A Dr. Momma Minute
Most of us understand that different types of physicians can manage the same type of medical problems. For instance coughing, stomach pain, and headache are three very common problems that I treat. And I often share the management of these patients with lung, stomach and brain specialists. Today, I want to highlight how parents need to understand why it is important for pediatric dentists and ENT surgeons to work together to improve the health of young kids.
Just to clarify, some of the things I intend to discuss also apply to adult dentists and their ENT surgeons. Kids are not mini-adults, so my information may not apply to you. But you can take some of my information to your grown-up doctors and discuss treatment options with them. There may be an entirely different approach from what pediatric dentists and pediatric ENT physicians do with kids.
Basically, since I am a pediatric specialist, and I am mostly talking to parents, I am going to focus on kids. Because I love them, and you should too. Just saying.
ENT physicians treat many patients who could benefit from dental evaluations
Pediatric dentists deal with oral health problems which are often impacted by nose and throat issues. Every health care practitioner tends to focus on our own areas of expertise; consequently, we assume that someone else is caring for the other areas. But, I have realized that assuming is never a good thing.
After 30 years of practice, I now ask who is managing the other things that I discover on an exam or during our conversations. Sometimes parents say “no one because it is not that bad”.
Let me just say, if it is bad enough to concern you or for you to look for treatments online, it is bad enough to seek help from a professional.
As you know, I have already posted many blogs and podcast episodes which share tips about allergies and stuffy nose problems. I have also stressed the important functions of the nose and why mouth breathing can have long term complications.
I routinely concentrate on improving nasal breathing with improved allergy treatments, sinus infection treatments and of course nasal saline washes. But I never focused on the changes I noticed in the jaw and teeth development of my patients. Why? Because that is not my job.
I see many young kids whose teeth do not line up correctly and have obvious developmental abnormalities of their upper or lower jaws. Sometimes, it is significant enough to cause me to make adjustments during surgery to compensate for their anatomy.
I assumed after a child’s breathing problem was improved, parents would move on to pediatric dentists to discuss the jaw and teeth developmental concerns.
But these young kids often did not have these problems addressed until they were teenagers being evaluated for braces. By this age, many of the changes are harder to reverse.
Pediatric dentists and ENT physicians can share more patients
I have always referred my patients to other physician specialists to continue treating problems beyond my scope of practice. However, over the past 5 years, I have begun working more with an amazing group of pediatric dentists, dental hygienists, orthodontists and speech therapists.
While working to treat the classic ENT problems, I have started discussions about crooked teeth, overbites, underbites and other dental concerns that I have absolutely no idea how to address! But once the conversations start, parents often voice their desire to address the dental problems sooner rather than later. I now have a list of local pediatric dentists that I share with parents so they can begin having earlier discussions.
Likewise, many pediatric dentists who used to simply treat dental concerns are discussing causes of mouthbreathing that may benefit from an ENT evaluation; consequently, they are referring patients to me.
But there is one other group of health care professionals where I now also refer patients.
What is Orofacial Myology?
What a big group of words! I promise I had never heard of this group of healthcare practitioners until 5 years ago. I fully understood how speech and dental specialists worked with my patients for long term improvements, but this group? Who even are they?
In addition to the classic speech therapists and dental professionals, I have started working with orofacial myologists (OFM for short) who have a very niche practice. They use techniques called myofunctional therapy to treat disorders of the muscles and functions of the face and mouth. Still not clear enough?
Well, if you have a chronic mouthbreathing child or a child with excessive drooling, you may eventually need to meet with an OFM specialist.
I am going to clearly miss out of the nuances of what they do, but many of the disorders they treat have negatively impacted things such as:
- growth and development of the face,
- teeth occlusion (such as overbite, underbite, crossbite, open bite),
- jaw joint movement,
- oral hygiene,
- the stability of orthodontic treatment
- and even the general appearance of the face.
Just because I removed your child’s adenoid, performed sinus surgery and found the perfect medical management for allergies, this does not automatically cause kids to close their mouths or speak more clearly. Additional therapy may be needed to retrain the muscles.
When should parents request appointments with pediatric dentists?
The point of this post is to highlight that pediatric dentists treat a wide variety of problems. Clearly, most people understand to call their dentists for standard dental care. Appointments for things such as tooth pain, injured teeth, infections, and preventative cleanings are routinely made.
However, if you are concerned about ongoing problems after your ENT or allergy physician has treated your child, consider requesting a dental evaluation. Although kids outgrow many problems, some of them may lead to life long problems that might have been prevented.
If your child has chronic mouth breathing, do not simply say it is a habit. Get it checked out by your primary care physician. There may be a need to be referred to an ENT specialist but do not just wait to see if just goes away on its own.
If your child has some jaw and dental teeth alignment issues, please consider an early evaluation with a pediatric dentist. Healthcare professionals have extensive training and love to share our knowledge. Don’t hesitate to ask.
As always, much love for supporting my work. I will be adding many more posts to highlight parenting and healthcare tips, so be sure to consider subscribing to my podcast or to my blog to avoid missing a post…or a Dr. Momma Minute!