Posts for category: Oral Health
It’s true — thumb sucking beyond age 4 can cause bite problems for permanent teeth. But prolonged thumb sucking is just one of a number of possible contributing factors for a bad bite (malocclusion). A dentist must identify all the factors involved when a bad bite is present — their involvement is essential for a successful treatment outcome.
A fairly benign habit for infants and toddlers, thumb sucking is related to an “infantile swallowing pattern” young children use by thrusting their tongues forward between the upper and lower teeth when they swallow. Around age 4, though, they usually transition to an adult swallowing pattern in which the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. Thumb sucking stops for most children around the same time.
Thumb sucking beyond this age, though, can put increased pressure on incoming permanent teeth pushing them forward. This could lead to an “open bite” in which the upper and lower teeth don’t meet when the jaws are closed. The tongue may also continue to thrust forward when swallowing to seal the resulting gap, which further reinforces the open bite.
Before treating the bite with braces, we must first address the thumb sucking and improper tongue placement when swallowing — if either isn’t corrected the teeth could gradually revert to their previous positions after the braces come off. Besides behavioral incentives, we can also employ a thin metal appliance called a “tongue crib” placed behind the upper and lower incisors. A tongue crib discourages thumb sucking and makes it more difficult for the tongue to rest within the open bite gap when swallowing, which helps retrain it to a more normal position.
An open bite can also occur if the jaws develop with too much vertical growth. Like thumb sucking and improper tongue placement, abnormal jaw growth could ultimately cause orthodontic treatment to fail. In this case, though, surgery may be necessary to correct the jaw structure.
With all these possible variables, our first step needs to be a thorough orthodontic exam that identifies all the cause factors for your child’s specific malocclusion. Knowing if and how thumb sucking may have contributed to the poor bite will help us design a treatment strategy that’s successful.
If you would like more information on the causes of poor tooth position, 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.”
Around ages 6 to 8, a child's primary teeth will begin to loosen to make way for their permanent teeth. If all goes well, the new set will come in straight with the upper teeth slightly overlapping the bottom.
But sometimes it doesn't go that well: a child may instead develop a poor bite (malocclusion) that interferes with normal function. If we can detect the early signs of a developing malocclusion, however, we may be able to intervene and lessen its impact. You as a parent can play a vital role in this early detection.
The first thing you should be watching for is teeth spacing.Â Normal teeth come in straight with a slight gap between them. But there are two abnormal extremes to look for: teeth having no space between them or crowded together in a crooked, haphazard manner; or they seem to have too much space between them, which indicates a possible discrepancy between the teeth and jaw sizes.
You should also notice how the teeth come together or “bite.” If you notice the lower front teeth biting in front of the upper (the opposite of normal) it may be a developing underbite. If you see a space between the upper and lower teeth when they bite down, this is a sign of an open bite. Or, if the upper front teeth seem to come down too far over the lower, this could mean a deep bite: in extreme cases the lower teeth actually bite into the roof of the mouth behind the upper teeth.
You should also look for crossbites, in which the teeth in one part of the mouth bite abnormally in front or behind their counterparts, while teeth in other parts bite normally. For example, you might notice if the back upper teeth bite inside the lower teeth (abnormal), while the front upper teeth bite outside the lower front teeth (normal).
The important thing is to note anything that doesn't look right or seems inconsistent with how your child's teeth look or how they function. Even if you aren't sure it's an issue, contact us anyway for an examination. If it really is a developing bite problem, starting treatment now may lessen the extent and cost of treatment later.
There are a lot of things we do without much conscious thought — habits we've developed over time. Some habits help streamline our lives for the good; others, though, hold us back or even harm us. A lot of these habits, both good and bad, form during our childhood years.
That's why it's important for you to guide your children into forming good habits. The goal is that when they're adults they'll “own” these habits, and their life will be healthier and happier because of them.
One particular area of habit-forming focus is dental care. It's essential your children develop good habits caring for their teeth and gums. The most important is a daily routine of brushing and flossing.
Brushing and flossing has one primary aim: to remove bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that builds up on tooth surfaces. Bacteria in plaque are the main cause for two potentially devastating diseases, tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Allowing plaque to build up over just a few days can trigger an infection that inflames the gums or softens enamel leading to tooth decay. Left untreated these diseases can ultimately cause tooth and bone loss.
A daily habit of brushing and flossing, along with semi-annual professional cleanings, can drastically reduce a person's risk for these diseases. It's best to instill these habits and their importance as soon as your child's teeth begin to erupt in the mouth.
In the beginning, you'll be performing the habit for them: for children two and younger use a slight smear of toothpaste on the brush. As they get older, you can increase it to pea size. Eventually you'll want to help them learn to brush on their own. In this case, modeling the behavior — both of you brushing your teeth together — will have the biggest impact and help them see how important the habit really is.
Before you know it, brushing and flossing will become second nature, a habit they'll begin doing on their own without being told. Once instilled, it'll be a habit they'll practice long after they leave your care — and one they'll hopefully pass on to their own children.
If you would like more information on proper 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 “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
We've known for decades that fluoride strengthens tooth enamel and lowers the risk for decay. And while adding it to toothpaste and drinking water are the more common ways for getting it into the body, an increasingly popular way—especially for children—is to apply fluoride directly to the teeth.
But is topical fluoride really worth the effort and expense? And, are there any side effects to treating teeth this way?
As to the first question, researchers have performed numerous studies measuring fluoride's effectiveness for preventing tooth decay. The Cochrane Oral Health Research Group recently reviewed studies on topical fluoride applications involving nearly 10,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 2 and 15. The combined average for all the studies showed a 28% reduction in decayed teeth for patients who received topical fluoride compared to those who didn't.
This was especially true for children at high risk for decay: directly applying fluoride gels, foams or varnishes to teeth reduces that risk substantially. But there are also side effects to this application. Fluoride in general has only one known safety concern, a condition known as fluorosis. Too much fluoride over time can cause heavy discoloration of the teeth. This does not affect the health of the teeth, but it can look unattractive and require cosmetic treatment to reduce its effect.
There's little to no risk for fluorosis with the controlled treatments offered by dentists; the fluoride solution remains on the teeth no more than a few minutes. But there is a possible side effect during treatment due to the relatively high dose of fluoride used. If the patient accidentally swallows some of the solution, the concentration of fluoride can cause stomach upset, vomiting or headaches.
Dentists minimize the chances for this by usually using the more difficult to swallow varnish form of topical fluoride on younger patients, and using trays or other barrier devices to isolate the fluoride solution from the rest of the mouth. Under professional supervision, it's rare for an accidental ingestion to occur.
The risks for these side effects are quite low, and the benefits of topical fluoride for reducing the chances for decay can more than outweigh them. Fluoride applications are one of many ways we can protect your child's current and future dental health.
If you would like more information on decay prevention techniques like topical fluoride, 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.”
Your child’s teeth and gum development is truly a wonder. In just a little more than two decades they’ll gain and lose one set of teeth, while the subsequent permanent set will grow in coordination with other facial and oral structures. All of these structures will finally reach maturity sometime in early adulthood.
Sometimes, though, obstacles can arise: disease, trauma or even genetics can derail normal development and endanger future health. So although nature does most of the heavy lifting, there are things you should do to keep your child’s dental development on track.
For instance, begin oral hygiene practices before their first teeth come in. By wiping their gums after feeding with a clean damp cloth, you can help reduce the numbers of disease-causing bacteria in the mouth. Once teeth appear switch to brushing.
There are also habits to avoid. Don’t kiss your baby directly on the lips—you may transfer to them your own mouth bacteria, which their young immune system can’t yet adequately handle. Also, avoid putting them to bed with a sleep-time bottle filled with sugary fluids (including milk or formula) because the constant contact between the sugar and their teeth could increase their risk for tooth decay, the number one dental disease in young children.
Of course, not all prevention efforts depend on you alone—we’re your partner in helping to keep your child’s dental development progressing normally. We can provide preventive treatments like sealants or topical fluoride to reduce the risk of tooth decay, while continually monitoring for signs of the disease that may require treatment. We also look for signs of emerging bite problems that may require intervention before their effects worsen.
This is all part of regular dental visits, usually at six-month intervals, which are best begun around your child’s first birthday. Not only does this enable us to stay ahead of dental problems, it also helps your child become more comfortable with dental visits and increase the likelihood they’ll continue the habit in adulthood.
As we said, nature is responsible for most of this amazing development without any help from us. But we can assist development and hopefully prevent issues that could diminish their dental health in years to come.