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Dental Problems in School-Age Children

Teaching your children regular brushing and flossing habits can go a long way toward preventing many kinds of dental problems. But even with good oral hygiene habits, your preschooler or school-age child can develop a problem with his or her mouth or teeth. While some of these problems can be treated at home, others may require the care of a dentist or other health care professional.

Canker Sores

Canker sores are small ulcers on the inside of the mouth or on the tongue. They are usually flat and have a gray, white, or yellow center. A canker sore may begin as a small bump or red spot. Although harmless and not contagious, canker sores can be painful. Researchers are not exactly sure what causes canker sores, but biting the inside of the mouth or tongue may be one trigger. Stress or being tired may be another cause.

Although there is no cure for canker sores, you can help your child ease the pain with these suggestions:

  • Do not feed your child acidic, spicy, or hot foods or beverages. These can irritate the canker sore.

  • Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help with the pain.

  • Apply an over-the-counter medicine ointment to the canker sore. Some medicines help numb the pain of the canker sore, while others protect the surface of the sore from irritation. There are several brands you can choose from or ask your child’s dentist for a suggestion.

  • Your child’s dentist or doctor may prescribe a medicine to treat the canker sores.

The good news is that canker sores usually go away within two weeks. If your child has a canker sore for more than two weeks, call his or her doctor.

Tooth Decay

Tooth decay is the number one chronic childhood condition. And yet, 90 percent of tooth decay is preventable.

Tooth decay—also known as caries or cavities—begins when bacteria that live naturally in the mouth forms plaque on the teeth. That plaque then interacts with food debris left on the teeth and forms acids that eat away at the hard outer coating of the tooth.

All children are at risk for tooth decay. But by choosing a healthy diet and teaching your child good oral hygiene skills, you can help prevent tooth decay. Here’s how:

  • Limit sweets. While many foods contribute to caries, foods high in sugars and starches are more likely to cause decay.

  • Encourage good hygiene habits. Help your child brush gently using fluoride toothpaste, at least twice a day, with special attention to the gum line, and floss at least once a day.

  • Schedule regular cleaning and checkups with your child’s dentist. The dentist may also recommend special fluoride treatments or sealants for your child’s teeth.

Toothache

A toothache can have several causes—these include tooth decay, periodontal (gum) disease, infection, grinding of the teeth, a trauma to the tooth, or an abnormal bite.

If your child has a toothache for any reason, call your child’s dentist. If you cannot get an appointment right away, try these home treatments while you are waiting.

  • Give your child an over-the counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen.

  • Rub your child’s tooth and gum with an antiseptic that contains benzocaine.

  • If the tooth or mouth has been injured, place a cold compress on your child’s cheek to help reduce pain and swelling. Do not put heat or aspirin on the sore area. (If your child has facial swelling or the tooth has been knocked out or loosened, see your dentist or go to the emergency room right away.)

“Canker Sores and Cold Sores.” Journal of the American Dental Association. March 2005, vol. 136, pp. 415. www.ada.org/sections/scienceAndResearch/pdfs/patient_48.pdf Accessed 2013.

“Canker Sores: What Are They and What Can You Do About Them?” American Academy of Family Physicians. American Family Physician . July 1, 2000, vol. 62, no. 1, pp. 160. www.aafp.org/afp/2000/0701/p160.html Accessed 2013.

“What Is Tooth Decay?” Academy of General Dentistry, February 2007. www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article Accessed 2013.

“Toothaches.” U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, February 22, 2010. www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003067.htm Accessed 2013.

“What Causes a Toothache?” Academy of General Dentistry, October 2008. www.knowyourteeth.com/infobites/abc/article Accessed 2013.

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