Childhood is a time filled with adventure, exploration and growth. However, these years of discovery are also home to the occasional dental problem — a climb on the jungle gym could end in a broken tooth, or a missed spot of plaque could result in a cavity.
Many of a kid’s dental problems are the same ones that affect adults, but your child’s teeth are still developing, and they’re softer and younger than their permanent successors. Untreated dental conditions can cause poor and misaligned tooth development, leading to more serious problems as a child grows up.
Understanding common pediatric dental problems and why they happen will help you and your child know how to prevent them. Here are the 10 most common dental problems for kids, along with how to prevent them from developing.
1. Tooth Decay
Tooth decay is one of the most common chronic childhood conditions across the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of children from the ages of five to 11 have at least one untreated decayed or decaying tooth, and 13 percent of adolescents have the same problem.
A decaying tooth is caused by certain types of bacteria that live and thrive in the mouth. A sticky, film-like buildup of bacteria called plaque perpetually accumulates on teeth. If exposed to the right type of foods, plaque will produce acids and eat away at a tooth’s enamel, or the hard outer surface of the teeth. The stickiness of the plaque keeps the acids in constant contact with the surface of the tooth, gradually decaying the tooth.
Carbohydrate-rich foods help plaque grow and eat away at teeth. For children, some of the most common problem foods include candy, cookies, soda and fruit juice. Cooked starches such as pasta, rice, potatoes and bread also contribute to plaque deposits. A carbohydrate-rich diet plus inconsistent brushing habits can lead to tooth decay.
The good news is that tooth decay is a preventable condition. Proper brushing techniques and regular visits to a dentist will significantly reduce the chance of a child developing tooth decay. Have your child brush twice a day with an approved fluoride toothpaste, and make sure they floss before bed. Try to limit their consumption of sugary foods, especially before bedtime.
2. Bad Breath
Also known as halitosis, bad breath can affect anyone, regardless of their age. Often, bad breath is blamed on the foods we just ate. However, chronic bad breath in children could indicate a deeper root issue than eating stinky foods.
Halitosis is ultimately caused by bacteria that live in the mouth. These bacteria colonies feed on leftover food, fluid and plaque — as they eat, they produce hydrogen sulfide, which leads to a bad smell in the mouth. As with adults, bad breath is most common in children in the morning, after they wake up. During the night, bacteria multiply in the mouth, leading to a case of “morning breath.” However, if your child’s bad breath persists throughout the day, it probably indicates a larger issue.
The buildup of bacteria in the mouth can be caused by a wide range of problems. Gum problems, poor oral hygiene and dry mouth are the most common culprits behind halitosis, but other issues such as chronic sinusitis, diabetes, tooth decay and digestive problems can also lead to bad breath. Sometimes, the way medication breaks down in the body could produce abnormal-smelling breath.
Proper dental hygiene is the best way to treat and prevent bad breath. An antibacterial mouthwash may help reduce any smells, and brushing the tongue could help fight bacteria in the mouth.
3. Sensitive Teeth
Another common childhood dental problem is sensitive teeth. If hot or cold foods and fluids cause your child irritation and discomfort, they may have sensitive teeth. Sometimes, even breathing in cold or hot air can cause pain. While sensitive teeth aren’t necessarily a bad sign, they may point to a more serious dental problem.
Many people equate sensitive teeth with an older demographic, but kids are also prone to developing the condition. Children’s enamel is thinner than that of adults, and it’s easily worn down by plaque and acid. As enamel wears away, a child’s gums may begin to recede, and cracks can develop on the tooth surface, exposing nerve endings. When someone is drinking or eating anything hot or cold, the vulnerable nerve endings are triggered, leading to pain. Sensitive teeth could also be an indication of undiagnosed cavities or tooth decay.
To combat sensitive teeth, dentists can apply a sealant to the teeth, strengthening the enamel and filling in any cracks. Give your child a soft-bristled toothbrush to use at home — hard bristles can damage the surface of teeth over time, scraping off enamel and causing microscopic cracks in the tooth.
One of the most common behaviors associated with childhood is thumb-sucking. For some children, this habit begins in the womb. Comforting and instinctive, thumb-sucking isn’t a cause for worry in most cases and will fade away by the time a kid is two or three. However, pay attention to this habit as your child ages — sometimes, thumb-sucking can have a negative effect of a kid’s oral health.
If your child is still sucking their thumb when their permanent teeth begin to come in, the habit can cause a wide range of other problems. Thumb-sucking can disrupt the normal oral development, affecting teeth alignment and the roof of the mouth.
The intensity of the sucking determines the extent of the damage — strong thumb-sucking can cause damage to both their baby and adult teeth. Most children stop sucking their thumb when they’re around four years old. However, if it continues past age five, children may develop oral as well as speech problems.
If the habit persists, contact your dentist. An experienced dentist can give additional help and support, providing expert advice on how to work with your child to break the habit.
5. Gum Disease
Gum disease, or gingivitis, is the inflammation of the gum tissue. It’s often caused by poor oral and dental hygiene and plaque buildup, and it can progress into bone damage and tooth loss.
As plaque and tartar deposits build up on the base of the teeth, they begin to affect the gums. During the early stages of gingivitis, a child’s gums are often swollen and red, and they recede from the teeth and bleed easily after flossing. Other indicators of gum disease include bad breath and a perpetually bad taste in the kid’s mouth.
In children, gum disease can come in three different forms:
- Chronic gingivitis: A common condition in children, chronic gingivitis leads to puffy gum tissue that turns bright red and bleeds easily.
- Aggressive periodontitis: Found in adolescents and young teenagers, aggressive periodontitis is characterized by the loss of the alveolar bone, one of the tissues that support the teeth.
- Generalized aggressive periodontitis: Generalized aggressive periodontitis affects the entire mouth and can start at puberty. Symptoms include large deposits of calculus and plaque, inflamed gums and loose teeth.
Gum disease is preventable, and it can be avoided with simple steps such as daily brushing, flossing and dental visits. For serious cases, a child may need to visit a dentist for special rinses and deep cleaning. If the infection is progressing, a dentist may suggest antibiotics or other medications.
Also known as bruxism, teeth grinding is a common condition among school-aged children — two or three out of 10 kids will grind or clench their teeth. Sometimes a child develops bruxism because their top teeth aren’t aligned with their bottom teeth. Another reason could be in response to pain — just as you rub a sore muscle, some children will grind their teeth as a result of pain, like teething or an earache. It can also be a sign that a kid is experiencing stress or hyperactivity.
Usually, bruxism doesn’t require any treatment and stops as a kid grows. However, if the habit persists, it can gradually wear away permanent and primary teeth, resulting in muscular or dental pain. Headaches can also accompany teeth grinding, and the deterioration of tooth enamel can lead to chipped and sensitive teeth.
Devices like night guards can help keep your child from grinding their teeth as they sleep. Consult with a pediatric dentist to find the right mode of treatment for your kid — often, they’ll have devices ready to give you at the end of a visit.
7. Canker Sores
Canker sores, or aphthous ulcers, are small sores that form inside the mouth, on the gums or on the tongue. Typically, the sores have a gray or white center surrounded by a red border.
Canker sores are different than fever blisters and cold sores — they do not spread from child to child, and most go away within one or two weeks. However, canker sores often reappear, and they can make drinking and eating difficult for a child. They can develop alone or in groups, and they can grow up to one inch across.
Currently, doctors haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact cause of canker sores. Many factors contribute to their growth and development, including:
- Stress or trauma
- Nutritional deficiencies
However, most children who develop canker sores are otherwise healthy — they can form as a result of minor injury to the mouth from hard brushing, dental work or an accidental cheek bite.
To reduce the pain of canker sores and the chance of them coming back, give your child soft and mild foods and drinks. Avoid feeding them any abrasive, spicy or acidic foods, and look for mouthwashes and toothpaste without sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS). Use soft-bristled toothbrushes, and avoid sodas. To shorten the duration of the sores being present, you can try giving your child antimicrobial mouthwash or topical products.
8. Baby Teeth Loss
For many children, the first loose tooth is an exciting sign — the tooth fairy may make a visit soon, and their small “baby tooth” will soon be replaced by a “grown-up” one. Tooth loss is a natural stage of development. The first lost tooth is usually one of the middle front teeth, and it typically loosens around the age of six. Generally, molars aren’t lost until a child is between 10 and 12, and most children have their full set of 28 permanent teeth by the time they’re 13 years old.
For many children, losing their primary or “baby” teeth is painless. However, if it refuses to fall out or is causing the kid pain, it might be time to consult your dentist.
Most loose teeth are a result of the eruption of a permanent tooth underneath the primary one, but some are due to injury or trauma to the tooth before it’s ready to come out. If a tooth is being lost prematurely, it can cause the permanent tooth to develop poorly or be misaligned. Go to a certified dentist if your child’s tooth is loose before it should be — they’ll try everything they can to save the tooth so that the permanent teeth will develop properly.
9. Over-Retained Primary Teeth
Sometimes, a baby tooth doesn’t get loose.
If a primary tooth won’t loosen, it could cause the permanent tooth underneath to try to erupt in the same space. As a result, two teeth can exist in a spot meant for just one. Or, a baby tooth might remain solid for years as other teeth loosen around it. In these instances, the child may not have a permanent tooth to replace the primary one, so the primary tooth isn’t pushed out of the mouth.
Often, over-retained primary teeth indicate a deeper oral issue. The most common reason is the absence of the permanent tooth, but other root issues include obstructions, misalignment, trauma, infection and pathology. Over-retained teeth can lead to cavities and other dental problems if left untreated.
For over-retained teeth, a dentist will step in and remove the primary tooth so that the permanent tooth can develop without competition. Braces can be used to correct any misalignment once the teeth have fully emerged.
10. Dental Anxiety
Although this condition isn’t directly related to oral health, dental anxiety can make regular dental checkups a frightening experience for children. As a child grows, dental anxiety can keep them from getting the oral care they need to maintain healthy and well-aligned teeth. Prolonged avoidance of the dentist can result in the need for more serious procedures, such as root canals, tooth extraction or emergency dental work.
Family and pediatric dentists undergo special training to deal with dental anxiety. They know how to create a secure, welcoming atmosphere for nervous children, helping kids have positive experiences inside a dental office. If you’re looking for expert and gentle pediatric dental care, Dental Choice may be able to help.
Schedule an Appointment at Dental Choice Today
If you’re worried that your child could be developing a dental problem, we may be able to help. At Dental Choice, we’re dedicated to helping you and your child develop healthier smiles.
You and your family deserve expert and compassionate care. With over 20 years of experience in dentistry and patient care, our team could be the solution you’ve been looking for — schedule an appointment with Dental Choice today.