal.
Keeping your teeth clean and your mouth disease-free is no easy task while wearing braces. But it can be done—and with your dentist's help, you can achieve a straighter and healthier smile.
If you would like more information on dental care while wearing braces, 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 “Gum Swelling During Orthodontics.”
Your child's permanent teeth come in gradually, starting just as they begin losing their primary ("baby") teeth and not ending until late adolescence or early adulthood. That's when the third molars or "wisdom teeth" close out the process.
Because of their late arrival, wisdom teeth have a high potential for dental problems. With a greater chance of crowding or obstruction by other teeth, wisdom teeth often get stuck fully or partially below the gums and bone (impaction) or erupt out of position. In one study, 7 in 10 people between the ages of 20 and 30 will have at least one impacted wisdom tooth at some time in their lives.
It's not surprising then that wisdom teeth are among the most extracted teeth, to the tune of about 10 million per year. Besides those already diseased or causing bite problems, many are removed preemptively in an attempt to avoid future problems.
But wisdom teeth usually require surgical extraction by an oral surgeon, which is much more involved than a simple extraction by a general dentist. Given the potential consequences of surgical extraction, is it really necessary to remove a wisdom tooth not creating immediate problems?
That's not an easy question to answer because it's often difficult to predict a wisdom tooth's developmental track. Early on it can be disease-free and not causing any problems to other teeth. But as some researchers have found, one in three wisdom teeth at this stage will later develop disease or create other issues.
For many dentists, the best approach is to consider extraction on a case by case basis. Those displaying definite signs of problems are prime for removal. But where there are no signs of disease or other issues, the more prudent action may be to keep a watchful eye on their development and decide on extraction at some later date.
More than likely, your dentist will continue to have an ongoing discussion with you about the state of your child's wisdom teeth. While extraction is always an option, wisdom teeth that aren't yet a problem to dental health may be best left alone.
Tooth decay is a destructive oral disease, which along with periodontal (gum) disease is most responsible for tooth loss. And as you age, your disease risk goes up.
One form of decay older people often experience is root cavities. Unlike those occurring in the visible crown, root cavities often occur below the gum line and are especially destructive to tooth structure.
That's because, unlike the crown protected by ultra-hard enamel, the roots are covered by a thin, mineralized material called cementum. Although cementum offers some protection, it can't compare with the decay-resistant capacity of enamel.
The roots also depend on gum coverage for protection. But unfortunately, the gums can shrink back or recede, usually due to gum disease or over-aggressive brushing, and expose some of the root surface. With only the cementum to protect them, the roots can become highly susceptible to decay. If a cavity forms here, it can rapidly advance into the tooth's interior, the pulp, weakening the tooth and increasing its risk of loss.
To stop the decay, we must treat root cavities much like we do with crown cavities: by removing any decayed structure and then filling the cavity. But root cavities are often more difficult to access depending on how far below the gum line they extend. We may need to perform minor gum surgery to expose the cavity to treat it.
But as with any form of tooth decay, the best strategy is to prevent root cavities in the first place. Your first line of defense is a daily hygiene habit of brushing and flossing to remove dental plaque, the main cause for tooth decay. You should also visit your dentist at least twice a year (or more, if recommended) for more thorough cleanings and checkups. Your dentist can also recommend or prescribe preventive rinses, or apply fluoride to at-risk tooth surfaces to strengthen them.
You should also be on the lookout for any signs of gum disease. If you see swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, see your dentist as soon as possible. Stopping possible gum recession will further reduce your risk of root cavities.
If you would like more information on the prevention and treatment of tooth 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 “Root Cavities: Tooth Decay Near the Gum Line Affects Many Older Adults.”
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