Along with thumb sucking, childhood teeth grinding is one of the top concerns anxious parents bring to their dentists. It’s so prevalent, though, many providers consider it normal behavior—the sleep-disturbing sound it can generate is often the worst consequence for the habit.
But that doesn’t mean you should brush aside all concern, especially if the habit continues into late childhood. Long-term teeth grinding could eventually damage the teeth and gums.
Teeth grinding (or clenching) is the involuntary movement of the jaws when not engaged in normal functions like chewing, speaking or swallowing. The action often produces higher than normal chewing forces, which over time can accelerate tooth wear, cause fractures, or contribute to loose teeth, all of which could increase the risk of dental disease. While it can occur at any time it’s most common among children during nighttime sleep.
While stress is the usual trigger for teeth grinding in adults, with young children the causes for the habit are more complex and less understood. Most doctors hold to the theory that most pediatric teeth grinding arises during shifts from lighter to heavier, rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. The child’s immature neuromuscular chewing control may engage involuntarily during this shift. Teeth grinding is also prevalent among children who snore or mouth-breathe, or who take anti-depressant medication.
But as mentioned before, there’s usually no cause for concern unless the habit persists beyond about age 11. If the habit isn’t fading, you should speak to your dentist about ways to reduce it or its effects. One way is with a custom-made night guard worn during sleep. The smooth, plastic surface of the appliance prevents teeth from making solid contact with each other during a grinding episode.
You might also seek treatment from an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist if your child is having issues with airway obstruction, which could also relieve teeth grinding. And children experiencing stressful situations or events may find relief both emotionally and physically from psychological therapy.
At younger ages, you can safely regard your child’s grinding habit as normal. But if it persists, it’s worth looking for ways to reduce it.
If you would like more information on your child’s teeth grinding 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 “When Children Grind Their Teeth: Is the Habit of ‘Bruxism’ Harmful?”
How many actresses have portrayed a neuroscientist on a wildly successful TV comedy while actually holding an advanced degree in neuroscience? As far as we know, exactly one: Mayim Bialik, who plays the lovably geeky Amy Farrah Fowler on CBS' The Big Bang Theory… and earned her PhD from UCLA.
Acknowledging her nerdy side, Bialik recently told Dear Doctor magazine, “I'm different, and I can't not be different.” Yet when it comes to her family's oral health, she wants the same things we all want: good checkups and great-looking smiles. “We're big on teeth and oral care,” she said. “Flossing is really a pleasure in our house.”
How does she get her two young sons to do it?
Bialik uses convenient pre-loaded floss holders that come complete with floss and a handle. “I just keep them in a little glass right next to the toothbrushes so they're open, no one has to reach, they're just right there,” she said. “It's really become such a routine, I don't even have to ask them anymore.”
As many parents have discovered, establishing healthy routines is one of the best things you can do to maintain your family's oral health. Here are some other oral hygiene tips you can try at home:
Brush to the music — Plenty of pop songs are about two minutes long… and that's the length of time you should brush your teeth. If brushing in silence gets boring, add a soundtrack. When the music's over — you're done!
Flossing can be fun — If standard dental floss doesn't appeal, there are many different styles of floss holders, from functional ones to cartoon characters… even some with a martial-arts theme! Find the one that your kids like best, and encourage them to use it.
The eyes don't lie — To show your kids how well (or not) they are cleaning their teeth, try using an over-the-counter disclosing solution. This harmless product will temporarily stain any plaque or debris that got left behind after brushing, so they can immediately see where they missed, and how to improve their hygiene technique — which will lead to better health.
Have regular dental exams & cleanings — When kids see you're enthusiastic about going to the dental office, it helps them feel the same way… and afterward, you can point out how great it feels to have a clean, sparkling smile.
A lot happens in your child’s mouth from infancy to early adulthood. Not surprisingly, it’s the most active period for development of teeth, gums and jaw structure. Our primary goal as care providers is to keep that development on track.
One of our main concerns, therefore, is to protect their teeth as much as possible from tooth decay. This includes their primary (“baby”) teeth: although your child will eventually lose them, a premature loss of a primary tooth to decay could cause the incoming permanent tooth to erupt out of proper position. And we of course want to protect permanent teeth from decay during these developmental years as well.
That’s why we may recommend applying topical fluoride to your child’s teeth. A naturally occurring chemical, fluoride helps strengthen the mineral content of enamel. While fluoride can help prevent tooth decay all through life, it’s especially important to enamel during this growth period.
Although your child may be receiving fluoride through toothpaste or drinking water, in that form it first passes through the digestive system into the bloodstream and then to the teeth. A topical application is more direct and allows greater absorption into the enamel.
We’ll typically apply fluoride in a gel, foam or varnish form right after a professional cleaning. The fluoride is a much higher dose than what your child may encounter in toothpaste and although not dangerous it can cause temporary vomiting, headache or stomach pain if accidentally swallowed. That’s why we take extra precautions such as a mouth tray (similar to a mouth guard) to catch excess solution.
The benefits, though, outweigh this risk of unpleasant side effects, especially for children six years or older. Several studies over the years with thousands of young patients have shown an average 28% reduction in decayed, missing or filled teeth in children who received a fluoride application.
Topical fluoride, along with a comprehensive dental care program, can make a big difference in your child’s dental care. Not only is it possible for them to enjoy healthier teeth and gums now, but it could also help ensure their future dental health.
If you would like more information on topical fluoride and other dental disease prevention measures, 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 “Fluoride Gels Reduce Decay.”
What do young saber tooth tigers, which have been extinct about 10,000 years, have in common with human kids today? At first glance, not a lot. Smilodon fatalis, the big cat of North America, reached adulthood at around age three and weighed up to 600 pounds. But these ice-age mammals are probably best known for their dagger-like canine teeth, which (as shown by many well-preserved skeletons) grew up to 7 inches long. And that’s where the comparison between kids and kitties gets interesting.
The toothy felines had primary (baby) teeth and adult teeth, which developed in a similar way to human dentition. The primary teeth came in first, persisted during the young cat’s development, and shared space in the mouth as the adult teeth were erupting (growing in) — with one big difference. According to a recent study reported in the academic journal PLOS ONE, those colossal canines grew at an astonishing rate: up to 6 millimeters per month! By comparison, human primary teeth emerge from the gums at around 0.7mm per month, while permanent teeth may grow up to 2mm per month.
It’s understandable why those tiger teeth developed so rapidly: Life in the Ice Age was hard, and predators needed every advantage just to stay alive. But while human baby teeth take longer to develop (and to go away), they, too, are vitally important.Â For one thing, the primary teeth let kids bite, chew, speak (and smile) properly, until they are replaced by adult teeth — a process that isn’t usually finished until a child reaches the age of 12-13. So those “baby” teeth allow kids to have good nutrition — and positive social interactions — for a significant part of childhood!
There’s another important thing primary teeth do before they’re gone: They help ensure that the succeeding teeth come in properly, by holding a space in the jaw that will later be filled by a permanent tooth. If baby teeth are lost prematurely, those spaces can close up, resulting in permanent teeth that emerge too close together, or in the wrong places. This condition, called malocclusion (bad bite), can usually be corrected by orthodontics. But it’s better to avoid the inconvenience (and cost) of braces, if possible.
That’s why it’s so important to take care of your child’s baby teeth. Even though they won’t be around forever, they have a vital role to play right now. So be sure proper attention is paid to your child’s oral hygiene: That means avoiding sugar, and remembering to brush and floss every day. And be sure to come in regularly for routine exams, cleanings, and needed care. It’s the best way to keep those little teeth from “going extinct” too soon!
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s baby teeth, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Importance of Baby Teeth” and “Early Loss of Baby Teeth.”
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.”
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