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What Are Dental Sealants?

June 19th, 2024

You’re constantly playing defense. Your child spends two minutes in the morning and two minutes at night carefully brushing and flossing with a fluoride toothpaste. You make sure sugary and acidic foods are not a major part of your diets. Your child visits our Palatine, IL office for regular exams and cleanings. Really, how can a cavity get past all that?

But even with the best defensive practices, you don’t have a level playing field—literally. The tops of our molars and premolars don’t have the smooth, easy-to-clean surfaces that our other teeth have. If you look at the chewing surfaces, you will notice deep grooves which toothbrush bristles have a much harder time reaching.  

Plaque and food particles can become trapped in these grooves (known as pits and fissures), providing perfect conditions for a cavity to develop. That is why cavities are so common in newly erupted molars. Dental sealants protect these teeth from cavities by providing a barrier which smooths out the surface of the tooth and prevents food and bacteria from reaching the molar’s crevices.

Most sealants are invisible plastic resin coatings which we apply in our Palatine, IL office. Usually the procedure is so quick and easy that no dental anesthetic is required. Each tooth will be examined first. If we find any signs of early decay, we will gently treat that area before beginning.

When the tooth is ready, it will be cleaned and dried. An etching solution will be brushed on to the dry surface to roughen the area a bit so that the sealant will hold to the tooth more effectively. A thin coat of the sealant is then painted on and hardened under a curing light. And that’s it!

Once teeth are sealed, they should be cleaned and flossed just as carefully as before. Regular exams and cleanings are still very important, and we can monitor the condition of the sealant and the sealed teeth. Properly applied, sealants can last from three to five years, or even longer.

Who should consider sealants? Sealants are typically recommended when the permanent molars first erupt. Children’s enamel takes a while to become its strongest, and so these just-erupted teeth are more at risk for cavities. Sometimes Dr. Irwin Seidman will recommend sealants for primary (baby) teeth if needed. But even adults can benefit—talk to us if you are interested and we will let you know if sealants might be right for you.

Sealants are a simple, safe, and minimally invasive way to prevent cavities. Studies of sealed molars and premolars show a dramatic reduction in cavities compared to untreated teeth. Sealants are one of the most effective ways to defend your teeth or your children’s teeth from tooth decay. And as we’ve all heard—defense wins championships!

When Is a “Cavity” Not a Cavity?

June 13th, 2024

Is this a trick question? After all, you and your family probably already know quite a lot about cavities:

  • It all begins when bacteria-filled plaque sticks to teeth and starts to attack enamel. How?
  • Because the bacteria in plaque use the sugars and other foods we eat to produce acids.
  • These acids gradually weaken teeth by dissolving minerals that help make up our enamel (a process called demineralization).
  • Over time, a hole, or cavity, develops in the tooth surface.
  • Left untreated, bacterial decay can spread to the inside of the tooth, creating a more serious cavity.

Dr. Irwin Seidman might discover an unexpected cavity at a regularly scheduled dental exam at our Palatine, IL office, but there are also some symptoms that should have you calling for an appointment. A cavity can cause sensitivity when eating something hot or cold, or it can be painful, or you might even notice visible discoloration or damage to the tooth surface.

So, if your child has any of these symptoms, it’s a cavity, right? It might be—but it might not. Sometimes, because the symptoms are similar, what we suspect is a cavity is really enamel erosion.

The bacteria-created acids weaken enamel. But it’s not just bacteria that subject our teeth to acids. Acidic foods are one of the leading causes of tooth erosion.

And while we expect damage from a lifetime of acidic foods and beverages to catch up with us as we age, the fact is that erosion is becoming a problem even for young children. How is this possible? Let’s look at some food chemistry.

Our normal saliva pH level is around a 7, which is neutral. Any number lower is acidic; any number higher is alkaline. Acidic foods have a low pH (the pH of lemon juice, for example, measures between 2 and 3), and can reduce our normal, neutral pH level. When saliva pH levels drop to 5.5 or lower, tooth enamel starts to demineralize, just as it does when exposed to the acids from oral bacteria.

Regularly snacking on citrus and other acidic fruits, fruit juices, flavored drinks, sour candies, and other acidic foods can cause enamel erosion. Especially erosive are sports drinks, energy drinks, and colas, because they contain some combination of citric acid, phosphoric acid and/or carbonation.

So, when might you suspect enamel erosion? Your child might be sensitive to hot or cold foods, or feel pain, or even have noticeable enamel loss or pitting. Even though these symptoms may not have been caused by plaque and bacteria, acidic erosion from our diets leaves weakened enamel just as vulnerable to cavities and decay.

How to avoid erosion?

  • Serve acidic foods sparingly, or as part of a meal. This helps our saliva pH stay in the neutral zone.
  • Balance acidic foods with low-acid choices to neutralize acids and restore a normal pH balance. For example, mix those acidic berries with a banana.
  • Use a straw! These are not only fun, but this simple solution keeps erosive drinks from bathing young teeth in acids.
  • Encourage your child to drink water instead of an acidic beverage, or drink it afterward to rinse acids away. The pH of pure water? A perfect, neutral 7. And by using tap water instead of bottled water, you’ll be providing fluoride, which helps strengthen enamel.
  • What about brushing right after eating or drinking something acidic? Ask Dr. Irwin Seidman if your child should rush for the brush. We may recommend waiting 30 minutes or so after an acidic treat to give the teeth time to remineralize. Otherwise, brushing might cause more wear and tear on enamel.
  • Finally, while foods are often the source of acid erosion, medical conditions can cause erosion as well. Talk to us about ways to minimize erosion while addressing these medical needs.

Be proactive. Ask your Dr. Irwin Seidman about healthy drinks and snacks for healthy teeth. Make sure to keep on top of brushing and flossing, and stick with fluoride toothpastes. And visit our Palatine, IL office regularly for exams and cleanings.

There’s really no trick to it—preventing enamel erosion helps keep your child’s teeth structurally strong and cavity-free for a lifetime of beautiful and healthy adult smiles.

Xylitol: A significant factor for improving your oral health

June 5th, 2024

Xylitol is a naturally occurring sweetener found in tree bark, plants, fruits, and vegetables. The human body also produces it in small amounts. It looks and tastes like sugar, so as part of a health regimen, most people require no willpower to use it.

Xylitol is safe (approved by the World Health Organization) because only a small amount is needed for health benefits. With a glycemic index of seven, it is safe for diabetics. It has less than three calories per gram and 40% fewer calories than other carbohydrates. If eaten in extremely large amounts too quickly, it has a laxative effect in humans.

Tooth decay happens when bacteria in your mouth consume the sugars you eat. When you eat food that contains ordinary sugar, it gives energy to the bacteria on your teeth, allowing them to multiply and start making acids that destroy the enamel on the teeth.

Since xylitol is a natural sweetener derived from the fibrous parts of plants, it does not break down like sugar, so it helps maintain a neutral pH level in the mouth. Xylitol also prevents bacteria from sticking to the teeth because they are unable to digest it. That is how it protects the teeth from cavities.

With xylitol, the acid attack is diminished. With less bacteria and acid, your teeth stay healthier. The frequency of xylitol ingestion is important: aim for five grams a day, or one gram every three hours.

Studies of xylitol use as either a sugar substitute or a small dietary addition have demonstrated a dramatic reduction in new cavities. It has also stopped and even reversed some existing cavities. This effect is long lasting and possibly permanent. Low cavity rates persist even years after the trials have been completed.

Xylitol needs to be one of the first ingredients in a product to be effective. It is convenient and easy to use. You can find it in health food stores and specialty grocery stores. Xylitol can be delivered to your teeth in chewing gum, tablets, or even candy and mints.

It also comes in toothpaste, mouth rinse, baby oral wipes, gel and pacifiers, nasal wash, dry mouth spray, a granulated form for cooking, granulated packets to add to drinks, and commercially prepared foods. It can replace sugar on a one-to-one ratio.

Sweet rewards in xylitol are good for the body and the teeth! If you have specific questions please feel free to contact Palatine Pediatric Dentistry. We look forward to seeing you soon!

How do I make my child’s diet safe for his or her teeth?

May 29th, 2024

The food you feed your child can have a lasting effect on his or her oral health. In fact, diet plays a major role in whether a child develops cavities and decay, which can lead to many dental visits and potential tooth loss. So what should you feed your child to ensure he or she has a healthy smile for life?

Foods to Avoid

It is normal for your child to take interest in many foods -- especially those filled with sugar and carbohydrates. But as tasty as these foods are, they can cause rapid decay when eaten in excess. That’s not to say your child can never have sugar again. Dr. Irwin Seidman and our staff suggest limiting starchy and sugary foods such as candy and potato chips as much as possible.

Remember that some seemingly healthy foods can present the threat of decay too. Some of the most common culprits are sticky foods like peanut butter, raisins, and granola bars, which can stick to the teeth after eating. If you serve these foods to your child, be sure to have him or her brush immediately after eating to remove any lingering sugary residue.

Beverages

Many beverages marketed toward children contain sugar servings that far exceed the daily recommendations from national health organizations. They suggest no more than three to four teaspoons of added sugar per day for young children.

Make an effort to serve only water to your child any time other than meal times. During meals, allow your child to have milk or juice, but in limited serving sizes. Most importantly, never allow your young child to sleep with a bottle or “sippie cup” full of juice or milk. Doing so can cause rapid tooth decay: a condition known as “baby bottle caries.”

A Healthy and Balance Diet

So long as your child is brushing regularly and eating a healthy, balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains, you should have little or no problem with tooth decay. For more questions about how your child’s diet affects his or her oral health, contact our Palatine, IL office to schedule a consultation.