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. 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.”
Sure, it’s big news when celebs tweet selfies from the dental office… if you’re still living in the 20th century. But in Hollywood today, it’s harder to say who hasn’t posted snaps of themselves in the dentist’s chair than who has. Yet the pictures recently uploaded to Twitter by Mark Salling, the actor and singer who regularly appears as Noah “Puck” Puckerman on the popular TV series Glee, made us sit up and take notice.
“Getting my chipped tooth fixed. Also, apparently, I’m a big grinder,” read the caption. The photo showed a set of upper front teeth with visible chips on the biting surface. What’s so special about this seemingly mundane tweet? It’s a great way of bringing attention to a relatively common, but often overlooked problem: teeth clenching and grinding, also called bruxism.
Although bruxism is a habit that affects scores of people, many don’t even realize they have it. That’s because the condition may only become active at night. When the teeth are unconsciously ground together, the forces they produce can wear down the enamel, cause chipping or damage to teeth or dental work (such as veneers or fillings), or even loosen a tooth! While it’s common in children under 11 years old, in adults it can be a cause for concern.
Sometimes, mouth pain, soreness and visible damage alert individuals to their grinding habits; other times, a dental professional will notice the evidence of bruxism during an exam or cleaning: tooth sensitivity and telltale wear and tear on the chewing surfaces. Either way, it’s time to act.
Bruxism is most often caused by stress, which can negatively impact the body in many ways. It may also result from bite problems, the overuse of stimulating substances (caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drugs), and as a side effect of certain medications. Sometimes, simply becoming aware of the habit can help a person get it under control. Common methods of stress reduction include exercise, meditation, a warm bath or a quiet period before bedtime; these can be tried while we monitor the situation to see if the problem is going away.
If stress reduction alone doesn’t do the trick, several other methods can be effective. When bruxism is caused by a minor bite problem, we can sometimes do a minor “bite adjustment” in the office. This involves removing a tiny bit of enamel from an individual tooth that is out of position, bringing it in line with the others. If it’s a more serious malocclusion, orthodontic appliances or other procedures may be recommended.
When grinding is severe enough to damage teeth or dental work, we may also recommend a custom-made night guard (occlusal guard), which you put in your mouth at bedtime. Comfortable and secure, this appliance prevents your teeth from being damaged by contacting each other, and protects your jaw joints from stresses due to excessive grinding forces.
Whether or not you have to smile for a living, teeth grinding can be a big problem. If you would like more information about this condition, call our office to schedule a consultation for a consultation.
If you or a family member has problems with teeth alignment or your bite, you may be considering braces. This tried and true method can straighten out most smiles — but there's more to braces than you may realize.
For one thing, orthodontic treatment wouldn't work if it weren't for the natural mechanism for tooth movement that already exists in the mouth. It may seem your teeth are rigidly set in the jawbone but that's not how they maintain their attachment: that's the job of an elastic connective tissue known as the periodontal ligament that lies between the tooth and the bone. The ligament has tiny fibers that attach to the tooth on one side and to the bone on the other to actually hold the teeth in place, much like a hammock secured between two posts.
The ligament attachment also allows the teeth to move incrementally in response to environmental factors or the aging process. We harness this natural movement ability with braces to move teeth to a more desirable position. We first attach small brackets to the front crowns of the teeth (the visible portion) and then string arch wires through them. We then attach the wires to anchor points where we can adjust the amount of tension they're exerting through the brackets against the teeth. By gradually increasing that tension, the teeth respond as they would when any force is applied against them and begin to move.
By precisely controlling that movement we can transform a patient's smile. But we believe the advantages are more than cosmetic: the teeth will function better and will be easier to care for and keep clean. These benefits, though, have to be balanced with heightened risks for root resorption (something that occurs only about 10% of the time) in which the ends of the roots can shrink, or loss of mineral content in teeth enamel where the hardware makes it more difficult to remove bacterial plaque. These risks can be reduced by closely monitoring dental health during the entire treatment process and through stepped up efforts in daily oral hygiene.
The starting point for deciding on an orthodontic treatment is a thorough dental examination with x-rays or CT scan imaging. Once we have a complete picture of your misalignment problems and any other extenuating circumstances, we can recommend a treatment plan just for you.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment, 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 “Moving Teeth with Orthodontics.”
Via a recent Instagram post, pop diva Ariana Grande became the latest young celebrity to publicly acknowledge a dental milestone: having her wisdom teeth removed. The singer of hits such as “Break Free” and “Problem” posted an after-surgery picture of herself (wearing her signature cat-eye eyeliner), with a caption addressed to her teeth: “Peace out, final three wisdom teeth. It’s been real.”
With the post, Grande joined several other celebs (including Lily Allen, Paris Hilton and Emile Hirsch) who have shared their dental surgery experience with fans. Will "wisdom teeth removal" become a new trending topic on social media? We aren’t sure — but we can explain a bit about the procedure, and why many younger adults may need it.
Technically called the “third molars,” wisdom teeth usually begin to emerge from the gums between the ages of 17 and 25 — presumably, around the same time that a certain amount of wisdom emerges. Most people have four of these big molars, which are located all the way in the back of the mouth, on the left and right sides of the upper and lower jaws.
But when wisdom teeth begin to appear, there’s often a problem: Many people don’t have enough space in their jaws to accommodate them. When these molars lack sufficient space to fully erupt (emerge), they are said to be “impacted.” Impacted teeth can cause a number of serious problems: These may include pain, an increased potential for bacterial infections, periodontal disease, and even the formation of cysts (pockets of infection below the gum line), which can eventually lead to tooth and bone loss.
In most cases, the best treatment for impacted wisdom teeth is extraction (removal) of the problem teeth. Wisdom tooth extraction is a routine, in-office procedure that is usually performed under local anesthesia or “conscious sedation,” a type of anesthesia where the patient remains conscious (able to breathe normally and respond to stimuli), but is free from any pain or distress. Anti-anxiety medications may also be given, especially for those who are apprehensive about dental procedures.
So if you find you need your wisdom teeth extracted, don’t be afraid to “Break Free” like Ariana Grande did; whether you post the results on social media is entirely up to you. If you would like more information about wisdom tooth extraction, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Wisdom Teeth” and “Removing Wisdom Teeth.”
If you've noticed one of your teeth feeling loose, you're right to believe it's not a good thing. Loose permanent teeth are a sign of an underlying problem.
Periodontal (gum) disease is usually the culprit. Caused by bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles, gum disease causes the tissues that support teeth to weaken and detach. While a tooth can become loose from too much biting force (primary occlusal trauma), it's more likely bone loss from gum disease has caused so much damage that even the forces from normal biting can trigger looseness.
A loose tooth must be treated or you may lose it altogether. If it's from gum disease, your treatment will have two phases.
In the first phase we need to stop the gum infection by removing plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits). Hand instruments known as scalers or ultrasonic equipment are usually sufficient for removing plaque and calculus around or just below the gum line. If the plaque extends deeper near or around the roots, we may need to consider surgical techniques to access these deeper deposits.
Once the infection is under control and the tissues have healed, we can then undertake the second phase: reducing biting forces by breaking clenching and grinding habits, doing a bite adjustment for advanced problems and securing loose teeth with splinting.
Although there are different types of splinting — both temporary and permanent — they all link loose teeth to adjacent secure teeth much like pickets in a fence. One way is to bond dental material to the outer enamel of all the teeth involved; a more permanent technique is to cut a small channel extending across all the teeth and bond a rigid metal splint within it.
To reduce biting forces on loose teeth, we might recommend wearing a bite guard to keep the teeth from generating excessive biting forces with each other. We may also recommend orthodontics to create a better bite or reshape the teeth's biting surfaces by grinding away small selected portions of tooth material so they generate less force.
Using the right combination of methods we can repair loose teeth and make them more secure. But time is of the essence: the sooner we begin treatment for a loose tooth, the better the outcome.
If you would like more information on treating loose 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 “Treatment for Loose Teeth.”
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