There's something universal about thumb sucking: nearly all babies do it, and nearly all parents worry about it. While most such worries are unfounded, you should be concerned if your child sucks their thumb past age of 4 — late thumb sucking could skew bite development.
Young children suck their thumb because of the way they swallow. Babies move their tongues forward into the space between the two jaws, allowing them to form a seal around a nipple as they breast or bottle feed. Around age 4, this “infantile swallowing pattern” changes to an adult pattern where the tip of the tongue contacts the front roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. At the same time their future bite is beginning to take shape.
In a normal bite the front teeth slightly overlap the bottom and leave no gap between the jaws when closed. Â But if thumb sucking continues well into school age, the constant pushing of the tongue through the opening in the jaws could alter the front teeth's position as they erupt. As a result they may not fully erupt or erupt too far forward. This could create an open bite, with a gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are closed.
Of course, the best way to avoid this outcome is to encourage your child to stop thumb sucking before they turn four. If, however, they're already developing a poor bite (malocclusion), all is not lost — it can be treated.
It's important, though, not to wait: if you suspect a problem you should see an orthodontist for a full evaluation and accurate diagnosis. There are even some measures that could discourage thumb sucking and lessen the need for braces later. These include a tongue crib, a metal appliance placed behind the upper and lower incisors, or exercises to train the tongue and facial muscles to adopt an adult swallowing pattern. Often, a reward system for not sucking their thumbs helps achieve success as well.
Thumb-sucking shouldn't be a concern if you help your child stop before age 4 and keep an eye on their bite development. Doing those things will help ensure they'll have both healthy and straight teeth.
If you would like more information on thumb sucking, 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.”
Have you heard about dental sealants? These preventive treatments have been available for many decades, and more and more children are taking advantage of them. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that around 30% of kids from 6 to 11 years of age have had sealants applied to their molars (back teeth). Sealants are designed to reduce the incidence of cavities by filling in or eliminating the pits or crevices found in all molars, where decay-causing bacteria can hide and your brush can't reach. But do they really work?
Now, the research is in, and the answer is clear — YES!
Two major studies, each of which reviewed the results of thousands of patients over several years, recently came to the same conclusion: Dental sealants are effective at reducing cavities, and their benefits can last for four years (or more) after application. In general, the studies showed that kids who didn't get sealants were twice, three times, or even more likely to get cavities, compared to kids treated with sealants.
Sealants themselves are protective coatings made of plastic resins or glass-like materials. They are applied in liquid form, and then hardened by a special light. When “painted on” to the chewing surface of a molar, sealants fill in the tiny crevices, or “pits and fissures,” that are found there. Uneven tooth surfaces form a perfect breeding ground for the bacteria that cause tooth decay; worse yet, the bristles of a tooth brush can't usually reach them. That's what makes these areas highly susceptible to tooth decay.
Applying sealants is a quick and painless procedure that doesn't require any numbing shots or drilling. Many kids start getting sealants when the first permanent molars come in, around age 5 to 7; they may have more sealant treatments when additional molars emerge, between the ages of 11 and 14.
Sealants are recommended by the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and have only a modest cost per tooth. On the other hand, having a cavity filled generally costs substantially more, and may result in more trouble (and expense) down the line — so sealants can make sense economically, as well as preventively. This is especially true for those at high risk for tooth decay.
If you have questions about dental sealants, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sealants for Children,” and “Top 10 Oral Health Tips for Children.”
The best way to prevent dental visit anxiety in your children is start those visits around their first birthday, and continue with them through childhood. Age One visits are the best way to ensure they're comfortable with the dentist now and that they'll continue the habit into adulthood.
But in spite of your best efforts and those of your dental provider, there's no guarantee your child won't experience dental visit anxiety at some point. If that happens, we recommend conscious sedation.
Conscious sedation is the use of certain medications to help a patient relax. It's not the same as anesthesia, which eliminates pain by numbing tissues (local anesthesia) or inducing unconsciousness (general anesthesia). During conscious sedation a patient remains awake or at the most in a dream-like state, can still respond to touch or verbal commands, and although monitored doesn't require assistance in heart or lung function.
We can induce this relaxed state in a number of ways: orally, with medication given by mouth a short time before the visit; intravenously, the medication delivered through a drip directly into the bloodstream; or by inhalation, usually nitrous oxide gas mixed with oxygen and delivered by mask.
Oral sedation is the most common. On the day of the procedure, we'll give your child one or more sedative drugs, usually in syrup form. For best results we advise they eat a low-fat dinner the night before and not eat or drink any food or liquid afterward. We typically use Midazolam and Hydroxyzine, both of which are proven safe and fast acting.
During the procedure, we'll also assign a team member to monitor their vital signs while they're under the influence of the drugs. We may also employ special positioning or immobilization equipment to keep movement to a minimum.
After the procedure, we'll continue to monitor vitals until they return to pre-sedation levels. The child should remain home the rest of the day to rest and return to school the next day.
Conscious sedation is regulated by states: providers must be trained and licensed to administer sedation drugs with continuing education requirements. Even so, the use of sedation for children is becoming more widespread and helps to safely ensure they're getting the dental care they need.
If you would like more information on comfortable dentistry for children, 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 “Sedation Dentistry for Kids.”
Your family uses fluoride toothpaste and your drinking water is fluoridated too. So with the fluoride your child already takes in, is it really necessary for topical fluoride treatments during their regular dental visits?
The answer is most definitely. Fluoride has a unique ability to strengthen enamel, your teeth’s protective cover against decay and other diseases. It does this by infusing itself in the enamel structure and making it that much more resistant to acid attack and decay.
This infusion occurs in two ways. First, growing teeth obtain it through the bloodstream as they incorporate other minerals that make up the enamel structure. The very small amount of fluoride added to drinking water — as low as one part per million (ppm) — imparts sufficient fluoride to developing teeth. In the absence of fluoridated water, dietary fluoride supplements can achieve the same effect.
The second way is just after the teeth have erupted and are still quite young. In this case, fluoride coming in direct contact with the enamel surface is absorbed, resulting in changes to the enamel’s crystalline structure that will create added strength. This can occur to a limited degree through fluoride toothpaste or other dental products. The concentration of fluoride in these products, though, is relatively low (850-1500 ppm) as mandated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for safety.
Professional applications, on the other hand, are much higher — 12,300 to 22,600 ppm depending on their form. They’re applied, of course, under strict clinical guidelines to cleaned tooth surfaces, usually as a gel, foam or varnish. The latter form will often continue leaching fluoride into the enamel for a month or more.
These topical applications can greatly strengthen the teeth of children who don’t have the benefit of fluoridated water or may be at higher risk for dental disease because of socio-economic conditions. But they can still be helpful for children with adequate fluoride exposure and low risk factors for disease. At the very least, fluoride treatments can give your child an added boost of protection as their teeth continue to develop.
If you would like more information on topical fluoride treatments for children, 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 “Topical Fluoride.”
Like any parent you want your child to grow up healthy and strong. So be sure you don't neglect their dental care, a crucial part of overall health and well-being.
The most important part of this care is prevention — stopping dental disease and other problems before they do harm. Proactive prevention is the best way to keep their teeth and gum growth on the right track.
Prevention starts at home with a daily habit of brushing and later flossing. In the beginning, you'll have to brush for them, with just a smear of toothpaste on the toothbrush. As they get older, you can teach them to brush for themselves, graduating to a pea-sized dose of toothpaste.
It's also important to begin regular dental visits around their first birthday. Many of their primary (baby) teeth are coming in, so regular cleanings and checkups will help keep tooth decay in check. Early visits will also get them used to seeing the dentist and hopefully help stimulate a lifelong habit.
These visits have a number of purposes. First and foremost is to monitor dental development and early detection of any emerging problems, like a poor bite. Catching problems early could help reduce or even eliminate future treatment.
Some children are also at greater risk for tooth decay and could benefit from applications of topical fluoride, a mineral that strengthens tooth enamel, or a sealant to help protect the teeth. This is especially helpful in preserving primary (baby) teeth: early loss of a primary tooth could disrupt the permanent tooth's eruption and cause a poor bite.
Your child's dental visits could also benefit you as their caregiver. You receive regular feedback on how well your child's teeth and gums are developing, and the effectiveness of their oral hygiene. You also get answers to your questions about their oral health: the dentist's office is your best source for advice on teething, diet and other issues.
Together, you and your dentist can provide and maintain the best conditions for your child's dental development. The result will be the healthiest mouth they can have as they enter their adult years.
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