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Cosmetic Dentistry for Your Child

Options When Considering Cosmetic Dentistry for your child

"Smile ... and say cheese!" you tell your child after coaxing him into the photography studio to capture his beautiful grin on film. Ask any pediatric dentist, and they will tell you, "Children smile when they are proud of their teeth."

No parent wants to see their child hide a smile behind their hand. Even the youngest of children feel better about themselves if they are proud of the way their teeth look.

"Cosmetic dentistry for kids is a concept that comes close on the heels of dentistry for kids," says Dr. Robert R. Smith, D.D.S., a dentist in private practice in Los Angeles. "Most parents want their kids' dentist to have an appreciation for the esthetics of their child's smile in his dental filling materials, in early straightening of the front teeth to avoid the hillbilly look, in whitening of the teeth and in having a general clean and well-cared-for appearance."

Show Me Your Smile

Karen DesLauriers, a mom from Sunrise, Fla., remembers when her 13-year-old son fell from a swing when he was a toddler. "He landed on his chin, and soon after that we noticed that his upper front tooth was becoming discolored," she says. "After an X-ray determined the tooth was OK, we were told the discoloration would disappear."

At the age of 6, his permanent tooth came in to replace the discolored tooth, and it was fine, but not as white as his baby teeth. "His permanent teeth came in straight, but very yellow," says DesLauriers. "It is hereditary in my family. We implemented a cleaning schedule every three months when he was 10 years old. That has helped keep his teeth clean and cavity-free, but they were still yellow."

As he got older, DesLauriers' son was more concerned about the yellow tone to his teeth so she decided to try the new white strips that are available for whitening. "He began using them and saw immediate results," she says. "He used them for 30 minutes each morning 10 months ago. He hasn't used them since, and his teeth still look great."

Wanting to ensure that he keeps his brilliant smile, DesLauriers' son still sees his dentist every three months for regular cleanings and checkups.

Dr. Smith practices dentistry for children with an emphasis on cosmetic services for all children. He has worked extensively with child actors, so he is acutely aware of the importance of a perfect smile for kids.

"Whitening of the teeth is often a bigger problem at age 8 than at age 18," says Dr. Smith. "The reason for that is that the 8-year-old has four incisors in the front 'framed' by baby teeth on either side. The baby teeth are always whiter and more opaque due to the difference in the nature of the enamel and the dentin components. By contrast, the permanent teeth look more yellow and more translucent gray."

According to Dr. Smith, once all the teeth are permanent, it is not so noticeable. "Tooth whiteners, the brush-on toothpastes, have a limited effect," he says. "It really takes something that can be held in contact with the surfaces of the enamel to gain a real improvement for the patient."

Microabrasion: Good Choice for Tooth Stains

According to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD), microabrasion is an excellent option if you want to change the color of certain spots or discolored areas on the teeth. The pediatric dentist removes microscopic bits of discolored tooth enamel with an abrasive and a mild acid. Treatment usually can be completed in just one visit.

Microabrasion is a conservative treatment for children, as it removes very little tooth structure. Since it is more affordable than bonding, veneers or crowns, it is often a good first choice for children with discolored areas on their teeth.

A Fractured Smile

For a child who fractures or chips his tooth as the result of a trauma, there are several ways to restore it so that it matches the previous undamaged tooth.

Dr. Elliott D. Maser, D.D.S., M.Sc.D., a board certified pediatric dentist from Bensalem, Penn., has been in private practice treating children for almost 30 years and has seen children with various cosmetic problems. "A child that has baby bottle tooth decay, for example, can have their anterior or front teeth restored with white composite crowns to make the teeth look normal again," he says. "When a tooth is fractured, many parents ask if it can be bonded. That is normally the way the fracture would be repaired."

According to Dr. Maser, bonding is a generic term that is used to describe the use of dental adhesive materials that are normally light cured on the teeth. This includes the use of veneers, sealants and crowns. These treatments can restore the original shape of a chipped or broken tooth.

Bonding materials, often referred to as composite resins, are tooth-colored plastics that are applied to the tooth, formed into the proper shape and hardened with a light or chemical process. This treatment usually takes more than one visit to complete.

Bonding and veneer treatments are fast, comfortable, affordable ways to improve the look of your child's smile after a breakage or chip. The results will last for several years. There are, however, some limitations to bonding. It is important for parents to note that bonded teeth are generally not as strong as the original tooth structure prior to injury. Hard foods, nail biting and further accidents can damage them.

Brace Yourself

"Early straightening of the teeth is paramount," says Dr. Smith. "We can provide many services just to improve the alignment of the teeth in the first and second grade children. Additionally, much of the orthodontic work is done earlier with removable appliances. These appliances can reduce the time a child will spend with the metal mouth look and in many cases eliminate the fixed bands and braces altogether."

By visiting with your pediatric dentist regularly, he can identify crowded or crooked teeth and actively intervene to guide the new teeth as they come in the mouth. Not only will this greatly improve the look of your child's smile, but early intervention can ultimately prevent more extensive orthodontic treatment later.

There is much more to be said about orthodontic treatment that far outweighs the cosmetic benefits of it. Bite problems can be corrected, tooth extractions can be prevented and straight teeth are much easier to keep clean, making it less likely to experience decay and gum disease in the future.

"I believe dental aesthetics is on the mind of more adults and children in this century," says Dr. Maser. "Many adults don't want their children to have teeth like them, so they are willing to have orthodontic treatment started with their children. Depending on the orthodontist's philosophy, children can now be started earlier in treatment than the traditional 11 to 13 years of age."

There is nothing sweeter than the toothless grin of a 6-year-old child, but a 12-year-old is more conscious of how he looks. The first line of defense for ensuring a beautiful, bright smile for your child is always to practice good dental hygiene at home and visit the dentist for regular cleanings.

Healthy attitudes toward dental care start early. Give your child the best chance at a bright smile.

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