The teeth of growing children are miracles, and if all goes well deciduous teeth fall out and are replaced with permanent teeth that allow the child to eat and speak properly and smile brilliantly. These teeth should last the rest of the child’s life. But like everything else, children’s teeth are subject to problems. The good news is that they can be fixed. Here are some common dental issues with children:
"It’s normal for toddlers and preschoolers to suck their thumbs,” says Dr. Mila Cohen. “But thumb sucking after the permanent teeth come in can lead to problems with the bite and how the teeth are aligned.” If the child continues to vigorously suck their thumb past age four, it’s time for a visit to the dentist. Related problems are lip sucking, which sometimes occurs at the same time as thumb sucking. Tongue thrusting happens when the child pushes their tongue against their front teeth to help them tightly shut their mouth when they swallow.
Misaligned Bite and Crowded Teeth
Sometimes even a child’s baby teeth can be crowded or their bite can be misaligned. If these problems aren't fixed, they can lead to problems with the jaw, worn-down tooth enamel and difficulty practicing good oral hygiene. This in turn leads to cavities, gum disease and the loss of teeth.
One remedy for this is a palate expander. This device is made up of an arched steel bar attached to the back teeth. It gently opens up the palate, which is the roof of the mouth. This results in more room in the mouth for teeth to grow normally. Palate expanders are almost always given to children before puberty, because their palates have not yet fused.
Older children, of course, can be fitted with braces. Most children have them between 8 and 14 years of age, and they usually need to wear them between one and three years. After that, they’ll need to wear a retainer for a while to make sure the teeth keep their new, proper alignment.
Accidents where a child knocks out a tooth or bites their tongue look gruesome, but they are usually not as bad as they look. However, it is important to get the child to a dentist as soon as possible. Even a knocked out tooth can be put back if not too much time has passed. Put the tooth in a cup of milk, or tuck it in between the child’s cheek and gum if it is not too filthy. Have the child wash out their mouth with warm salt water if the tooth is cracked, and simply clean a bitten tongue or lip gently. Apply cold compress to both injuries. Use dental floss to remove debris between the teeth that’s causing pain.
Children whose baby teeth cannot be put back can wear space maintainers that fill the space where the old tooth was. Dentists also make crowns for children whose teeth are cracked or damaged. An child who is active in sports can also be fitted with a mouthguard.
Cavities in baby teeth should not be ignored. They need to be taken care of like permanent teeth, and the child’s diet should be low on sugars and acids that can cause decay. Children who are prone to cavities can have sealants put on their teeth. They are easy to apply and painless to the child. They can be reapplied when they wear out.