Although distressing to many parents, infants and toddlers sucking their thumb is a common if not universal habit. Most children phase out of it by around age 4, usually with no ill effects. But thumb-sucking continuing into late childhood could prove problematic for a child’s bite.
Thumb sucking is related to how young children swallow. All babies are born with what is called an infantile swallowing pattern, in which they thrust their tongues forward while swallowing to ensure their lips seal around a breast or bottle nipple when they nurse. Thumb-sucking mimics this action, which most experts believe serves as a source of comfort when they’re not nursing.
Around 3 or 4, their swallowing transitions to a permanent adult swallowing pattern: the tip of the tongue now positions itself against the back of the top front teeth (you can notice it yourself when you swallow). This is also when thumb sucking normally fades.
If a child, however, has problems transitioning to an adult pattern, they may continue to thrust their tongue forward and/or prolong their thumb-sucking habit. Either can put undue pressure on the front teeth causing them to move and develop too far forward. This can create what’s known as an open bite: a slight gap still remains between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut rather than the normal overlapping of the upper teeth over the lower.
While we can orthodontically treat an open bite, we can minimize the extent of any treatments if we detect the problem early and intervene with therapies to correct an abnormal swallowing pattern or prolonged thumb sucking. For the former we can assist a child in performing certain exercises that help retrain oral and facial muscles to encourage a proper swallowing pattern. This may also help diminish thumb sucking, but we may in addition need to use positive reinforcement techniques to further discourage the habit.
To stay ahead of possible problems with thumb sucking or the swallowing pattern you should begin regularly taking them to the dentist around their first birthday. It’s also a good idea to have an orthodontic evaluation around age 6 for any emerging bite problems. Taking these positive steps could help you avoid undue concern over this common habit.
If you would like more information on managing your child’s thumb-sucking habit, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
When you're first startled awake in the middle of the night by a loud, gritting sound emanating from your child's room, you may have two questions: how can such a loud racket not be harmful to their teeth? And, how can they sleep through it?
While it sounds earth-shattering, teeth grinding (medically known as bruxism) is a common habit among children. It involves an involuntary grinding, clenching or rubbing of the teeth together, either during the day or during night sleep.
While certain medications or conditions could be factors, it's believed most teeth grinding arises from the immaturity of the part of the neuromuscular system that controls chewing. It's believed to trigger a night episode as the child moves from deeper to lighter stages of sleep toward waking. Older children and adults typically handle these sudden shifts without incident, but a young child's under-developed chewing response may react with grinding.
If a child's teeth are normal and healthy, teeth-grinding typically won't create any lasting damage. But because grinding does generate pressures greater than the teeth normally encounter, it can be harmful to decayed teeth or those with enamel erosion due to high acid from consumption of sports and soda drinks. And it's also a cause for concern if the habit continues into later childhood or adolescence.
To avoid these problems, it's best to keep your child's teeth as healthy as possible by practicing daily brushing and flossing, and regularly seeing a dentist for cleanings, treatments and preventive measures like topical fluoride or sealants. And be sure to limit sugar and acidic foods and drinks in their diet to protect against decay and erosion.
You can also take steps to minimize teeth grinding and its effects. Consult with your physician about any medications they're taking that might contribute to the habit. If there are psychological issues at play, seek therapy to help your child better manage their stress. Your dentist can also fashion a custom night guard worn while they sleep that will prevent their teeth from making solid contact during grinding episodes.
Most importantly, let your dentist know if your child grinds their teeth. Keeping an eye on this potentially harmful habit will help lead to appropriate actions when the time comes.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “When Children Grind Their Teeth: Is the Habit of 'Bruxism' Harmful?”
You can't go wrong with an early start caring for your child's teeth and gums. In fact, dental care should begin in earnest when their first tooth appears.
You should begin by gently cleaning your infant's gums and new teeth after each feeding with a clean, water-soaked washcloth or gauze pad. Once they start eating solid food, you should transition to a soft-bristled brush with just a smear of fluoridated toothpaste. Around age 2, you can increase that to a pea-sized amount and begin teach them to brush for themselves.
The next important element in your child's dental care is beginning regular dental visits around their first birthday. There are good reasons to begin visits at this time. There primary teeth should now be erupting in earnest and you'll want to begin prevention measures against tooth decay if needed. You'll also want to get them used to going to the dentist early in life: if you wait a year or two later, they may not respond well to the unfamiliar surroundings of a dental office.
There are also a number of things you can do to support hygiene and dental visits. You should not allow your child to sleep with a pacifier covered or a bottle filled with anything but water. Milk, juices and other sugar-containing liquids will raise the risk of tooth decay. And speaking of sugar, limit their consumption to meal times: snacking constantly on sugar can create an environment ripe for decay.
Of course, dental disease isn't the only hazard your child's teeth may face. Accidents can happen and your child's otherwise healthy teeth could be injured. So, make sure they don't play too close to hard furniture or other features around the house they could fall on. If they should begin playing contact sports, invest in a custom mouth guard — avoiding an injury is well worth the cost.
Getting into dental care with your children as soon as possible will set the foundation for good oral health. And the example you set will stick with them as they take on their own dental care when they're older.
If you would like more information on caring for your child's teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
At your child's latest dental visit, you found out one of their primary (“baby”) teeth has become decayed and in danger of loss. Of course, you may think, it's only a primary tooth — it's going to come out sooner or later.
But a primary tooth lost “sooner” rather than “later” can create long-term negative consequences for your child's dental health. For the sake of the future permanent tooth, the best treatment strategy could be to put forth the effort and expense to save it.
Besides its role in eating and chewing, a primary tooth's most important function is as a “trailblazer” for the permanent tooth developing below it. A primary tooth doesn't normally loosen and let go until the new permanent tooth is ready to erupt. Until then they hold the new tooth's space in the jaw.
But if the primary tooth is lost prematurely, nearby teeth can drift into and crowd the space so that the permanent tooth comes in out of position. This can result in a malocclusion, or poor bite.
Depending on the state of your child's jaw development, it may be advisable to attempt saving the tooth through a filling or, in the case of deep decay, a modified root canal treatment. If the tooth can't be saved, then placing an orthodontic appliance known as a space maintainer might be necessary. Cemented to a tooth next to the empty space, this appliance has a looped band of metal that butts against the tooth on the other side of the gap, and prevents both teeth from drifting into the space.
Intervening for a decayed primary tooth can seem a waste of time and money since it has a limited lifespan to begin with. But for the health of its companion permanent tooth, as well as possibly avoiding orthodontic treatment, it could be well worth it for your child's long-term dental health.
If you would like more information on dental care for your child, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
Summer is a great time to go outdoors and get your game on—no matter whether your court is set up for tennis or basketball, whether you’re on the diamond or on the greens. Regular physical activity can help you maintain your optimal weight, reduce your risk for certain diseases, and even lower stress levels. But many of our favorite outdoor sports also carry a risk of accidental injury…and frequently this involves injuries to the mouth.
Because they’re front and center, the incisors (front teeth) are the ones most often affected by accidental injuries. While serious damage is relatively rare, chips and cracks are not uncommon. Fortunately, dentistry offers a number of good ways to restore chipped or broken teeth. Which one is best for you depends on exactly what’s wrong—but a procedure called cosmetic bonding is one of the most common ways to repair small to moderate chips where the tooth’s soft pulp isn’t exposed.
In dental bonding, a tooth-colored material is applied directly to the tooth’s surface to fill in the chip or crack. The material itself is a high-tech mixture of tough plastic resins, translucent glass-like fillers, and other substances. Strong, durable and lifelike in appearance, these composite resins can be matched to the natural shade of your teeth.
Bonding is a conservative procedure, meaning that it requires little or no preparation of the tooth. It can be done right in the dental office, often in a single visit and without the need for anesthesia. Unlike porcelain veneers or crowns (caps), it usually doesn’t involve removing significant amounts of healthy tooth structure.
While the results can last for years, bonded restorations aren’t as durable as porcelain veneers or crowns, which are made in a dental laboratory. Bonding also isn’t suitable to repair major damage, or in cases where the tooth’s pulp could become infected; in this situation, you may need a root canal and a crown. However, for moderate chips or cracks, bonding can be an appropriate and economical way to restore your teeth to full function and aesthetic appearance.
Of course, it’s often said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. That’s why it’s best to wear a protective mouthguard whenever you’re on the field. We can provide a custom-made mouthguard that’s comfortable to wear and offers maximum protection against dental injury—just ask!
If you have questions about cosmetic bonding or mouthguards, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Artistic Repair of Front Teeth with Composite Resin” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
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