Children's Dentistry in Valparaiso & Merrillville
at Heritage Lake Dental

Pediatric oral care has two main components: preventative care at the pediatric dentist’s office and preventative care at home. Though infant and toddler caries (cavities) and tooth decay have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, a good dental strategy will eradicate the risk of both.

The goal of preventative oral care is to evaluate and preserve the health of the child’s teeth. Beginning at the age of twelve months, the American Dental Association (ADA) recommends that children begin to visit the pediatric dentist for “well baby” checkups. In general, most children should continue to visit the dentist every six months, unless instructed otherwise.

children smiling

During a routine visit to the dentist, your child’s mouth will be fully examined, the teeth will be professionally cleaned, topical fluoride might be coated onto the teeth to protect tooth enamel, and any parental concerns will be addressed.

Your dentist can demonstrate good brushing and flossing techniques, advise parents on dietary issues, provide strategies for thumb sucking and pacifier cessation, and communicate with the child on his or her level.

When molars emerge (usually between the ages of two and three), your dentist may coat them with dental sealant that covers the hard-to-reach fissures on the molars, sealing out bacteria, food particles, and acid. Dental sealant may last for many months or many years, depending on your child's oral habits.

Though most parents primarily think of brushing and flossing when they hear the words “oral care,” good preventative care includes many more factors, such as:

Diet
Parents should provide children with a nourishing, well-balanced diet. Very sugary diets should be modified and continuous snacking should be discouraged. Oral bacteria feeds on leftover sugar particles in your child’s mouth after each helping of food, emitting harmful acids that erode tooth enamel, gum tissue, and bone. Space out snacks when possible, and provide non-sugary alternatives like celery sticks, carrot sticks or low-fat yogurt.

Oral habits
Though pacifier use and thumb sucking generally cease over time, both can cause the teeth to misalign. If the child must use a pacifier, choose an “orthodontically” correct model. This will minimize the risk of developmental problems like narrow roof arches and crowding. Your dentist can suggest a strategy (or provide a dental appliance) for thumb sucking cessation.

Brushing
Children’s teeth should be brushed a minimum of two times per day using a soft bristled brush and a pea-sized amount of toothpaste. Parents should help with the brushing process until the child is capable of reaching all areas of the mouth. Parents should always opt for ADA approved toothpaste (non-fluoridated before the age of two, and fluoridated thereafter). For babies, parents should rub the gum area with a clean cloth after each feeding.

Flossing
Cavities and tooth decay form more easily between teeth. Therefore, the child is at risk for between-teeth cavities wherever two teeth grow adjacent to each other. Your dentist can help demonstrate correct head positioning during the flossing process and suggest tips for making flossing more fun.

Fluoride
Fluoride helps prevent mineral loss and simultaneously promotes the remineralization of tooth enamel. Too much fluoride can result in fluorosis, a condition where white specks appear on the permanent teeth, and too little can result in tooth decay. It is important to get the fluoride balance correct. Your dentist can evaluate how much the child is currently receiving and prescribe supplements if necessary.

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The American Academy of Pediatric Dentists (AAPD) advises parents to make biannual dental appointments for children, beginning approximately six months after the first tooth emerges.

These two important yearly visits allow your dentist to monitor new developments in the child’s mouth, evaluate changes in the condition of teeth and gums, and continue to advise parents on good oral care strategies. Your dentist may schedule additional visits for children who are particularly susceptible to tooth decay or who show early signs of orthodontic problems.

What is the purpose of dental checkups?
First, your dentist aims to provide a “good dental home” for the child. If a dental emergency does arise, parents can take the child for treatment at a familiar, comfortable location.

Second, your dentist keeps meticulous records of the child’s ongoing dental health and jaw development. In general, painful dental conditions do not arise overnight. If the dentist understands the child’s dental health history, it becomes easier to anticipate future issues and intervene before they arise.

Third, your dentist is able to educate parents and children during the visit. Sometimes the dentist wants to introduce one or several factors to enhance tooth health, like sealants or fluoride supplements.  Other times, the dentist asks parents to change the child’s dietary or oral behavior, like reducing sugar in the child’s diet or transitioning the child from sippy cups to adult-sized drinking glasses.

Finally, dental X-rays are often the only way to identify tiny cavities in primary (baby) teeth. Though the child may not be feeling any pain, these tiny cavities, left unchecked, can rapidly turn into large cavities, tooth decay, and eventually, childhood periodontal disease. Dental X-rays are only used when the pediatric dentist suspects cavities or orthodontic irregularities.

Are checkups necessary if my child has healthy teeth?
The condition of a child’s teeth can change fairly rapidly. Even if the child’s teeth were evaluated as healthy just six months prior, changes in diet or oral habits can quickly render them vulnerable to decay or misalignment.

In addition to visual examinations, your dentist provides thorough dental cleanings during each visit. These cleanings eradicate the plaque and debris that can build up between teeth and in other hard to reach places. Though a good homecare routine is especially important, these professional cleanings provide an additional tool to keep smiles healthy.

Your dentist is also able to monitor the child’s fluoride levels during routine visits. Oftentimes, a topical fluoride gel or varnish is applied to teeth after the cleaning. Topical fluoride re-mineralizes the teeth and helps prevent mineral loss, protecting tooth enamel from oral acid.

Finally, your dentist may apply dental sealants to the child’s back teeth (molars). This impenetrable liquid plastic substance is brushed onto the molars to seal out harmful debris, bacteria, and acid.

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Childhood cavities, also known as childhood tooth decay, are common in children all over the world. There are two main causes of cavities: poor dental hygiene and sugary diets.

Cavities can be incredibly painful and often lead to childhood periodontitis (gum disease) if left untreated. Ensuring that children eat a balanced diet, maintain a sound home oral care routine, and visit the dentist biannually are all crucial factors for both cavity prevention and excellent oral health. Here are some helpful guidelines for cavity prevention:

Analyze the diet
Too many sugary or starchy snacks can speed up cavity formation.  Replace sugary snacks with natural foods where possible, and replace sugary soda with water.

Cut the snacks
Snacking too frequently can unnecessarily expose teeth to sugars. Save the sugar and starch for mealtimes, when the child is producing more saliva and drinking water. Make sure they consume enough water to cleanse the teeth.

Lose the sippy cup
Sippy cups are thought to cause “baby bottle tooth decay” when they are used beyond the intended age (approximately twelve months). The small amount of liquid emitted with each sip causes sugary liquid to continually swill around the teeth.

Avoid stickiness
Sticky foods (like toffee) form plaque quickly and are extremely difficult to pry off the teeth.  Avoid them when possible.

Drinks at bedtime
Sending a child to bed with a bottle or sippy cup is bad news. The milk, formula, juice, or sweetened water basically sits on the teeth all night, attacking enamel and maximizing the risk of cavities. Ensure the child has a last drink before bedtime, and then brush the teeth. Brush and floss
Parents should brush and floss their child’s teeth twice each day until the child is old enough to brush every area of the mouth effectively.

Check on fluoride
When used correctly, fluoride can strengthen tooth enamel and help stave off cavities. Too much or too little fluoride can actually harm the teeth, so ask your dentist for a fluoride assessment.

Keep appointments
Your child’s first dental visit should be scheduled around his or her first birthday, as per the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) guidelines. Then, be sure to keep regular appointments to create healthy smiles

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Evaluating the many brands of oral products claiming to be “best for children” can be an overwhelming task. Selecting an appropriately sized toothbrush and a nourishing, cleansing brand of children’s toothpaste is extremely important for maintaining excellent oral health.

Why brush primary teeth?
The importance of maintaining healthy primary (baby) teeth is often understated. Primary teeth are essential for speech production, chewing, jaw development, and they also facilitate the proper alignment and spacing of permanent adult teeth. Brushing primary teeth prevents bad breath and tooth decay, and also removes the plaque bacteria associated with childhood periodontal disease.

What differences are there among toothpaste brands?
Though all toothpastes are not created equal, most brands generally contain abrasive ingredients to remove stains, soapy ingredients to eliminate plaque, fluorides to strengthen tooth enamel, and some type of pleasant-tasting flavoring.

The major differences between brands are the thickness of the paste, the level of fluoride content, and the type of flavoring. Although fluoride strengthens enamel and repels plaque bacteria, too much of it can actually harm young teeth – a condition known as dental fluorosis. Children between the ages of one and four years old are most at risk for this condition, so fluoride levels should be carefully monitored during this time.

Be aware that adult and non-ADA approved brands of toothpaste often contain harsher abrasives, which remove tooth enamel and weaken primary teeth.  In addition, some popular toothpaste brands contain sodium lauryl sulfate (shown as “SLS” on the package), which cause painful mouth ulcers in some children.

So which toothpaste brand should I choose?
The most important considerations to make before implementing an oral care plan and choosing a toothpaste brand is the age of the child.  Home oral care should begin before the emergence of the first tooth. A cool, clean cloth should be gently rubbed along the gums after feeding to remove food particles and bacteria.

Prior to the age of two, the child will have many teeth and brushing should begin. Initially, select fluoride-free “baby” toothpaste and softly brush the teeth twice per day. Flavoring is largely unimportant, so your child can play an integral role in choosing whatever type of toothpaste tastes most pleasant to them.

Between the middle and the end of their third year, select an American Dental Association (ADA) accepted brand of toothpaste containing fluoride.  The ADA logo is clear and present on toothpaste packaging, so be sure to check for it. Use only a tiny pea or rice-sized amount of toothpaste, and encourage the child to spit out the excess after brushing. Eliminating the toothpaste takes practice, patience, and motivation – especially if the child finds the flavoring tasty. If the child does ingest tiny amounts of toothpaste, don’t worry; this is perfectly normal and will cease with time and encouragement.

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Mouth guards, also known as sports guards or athletic mouth protectors, are crucial pieces of equipment for any child participating in potentially injurious recreational or sporting activities. Fitting snugly over the upper teeth, mouth guards protect the entire oral region from traumatic injury, preserving both the appearance and the health of your child's smile. In addition, mouth guards are sometimes used to prevent tooth damage in children who grind (brux) their teeth at night.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) in particular, recommends the use of dental mouth guards during any sporting or recreational activity. Most store-bought mouth guards cost fewer than ten dollars, making them a perfect investment for every parent. What type of mouth guard should I purchase for my child?
Though there are literally thousands of mouth guard brands, most brands fall into three major categories: stock mouth guards, boil and bite mouth guards, and customized mouth guards. Some points to consider when choosing a mouth guard include: how much money is available to spend, how often does the child play sports, and what kind of sport the child plays. In light of these points, here is an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of each type of mouth guard:

Stock mouth guards
These mouth guards can be bought directly off the shelf and immediately fitted into the child’s mouth. The fit is universal (one-size-fits-all), meaning the mouth guard doesn’t adjust. Stock mouth guards are very cheap, easy to fit, and quick to locate at sporting goods stores. Pediatric dentists favor this type of mouth guard least, as it provides minimal protection, obstructs proper breathing and speaking, and tends to be uncomfortable.

Boil and bite mouth guards
These mouth guards are usually made from thermoplastic and are easily located at most sporting goods stores. First, the thermoplastic must be immersed in hot water to make it pliable, and then it must be pressed on the child’s teeth to create a custom mold. Boil and bite mouth guards are slightly more expensive than stock mouth guards, but tend to offer more protection, feel more comfortable in the mouth, and allow for easy speech production and breathing.

Customized mouth guards
These mouth guards offer the greatest degree of protection, and are custom-made by the dentist. First, the dentist makes an impression of the child’s teeth using special material, and then the mouth guard is constructed over the mold. Customized mouth guards are more expensive and take longer to fit, but are more comfortable, orthodontically correct, and fully approved by your dentist.

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For more information about our practice, dental treatment options, payment options, or any of the services we provide, call our Valparaiso office at 219-464-1141 or our Merrillville office at 219-769-8788. We look forward to serving your dental care needs.