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'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.”
You've been brushing your teeth since you were big enough to look over the bathroom sink: now you brush and floss every day. You do it because you know it's important — but do you know why?
It's because your teeth and gums have enemies: oral bacteria in particular, the major cause for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. The vehicle for these infections is a thin-film of food particles on tooth surfaces called plaque.
Daily brushing removes plaque from broad tooth surfaces, while flossing removes it from between teeth. If you don't brush or floss every day — or you aren't effective enough — then plaque becomes a haven for bacteria which then produce high levels of acid that soften and erode enamel. Bacterial plaque can also trigger gum disease: gingivitis (inflamed gum tissues) can begin in just a few days of not brushing and flossing.
You could avoid these diseases and their high treatment costs with an effective, daily hygiene regimen. There are things you can start doing right now to improve your efforts: be sure to hold your toothbrush (soft, multi-tufted is best for most people) at a 45-degree angle to the gum line and gently scrub or wiggle the bristles across the teeth; cover all tooth surfaces on both sides of the teeth — about two minutes of brushing. Be sure to use a fluoride toothpaste to boost enamel strength and don't apply too much pressure when you brush to avoid damaging your gums.
With flossing it's best to hold a small amount of string between fingers from each hand and work it gently between the gaps of each tooth. You then wrap the floss around each tooth in the form of a “C” and gently move up and down three or four times.
You can check to see if you're performing these tasks adequately by running your tongue across your teeth — they should feel smooth and a little squeaky. The real test, though, is during your next checkup. Hopefully we'll find the hygiene habits you've been practicing your whole life are helping you keep your teeth healthy and disease-free.
Regular dental visits are an important part of maintaining healthy teeth and gums. But it’s what goes on between those visits — daily hygiene and care — that are the real ounce of prevention.
Here are 4 things you should be doing every day to keep your mouth healthy.
Use the right toothbrush and technique. Brushing with fluoride toothpaste at least once every day is a must for removing plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles which is the main cause of dental disease. Your efforts are more effective if you use a soft-bristled, multi-tufted brush that’s replaced often, especially when bristles become splayed and worn. To remove the most plaque and avoid damaging your gums, brush with a gentle, circular motion for at least two minutes over all tooth surfaces.
Don’t forget to floss. Your toothbrush can get to most but not all the plaque on your teeth. Flossing — either with flossing string, pre-loaded flossers or a water irrigator — helps remove plaque from between teeth. Don’t rely on toothpicks either — they can’t do the job flossing can do to remove plaque.
Mind your habits. We all develop certain behavioral patterns — like snacking, for instance. Constant snacking on foods with added sugar (a major food source for bacteria) increases your disease risk. Consider healthier snacks with fresh fruits or dairy, and restrict sugary foods to mealtimes (and the same for sports and energy drinks, which have high acid levels). Stop habits like tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption or chewing on hard objects, all of which can damage your teeth and gums and create a hostile environment in your mouth.
Watch for abnormalities. If you pay attention, you may be able to notice early signs of problems. Bleeding, inflamed or painful gums could indicate you’re brushing too hard — or, more likely, the early stages of periodontal (gum) disease. Tooth pain could signal decay. And sores, lumps or other spots on your lips, tongue or inside of your mouth and throat could be a sign of serious disease. You should contact us if you see anything out of the ordinary.
If you would like more information on how to care for your teeth and gums, 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 “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”