Is Your Smile Ready for Summer? Dental Tips for All Ages

I admit, we’re on the summertime sweets circuit. Between Mitchell’s, East Coast Custard and 808 Shave Ice, my family’s sweet tooth is satisfied this time of year. Not only do frozen, sticky picnic food and drink take a toll on teeth but summer sports lead to more dental injuries.

Whether you want straighter, whiter teeth to complement your beach bod, your kiddo’s bite is concerning, or you’re simply overdue for a check-up, summer is the perfect time to visit a dentist or orthodontist. Lucky for us, our patriarch is a local dentist. I spoke with Paul Geiss, DDS and local orthodontist John Ballrick, DDS, MSD to address some of the most common questions they hear to help the whole family. Here’s what they shared:

Infants and Toddlers

When should my child first see a dentist?

Dr. Geiss: The American Dental Association (ADA) advises a dental visit after the child’s first tooth or first birthday. If a parent brings the child during his/her appointment, I’ll often take a look then do a full exam at age 2 or 3 once all primary teeth come in and the child is able to sit in the chair. Follow the ADA’s guidelines for tots’ teeth, and contact your family or pediatric dentist with any concerns.

Children and Teens

Does my child need braces?

Dr. Ballrick: Look for malocclusion or bad bite, a condition where the teeth are crowded, crooked, out of alignment, or the jaws don’t meet properly. If you are noticing this, schedule an evaluation with an orthodontist. Dentists can refer you to an orthodontist as well. Many orthodontists offer a complimentary consult so any questions can be answered prior to committing to any treatment.

At what age should we start orthodontics?

Dr. Ballrick: Age 7 is the recommended age for a first evaluation. I look for growth and development problems of jaws, including underbites, overbites and crossbites, as well as problems related to dental eruption, breathing or other habits. For simple problems, minimal interventions can get certain teeth to grow properly. For bigger problems, treatment works in two phases. Phase one usually takes place at a younger age for approximately a year to modify growth, create space or eliminate a habit. Phase two (or traditional comprehensive treatment) can begin at age 12 or 13 once the child gets all of his/her permanent teeth. Many treatments work better when the child is still actively growing but has adult teeth. Only about 20% of kids or about 1 in 5 need two phases of treatment. If someone isn’t ready or doesn’t need phase one, I’ll observe and monitor him/her once a year. Summer is a popular time to start, so children don’t miss school and they can get used to braces. The longest procedures will be out of the way, leaving routine adjustments for during the school year.

My child’s tooth got knocked out. What should I do?

Dr. Geiss: If it’s a primary or baby tooth, visit the dentist to discuss space maintenance. For a permanent tooth, rinse it off with milk or water and try to put it back in the socket. If that’s not possible, put the tooth in a cup of milk. Either way, call your dentist for an appointment.

Does my child need a mouthguard?

Dr. Geiss: Children of all ages should wear mouthguards during recreational activities and sports such as basketball, baseball, soccer, gymnastics and bicycling. Your dentist can make one. I see fewer injuries in kids who play sports that require them, like hockey and football.

Dr. Ballrick: Custom fit mouthguards are vastly superior to over-the-counter ones and cushion blows to help prevent injuries to the teeth, lips, face and jaw. Studies have even suggested links between fewer incidents of concussions in football players with custom-fit mouthguards. Your orthodontist can make one to fit over braces.

Will my child need his/her wisdom teeth out?

Dr. Geiss: If your child is between the ages of 16 and 20, I advise getting a third molar evaluation, including a panoramic x-ray. When they come through correctly, healthy wisdom teeth help you chew. However, if there isn’t enough space or they’re not in the right position, for example, I typically refer the patient to an oral surgeon (for cases where they are impacted) when the root is 1/3 of the way developed. It is best to remove them before the root develops fully to avoid complications. Recovery time varies, but summer break is a good time for this.

Adults

Why are my teeth sensitive to cold?

Many adults are sensitive to cold or hot, which could be a result of tooth decay or fractures, gum recession, root exposure, worn fillings or enamel, or recent dental work. It’s best to see your dentist to identify and address the cause. Prevent this by brushing gently twice a day with a soft brush and flossing. Regular professional cleanings are important, and I may also suggest a desensitizing toothpaste, fluoride rinse or other treatments.

How can I get whiter, straighter teeth?

Dr. Geiss: While you can get results with over-the-counter whitening products, most dental offices provide in-office and at-home treatment options, which yield faster and better results.

Dr. Ballrick: More adults than ever before are undergoing orthodontic treatment for the first time or to treat relapse given the rise of more aesthetic options like all ceramic braces and clear aligners. For adults, it’s important to have the health of the teeth, gums and bone assessed prior to starting treatment, since adults may have wear on teeth, previous restorations and/or periodontal (gum) issues to consider.

Dr. Geiss: Another important reason to visit the dentist is to get an oral cancer screening. Approximately 50,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral cancer this year.

Remember, mouth health is a window to overall health. The well-being of your teeth and gums can affect your general health (and vice versa), so make a dental visit part of your summer bucket list.

For more dental facts and resources, including 12 signs you need to see a dentist, dental health during pregnancy, and dental health for older adults, visit MouthHealthy.org and MouthHealthyKids.org.

Author’s note: Full disclosure, while I was not compensated for this post, I am a patient of Dr. Geiss, and he makes me smile every day. Dr. Ballrick treats a number of our family members.

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Lindsey Geiss

Lindsey Geiss is a public relations and crisis communications planning professional turned stay-at-home mom and writer. When she’s not handling local early childhood PTA publicity, she’s getting crafty with the kids, researching allergy-friendly toddler snacks, or finding and wrapping that perfect gift. Lindsey is a shoe-lover, jump rope enthusiast and recovering perfectionist. She lives on the West side of Cleveland with her husband and two young children.

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