As an adult, you know the signs of common dental ailments and emergencies such as infections. Unfortunately, when your children experience the same symptoms, they may not only not understand what’s happening to their teeth but also may not be able to express their discomfort to you.
This issue with identifying dental problems is particularly common with children who are nonverbal, either due to their age or to another characteristic such as autism, delayed speech development, or a behavioral issue affecting speech.
Luckily, in most cases, parents can identify the need for their child to see a pediatric dentist by watching for nonverbal clues that their child is experiencing discomfort, such as the following six.
1. Avoidance of Hard or Chewy Foods
If you’ve ever had a serious dental problem, you know that oral discomfort can worsen when you attempt to eat foods that put a lot of pressure on the affected tooth. Hard or crunchy foods ranging from apples to nuts can exacerbate the issue, as can chewy or sticky foods like sweets.
If your child usually enjoys apple slices with lunch or gummy candies as a treat but suddenly shows disinterest or even vehement disgust with these items, he or she may have a toothache rather than a new food preference.
2. Avoidance of Hot, Cold, or Sugary Foods
Children with oral pain may react just as strongly to foods that cause sensitivity as they do to foods that put pressure on their sore teeth. Increased sensitivity often points to dental caries, the precursor to cavities.
Children can develop sensitivities to heat, cold, or sugar. In this case, your child may wait for hot cocoa to cool completely, put off drinking water until it comes to room temperature, or turn down his or her favorite soda.
3. Cheek, Eye Area, or Ear Area Rubbing
As you know if your child has ever had an earache, children often self-comfort and attempt to relieve pain by rubbing the affected area. Often with oral pain, rubbing at the specific tooth is impractical or impossible so children will rub at the sites of secondary pain.
Dental infections, cavities, and delayed tooth eruption can cause secondary pain that appears in the cheekbones, sinus area, or thermomandibular joint (TMJ) near the ears. Your child may touch or push on these areas incessantly when in pain.
4. Inability to Sleep
If you’ve ever had a serious injury, you know that extreme pain can often affect the way that you sleep, including keeping you from falling asleep and waking you up even when you manage to get to sleep. Oral pain in particular can affect sleep because many individuals sleep with a pillow or hand putting some pressure on their teeth.
If your child has a bothersome tooth, he or she may fuss more than usual around bedtime and may fall into a pattern of tantrums to avoid sleeping. He or she may perceive the act of sleeping as a cause of additional pain.
Once your child settles in for the night, he or she may take a typical sleeping position only to change it many times. Sometimes children will fuss or cry when they realize that they cannot sleep in their usual position.
Additionally, you may notice that a child who typically sleeps easily and soundly through the night begins to take more bathroom trips, wake up to get into your bed, or wake up crying during the night.
5. Strong Emotional Responses When Chewing or Verbalizing
Before children make the connection between eating or verbalizing and their oral pain, they may express high levels of frustration with these activities. For example, your child may attempt to eat one of the foods discussed in sections one and two only to throw them across the room when they trigger a higher pain level.
Your child may also throw fits at meal time, cry more often, or give up on typical patterns of verbalizing.
6. Unusually Aggressive Behavior or Mood Swings
The emotional impact of oral pain doesn’t always occur in obvious situations like the hypotheticals discussed in the last section. Many children who experience oral pain exhibit behavioral changes even when they aren’t faced with specific triggers like hard foods.
Your child may seem angry, aggressive, despondent, depressed, or each of these emotions in turn as his or her pain changes throughout the day or progresses as the dental condition becomes more advanced.
If you notice your child exhibiting any combination of the nonverbal symptoms listed above, schedule an appointment with his or her pediatric dentist as soon as possible for assessment. Prompt evaluation ensures that your child receives the correct treatment with as little pain as possible.
For gentle and compassionate comprehensive pediatric dental services, trust the expert dental team at Valley Oak Dental Group.