Neglected Baby Teeth Cause Grown-Up Problems

With 78 percent of all adults experiencing at least one cavity in their teeth by the age of 17, teaching children excellent oral health habits at a young age is vitally important to their future dental health. But it goes much further than that, because poor oral hygiene in children can cause a host of dental problems – both in the future and in the present. Dr. Allison Lesko of Fort Collins, Colorado, explains why oral health is crucial in children.

“I think some people assume that since they’re just going to fall out anyway, baby teeth aren’t important,” says Lesko. “But not caring for baby teeth can set your child up for a lifetime of dental problems.”

What kind of problems? For starters, Lesko says baby teeth are more important than many people realize.

“Baby teeth are like starter teeth. Teaching your child to care for baby teeth is a great way to set them up for a lifetime of proper oral hygiene,” she says.

But that’s not all. Baby teeth can impact future teeth, too.

“Baby teeth act as placeholders for adult teeth,” Lesko says. “If they are severely decayed and need to be removed, those gaps and spaces can cause crowding issues when the adult teeth come in.”

According to Lesko, it goes even deeper. Cavities in children have been shown to cause adverse effects in their education. According to the Children’s Dental Health Project (CDHP), children with cavities missed up to three times more school than those without cavities because of oral pain. Another study out of Los Angeles found that dental pain was so prevalent, an estimated one-third of absences in lower-income elementary-school-aged children were dental related, and in yet another study, high-school-aged children experiencing prolonged dental pain were about four times more likely to have a lower GPA.

“Children can’t focus on school when they’re suffering from dental pain,” Lesko says. “And waiting too long to fix cavities can equate to missed school due to dental appointments and the child simply not feeling well enough to attend.”

So, what, as a parent, can you do to protect children’s oral health? The key, says Lesko, is prevention.

“Teach your children to properly care for their teeth,” Lesko says. “That means brushing twice a day for at least two minutes at a time and flossing at least once a day.”

But don’t just take their word for it, she says.

“Follow up – especially with younger kids,” Lesko says. “Make sure they are brushing and flossing, and make sure you are doing your due diligence as a parent and taking them to their regularly scheduled dental exams.”

New Study Shows Children’s Dental Shortcomings

When it comes to kids’ oral health, many a study has been released on the impact of oral hygiene on their overall well-being – namely their ability to focus on and attend school regularly. That’s because time and time again those studies have shown that when a child is suffering from dental pain, they can’t focus during class time, and they miss more school due to untreated dental pain and dental visits to address that pain. Now, a new study has been released showing just how prevalent poor oral care in children really is, as seen from the eyes of their parents. These sobering statistics seem to echo what previous studies have shown – that we are failing at children’s oral health care in America.

The newest study was published by top oral health insurer Delta Dental’s Delta Dental Plans Association, a nonprofit organization that represents Delta’s 39 families of independent companies. The study surveyed 1,481 parents of children under the age of 12.

In the survey, parents were asked to rate their children’s oral health and hygiene. The group that scored the highest marks on this question? Children under the age of 3. That’s because parents of children this age by and large are still in control of their children’s hygiene habits and thus better able to give their children a higher score. Unfortunately, that high score wasn’t very high at all, with just 30 percent of parents rating their young child as having excellent oral health.

The results get worse as the children’s ages increase. Just 21 percent of the 3- to 5-year-old group was rated by parents as having excellent oral hygiene. The 6- to 9-year-old age group got a 17 percent excellence rating, and the 10- to 12-year-old group got just 14 percent. So, what’s going on that these numbers are so low – and, even worse, are decreasing so rapidly as children age?

The Delta Dental Plans Association attributes the decrease to parents relinquishing control of their child’s toothbrush with age. While children in the birth to age 3 group get their teeth brushed by mom or dad, as they age they are given more responsibility to care for their teeth on their own, and that’s where the problems begin.

So, what can be done to correct this problem? For starters, parents must take more time to ensure their children are brushing and flossing properly. Yes, one of the joys of raising children is watching them grow into independent people, but when it comes to oral health, if they’re not ready to take the reigns themselves, there’s no shame in helping them out a little bit longer.

As for parents who are caring for their child’s teeth themselves and still experiencing difficulties, speak to Dr. Lesko for some tips on how to help make oral hygiene easier for your child and yourself. She can be reached at 970-812-0355.

Teigen Under Fire Over Toddler Teeth

Supermodel and blogger Chrissy Teigen came under fire recently with her social media followers after posting a photo on Instagram of her 3-year-old daughter Luna’s first trip to the dentist. The so-called crime? Many followers are chiding Teigen for waiting so long to take the toddler to her first checkup – a checkup that many experts (and social media trolls) agree should occur between the ages of 6 months and 1 year. But did Teigen really mess up here? When is the right age to bring a child to the dentist, and how big of a deal is it to wait a little bit longer?

“Well, unfortunately, in this case the trolls are correct,” says Dr. Allison Lesko. “Ideally you should bring your child to their first dental exam by 6 months or whenever their first tooth erupts – whichever comes first.”

Lesko is a family dentist practicing in Fort Collins, Colorado, and says despite the general age requirements, it is up to the individual parents to decide when to bring their child to their first dental appointment.

“The sooner you can get your child in to the dentist, the better,” she says, “but many parents end up waiting until their child is walking and talking.”

Lesko says part of the reason parents should consider bringing their child so early is that it helps eliminate some of the odontophobia, or fear of the dentist, that many kids experience.

“When you know what to expect at the dentist’s office, it can be a lot less scary,” Lesko says.

Lesko says the first appointment is generally well tolerated by most children, as it is generally minimally invasive and easygoing.

“We might count the teeth and practice brushing them with the child,” she says. “It’s all very gentle and child friendly, but it helps the child feel comfortable with going to the dentist and with having someone besides a parent’s hands in their mouth.”

According to Lesko, this is very important because it can set children up for a lifetime of excellent oral health habits.

“When your child isn’t afraid to go to the dentist, it will be easier to get him and her to not only go back to the dentist, but to take care of his or her teeth during the rest of the year,” she says. “Oral health never becomes something scary or optional – it just becomes a way of life for the child, and that’s what we want.”

As for Teigen, Lesko says she wouldn’t worry too much.

“Many kids don’t end up in my chair until around that age, and they’re just fine.”

Tooth Fairy Index Shows Dropping Tooth Payouts

Since the early 1900s, many American children have participated in a fun tradition that combines a childhood rite of passage with a bit of fun and mystery. That tradition is the tooth fairy, and chances are, whether you’re a parent or a child, you’ve at least heard of her.

The earliest known mention of the tooth fairy tradition dates back to the 1920s in a play called “The Tooth Fairy,” though other countries and cultures have their own versions of tooth fairies that date further back. For example, children in France leave their teeth for a mouse they call La Petite Souris. In Spain, children leave their teeth for Ratoncito Perez, a rat or mouse, depending on who you ask.

What all these traditions have in common – besides the taking away of baby teeth in the night – is that each figure leaves behind a prize in the form of a trinket or money. Getting paid for body parts you don’t need anymore? Not a bad deal if you think about it! But recently, the tooth fairy has been making headlines about just what she’s leaving behind when she takes those precious baby teeth away.

“Apparently, the going rate for baby teeth is dropping,” says Dr. Allison Lesko, a dentist from Fort Collins, Colorado.

She’s not wrong. According to a recent Delta Dental survey, the average payout for a baby tooth dropped 43 cents here in the United States in 2018. Using an admittedly adorable chart called the “Tooth Fairy Index,” Delta Dental provides average rates for tooth payouts around the globe.

For instance, children receive an average of 3.26 euros per tooth in Ireland, and $4.88 CAD in Canada. Here in the United States, the annual average is now just $3.70. So why the drop?

“I’d say budgets are tight, but I think part of it is parents rewarding kids with different types of prizes than monetary,” says Lesko. “I’ve heard some parents offer extended screen time or later bedtimes, which don’t cost anything but are a big deal to kids.”

The survey also found that children’s first teeth netted a higher payout than subsequent lost teeth, at an average of $4.96, and the rates per tooth vary depending on where in the United States the child resides.

“Here in the western part of the country, we average a little bit higher per tooth at $4.91,” Lesko says. “But in the Southern United States the average is only $3.91, and the Northeast is around $3.75 per tooth.”

Tooth Stem Cells Could Someday Save Lives

Parents who think they missed the boat by not banking their baby’s cord blood may soon have another chance to save precious stem cells that may benefit their children in the future. A new report from the United States National Center for Biotechnology Information has found that baby teeth can be saved and stored for use in a wide range of medical treatments, from fighting cancer to re-growing bones, treating diabetes and repairing eyesight.

“It’s still a new technology and it’s not available to consumers yet, but it’s coming,” says Fort Collins, Colorado, dentist Dr. Allison Lesko. “And when it does, it will be a game changer.”

The study found that teeth up to 10 years old could be used to harvest stem cells, which can be used to replicate any cell in the human body.

“So just because the stem cells are harvested from a tooth doesn’t mean they have to be used to replace a tooth,” says Lesko. “They will be able to replicate bones, tissue and organs from all around the human body.”

Currently, stem cells can be harvested from umbilical cord blood, bone marrow and even body fat, but because baby teeth contain bone marrow, they too are a source of stem cells.

“Bone marrow can be painful and difficult to extract, especially from a child,” says Lesko. “Extracting it from teeth will be a painless way to get the same benefits.”

As for the time-sensitive nature of extracting stem cells from cord blood, that complication isn’t as big of an issue with tooth marrow.

“The best part of doing it this way is that you don’t need to bank the teeth by a specific time,” says Lesko. “The stem cells can be harvested and banked as they fall out, naturally as your child grows – but only up to about age 10.”

But don’t just throw the teeth under the pillow and wait for the tooth fairy to take them.

“This type of banking will require some advanced planning,” says Lesko. “Most likely you will need to have a preservation kit on hand to keep the tooth from drying out before the stem cells can be extracted.”

Vaping and Teens

If you haven’t heard by now, preliminary reports are in, and while smoking e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” may be safer than smoking traditional combustible cigarettes, it has not been proven safe, either. Worse yet, it has been found dangerous to one rapidly increasing demographic: teens and children. Here’s why parents of teens should be wary about the so-called safer alternative to smoking.

Last year, when a new type of e-cigarette hit the marketplace, many parents didn’t think much of it. Maybe that’s because the Juul doesn’t look like much more than a USB thumb drive. But that’s certainly not what it is. Designed to deliver more nicotine per vapor pod than traditional cigarettes and even some e-cigarettes, Juul has now cornered about 70 percent of the e-cigarette market. The brand, which is owned by Marlboro, claims its goal is to help traditional paper cigarette smokers quit – but the tantalizing fruit flavors are having the opposite effect among teens.

“We are finding that teens are attracted to the sweet flavors of these vaping fluids,” says Dr. Allison Lesko, a dentist from Fort Collins, Colorado.

Unfortunately, contrary to what Juul claims its intentions are, many of these teens are not trying to quit smoking, but are first-time smokers, becoming newly addicted to high levels of nicotine, often as high as a pack of cigarettes in one serving.

“It has become a real health epidemic,” says Lesko.

Thankfully, some states are taking notice. California, for example, is pushing to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco and vaping fluids. They would still sell the e-cigarettes themselves, but not the chemicals to use in them.

“Californian lawmakers recognize how popular these vaping fluids are among teens and are working to help stop the problem,” Lesko says.

And while some may see the move as government overreach, Lesko and other health professionals point to the facts.

“A recent study found that the earlier a teen or child starts smoking, the harder it is for them to quit,” says Lesko. “You would think since they’re younger and healthier it would be easier, but the data does not support this.”

In fact, the data shows two-thirds of children who begin smoking at as young as sixth grade will become regular adult smokers, and nearly half of 11th-grade smokers will follow the same path.

Worse still, e-cigarette smoking is increasing among teens and children, not decreasing – and that includes accidental poisonings from vaping fluid.

“Even children who only smoke once a month increase their risk of addiction 10 times,” Lesko says.

So, what’s a parent to do?

“Don’t let them start smoking or vaping,” says Lesko. “And know what to look for – educate yourself on what e-cigarettes like the Juul device look like. Whatever you do, don’t treat vaping like it’s harmless. It’s not.”

How Safe Is Vaping?

More bad news for e-cigarette smokers trying to live a healthier lifestyle by “vaping” instead of smoking: According to several new reports, while the fluid used in e-cigarettes may be safer than smoking traditional cigarettes, the key word isn’t “safe,” but “safer.”

Fort Collins-based dentist Dr. Allison Lesko says that’s because while e-cigarette vapor is definitely healthier than inhaling smoke, it’s the chemicals in e-cigarette fluid that pose the real risk.

“The problem is, we just don’t know what those chemicals are doing,” says Lesko.

That’s down to several reasons – one main one being vaping fluids vary by manufacturer.

“There’s very little consistency or clarity about what’s in each individual flavor of vape fluid,” Lesko says.

Another problem? Lesko says, unlike with traditional cigarettes, there are simply no long-term studies yet.

“Vaping is too new of a thing to have any data on its long-term effects,” says Lesko. “So while manufacturers are telling us it’s safer, there’s no way to verify that either way.”

And therein lies another problem: the word “safer.” While manufacturers are deliberate with their use of the word, consumers may not be hearing that “r” at the end.

“When it comes to e-cigarettes and vaping, safer doesn’t automatically mean safe,” says Lesko. “It just means it’s safer than paper cigarettes, which doesn’t really tell us a whole lot.”

That’s because not only do we not know what the long-term effects on the smoker are, but we also don’t know what the long-term effects on second- and third-hand smokers are, either.

“People assume that because it’s vapor it evaporates into the air and doesn’t have any second-hand effects,” Lesko says. “But it doesn’t just vanish. Studies have shown it can still be inhaled via second-hand smoke, and those chemicals in the vapor don’t simply vanish – they fall to the ground or whatever surface is nearby.”

That falling to nearby surfaces poses yet another risk to anyone who touches those surfaces – including other adults, pets and, yes, children too.

“The effect vaping could have on children is a big deal,” says Lesko. “One article mentioned that children spend more time on the floor and absorb more dust particles than adults do. If those dust particles contain chemicals left behind by vaping, you’re packing a lot of potentially dangerous carcinogens into a relatively small body that is still growing and developing – and that could be very dangerous.”

As for the solution, Lesko and other experts agree: To make vaping truly safe, don’t do it – but if you must, treat it as you would smoking traditional cigarettes.

“Don’t vape in the house or car or around children. Treat it as you would regular second-hand smoke,” she says.

What It Feels Like to Lose That First Tooth

Have you ever tried to remember what it was like when you lost your first tooth? Unless you have an incredible memory, most of us can’t recall how we felt when a tooth first got wiggly and then fell out. Our parents might remember, but most likely they only recall the milestone if we had a particularly good – or particularly bad – reaction to it. This thought led us to the question: Does losing a tooth for the first time scare most kids?


More Kids Means More Tooth Loss, Says New Study

There’s an old wives’ tale that goes something like “gain a child, lose a tooth,” and it turns out that it just might be true. A new study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health reports that having more children can be linked to an increase in tooth loss for mothers. Using data from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, also known as SHARE, the research team looked at health information for more than 120,000 adults that included their full reproductive history along with data on the number of teeth they had.


4 Ways to Get Kids Excited About Their Trip to the Dentist

There are few things most adults dread more than a trip to the dentist. If you ask, many of those with anxiety about dental visits can trace it back to childhood. In some cases, a specific bad experience may have led to negative associations with the the dentist, and in other cases, there’s no clear cause, just a general sense of unease from an early age.

What if we could completely change the way our kids experience going to the dentist so that when they become adults, they don’t have the fear and anxiety that many of today’s adults suffer from? The good news is, we can! Here are just a few ways to help get kids excited about their dental appointments and begin a positive association with the dentist from an early age.