There are many things to be concerned about with your infant. Thumb sucking shouldn't be one of them—at least not yet. Practically universal among young children, the habit normally fades by age four with no real harm.
If it persists beyond that age, however, it can lead to a poor bite (malocclusion). Late thumb sucking may also have a connection with another problem—the inability of a child to transition from an infantile swallowing pattern to an adult pattern.
A baby while swallowing thrusts their tongue forward to help create a seal around a breast or bottle nipple during nursing. This normally changes about age 4, though, to a positioning of the tongue against the roof of the mouth when swallowing. But if they don't transition and continue to thrust the tongue forward, it can place undue pressure on the front teeth and cause them to develop too far forward.
The result may be an open bite, in which a gap exists between the upper and lower teeth even when the jaws are shut. An open bite can also happen with late thumb sucking, but instead of the tongue, their thumb presses against the teeth.
As to thumb-sucking, parents should encourage their child to stop the habit beginning around age 3, if they haven't already begun to do so. The best approach is to use some form of positive reinforcement such as praise or treats. The sooner the habit ceases after age 4, the lower their risk for developing an open bite.
You may also need to be alert to continued tongue thrusting while swallowing, which may still continue even after they no longer suck their thumb. In that case, your child may need orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT), a series of exercises directed by a trained therapist to retrain the muscles involved with swallowing. This therapy could further help a child properly transition to an adult swallowing pattern.
Open bites can be corrected orthodontically later in life. But by being alert to your child's oral habits, as well as the way they're swallowing, you and your dentist may be able to intervene and eliminate or at least lessen the development of this type of problem bite.
If you would like more information on how to manage 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.”
First, there were braces; then came removable clear aligners—both great ways to straighten teeth. But braces with their metal brackets and wires aren't the most attractive look. And, although nearly invisible aligners improve appearance, they don't work in every bite situation (although their range has improved of late).
But now a third choice has emerged: lingual braces. Like their traditional counterparts, lingual braces are fixed in place—but on the back side of the teeth rather than the front. Instead of "pushing" teeth toward new positions, they "pull" them, arriving at the same "destination" by another path.
This new method came about simultaneously by two different orthodontists a world apart and for different reasons. A Beverly Hills dentist was looking for an invisible form of treatment similar to clear aligners for his appearance-conscious patients. A Japanese dentist wanted an alternative that would reduce the risk of damage or injury posed by traditional braces to his martial arts patients.
Lingual braces (referring to their proximity to the tongue) address both of these concerns. All of the brackets and wiring are positioned out of sight. And because they're shielded by the teeth, they're not as likely to be damaged or cause injury following hard contact to the face—a great benefit for athletes, law enforcement officers and, yes, martial artists.
Even so, lingual braces won't replace the other two methods any time soon. You'll need to consider other factors, such as that lingual braces can cost up to a third more than traditional braces. And although their availability is steadily growing, not all orthodontists have been trained to offer lingual braces, so you may have to widen your search radius for a provider near you.
You may also find it takes a bit of time to get used to the feel of lingual braces. Upper braces can affect speech ability, at least initially, and the lower ones can interfere with tongue comfort. Most people, though, do adjust to them within a week or so.
But by and large, lingual braces do offer a fixed option that's out of sight, out of mind. With this newer orthodontic choice, you now have three good options for achieving a healthier mouth and a more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on methods for straightening 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 “Lingual Braces.”
During this year's baseball spring training, Minnesota Twins center fielder Byron Buxton got into a row with a steak dinner—and the beefsteak got the better of it. During his meal, the Gold Glove winner cracked a tooth.
Fortunately, he didn't lose it. Buxton's dentist rescued the tooth with a dental procedure that's been around for over a century—a root canal treatment. The dependable root canal is responsible for saving millions of teeth each year.
Dentists turn to root canal treatments for a number of reasons: a permanent tooth's roots are dissolving (a condition called resorption); chronic inflammation of the innermost tooth pulp due to repeated fillings; or a fractured or cracked tooth, like Buxton's, in which the pulp becomes exposed to bacteria.
One of the biggest reasons, though, is advanced tooth decay. Triggered by acid, a by-product of bacteria, a tooth's enamel softens and erodes, allowing decay into the underlying dentin. In its initial stages, we can often treat decay with a filling. But if the decay continues to advance, it can infect the pulp and root canals and eventually reach the bone.
Decay of this magnitude seriously jeopardizes a tooth's survival. But we can still stop it before that point with a root canal. The basic procedure is fairly straightforward. We begin first by drilling a small hole into the tooth to access the inner pulp and root canals. Using special instruments, we then remove all of the infected tissue within the tooth.
After disinfecting the now empty spaces and reshaping the root canals, we fill the tooth with a rubber-like substance called gutta percha. This, along with filling the access hole, seals the tooth's interior from future infection. In most cases, we'll return sometime later and bond a life-like crown to the tooth (as Buxton's dentist did for him) for added protection and support.
You would think such a procedure would get its own ticker tape parade. Unfortunately, there's a cultural apprehension that root canals are painful. But here's the truth—because your tooth and surrounding gums are numbed by local anesthesia, a root canal procedure doesn't hurt. Actually, if your tooth has been throbbing from tooth decay's attack on its nerves, a root canal treatment will alleviate that pain.
After some time on the disabled list, Buxton was back in the lineup in time to hit his longest homer to date at 456 feet on the Twins' Opening Day. You may not have that kind of moment after a root canal, but repairing a bothersome tooth with this important procedure will certainly get you back on your feet again.
If you would like more information about root canal therapy, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine article “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment.”
Along with tooth decay, periodontal (gum) disease is a primary enemy of oral health. If not caught and treated, a gum infection could spread and eventually cause tooth loss.
But although prevalent among the general population, one demographic in particular is highly susceptible to gum disease—smokers and tobacco users in general. It's estimated over 60 percent of all smokers will contend with a gum infection at some point during their lifetimes. Smokers are also twice as likely as non-smokers to develop advanced gum disease that could lead to serious dental damage.
The high rate of gum disease among smokers (and to some extent, all tobacco users) is connected to the effect that tobacco has on oral health in general. Studies show that nicotine constricts blood vessels in the mouth, which in turn reduces their delivery of antibodies to fight disease-causing bacteria. As a result, smokers have more harmful bacteria in their mouths than non-smokers, which increases their risk of dental disease.
Smokers are also less likely than non-smokers to display inflammation or redness, the initial signs of a burgeoning gum infection. This too has to do with the constricted blood vessels in the gums that can't deliver adequate oxygen and nutrients to these tissues. As a result, the gums can appear pink and healthy, yet still be infected. This could delay diagnosis of gum disease, allowing the infection to become more advanced.
Finally, smoking can interfere with the treatment of gum disease. Because of nicotine, a tobacco users' infections and wounds are often slower to heal. Combined with late diagnoses of gum disease, this slower healing creates an environment where smokers are three times more likely than non-smokers to lose teeth from gum disease.
If you do smoke, it's important to let your dentist know how much and for how long you've smoked, which could be relevant to any dental care or treatment. Better yet, quitting the habit could improve your oral health and lower your risk for teeth-destroying gum disease.
If you would like more information on the effects of smoking on oral health, 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 “Smoking and Gum Disease.”
Your gums don't just attractively frame your teeth—they protect them as well. If they shrink back (recede) from their normal covering, portions of the teeth could become exposed to bacteria and other hazards.
Unlike the visible crown, which is protected by enamel, the tooth root depends largely on the gums as a shield against bacteria and other hazards. When the gums recede, it exposes the roots and makes them more susceptible to disease or trauma. It may also cause sensitivity to hot and cold foods as the now exposed dentin gets the full brunt of temperature and pressure sensations once muffled by the gums.
There are actually a number of causes for gum recession. In rare cases, a tooth may not have erupted normally within its bony housing, which inhibits the gums from covering it fully. Thinner gum tissues, passed down genetically, are also more susceptible to recession. And a person can even damage their gums and cause them to recede if they brush too aggressively.
The most common cause, though, is advanced periodontal (gum) disease. This bacterial infection arises from dental plaque, a thin biofilm that accumulates on tooth surfaces, usually because of poor hygiene practices. As the infection and resulting inflammation in the gums worsens, they lose their attachment to teeth resulting in a number of harmful outcomes that include recession.
The first step then in treating gum recession is to treat the underlying problem as much as possible. In the case of gum disease, effective treatment could stop mild to moderate recession and sometimes reverse it. For more extensive recession, a patient may need gum grafting surgery to help regenerate lost gum tissue.
You can help prevent gum disease, and thus lower your risk for recession, with daily brushing and flossing to remove bacterial plaque. Likewise, see your dentist at least twice a year for dental cleanings to remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque).
You should also visit your dentist promptly if you notice swollen or bleeding gums, or more of your teeth surfaces showing. The earlier your dentist diagnoses and begins treatment for gum recession, the better your chances for a healthy and more attractive outcome.
If you would like more information on maintaining good gum health, 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 “Gum Recession.”
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