One of the most frequent concerns parents express to us is their child’s thumb or finger sucking habit. The good news, though, is that thumb sucking is a completely normal activity for babies and young children, and if they stop by age 4 it should have no adverse effects on their future bite.
In fact, there are positive aspects to thumb sucking: it provides babies with a sense of security, as well as a way to learn about the world. As a child grows and becomes more confident with their surroundings, the thumb sucking habit will fade and eventually stop: for most children this occurs between the ages of two and four.
If, however, the habit continues later in childhood, there is a chance the upper front teeth may be influenced to tip toward the lip during eruption and come into an improper position that could also adversely affect jaw development. The same concern exists for pacifier use — we recommend weaning a child off a pacifier by the time they’re eighteen months of age.
If your child still has a thumb or finger sucking habit as they prepare to enter school, it’s quite appropriate to work on getting them to stop. Punishment, shaming or similar negative approaches, however, aren’t the best ways to accomplish this: it’s much more effective to try to modify their behavior through reward, praise or some creative activity.
Another factor that may help is to begin regular dental visits around their first birthday. Regular checkups give us a chance to monitor the development of their bite, especially if thumb sucking continues longer than normal. We can also assist you with strategies to encourage them to stop thumb sucking or pacifier use.
Thumb sucking that continues later than normal isn’t a cause for panic, but it does require attention and action. Helping your child “grow” past this stage in their life will improve their chances of developing a normal and healthy bite.
If you would like more information on thumb sucking, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Thumb Sucking in Children.”
A recent episode of “America’s Got Talent” featured an engaging 93-year-old strongman called The Mighty Atom Jr. The mature muscleman’s stunt: moving a full-sized car (laden with his octogenarian “kid brother,” his brother’s wife, plus Atom’s “lady friend”) using just his teeth. Grinning for host Howie Mandel, Atom proudly told the TV audience that his teeth were all his own; then he grasped a leather strap in his mouth, and successfully pulled the car from a standstill.
We’re pleased to see that the Atom has kept his natural teeth in good shape: He must have found time for brushing and flossing in between stunts. Needless to say, his “talent” isn’t one we’d recommend trying at home. But aside from pulling vehicles, teeth can also be chipped or fractured by more mundane (yet still risky) activities — playing sports, nibbling on pencils, or biting too hard on ice. What can you do if that happens to your teeth?
Fortunately, we have a number of ways to repair cracked or chipped teeth. One of the easiest and fastest is cosmetic bonding with tooth-colored resins. Bonding can be used to fill in small chips, cracks and discolorations in the teeth. The bonding material is a high-tech mixture of plastic and glass components that’s extremely lifelike, and can last for several years. Plus, it’s a procedure that can be done right in the office, with minimal preparation or discomfort. However, it may not be suitable for larger chips, and it isn’t the longest-lasting type of restoration.
When more of the tooth structure is missing, a crown (or cap) might be needed to restore the tooth’s appearance and function. This involves creating a replacement for the entire visible part of the tooth in a dental lab — or in some cases, right in the office. It typically involves making a model of the damaged tooth and its neighbors, then fabricating a replica, which will fit perfectly into the bite. Finally, the replacement crown is permanently cemented to the damaged tooth. A crown replacement can last for many years if the tooth’s roots are in good shape. But what if the roots have been dislodged?
In some cases it’s possible to re-implant a tooth that has been knocked out — especially if it has been carefully preserved, and receives immediate professional attention. But if a tooth can’t be saved (due to a deeply fractured root, for example) a dental implant offers today’s best option for tooth replacement. This procedure has a success rate of over 95 percent, and gives you a natural looking replacement tooth that can last for the rest of your life.
So what have we learned? If you take care of your teeth, like strongman Atom, they can last a long time — but if you need to move your car, go get the keys.
If you would like more information about tooth restoration, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Crowns & Bridgework.”
Our bodies are constantly changing as we age. Although the most rapid development occurs during childhood and adolescence, our bones, soft tissue and bodily systems will continue to change, even as we enter old age.
That includes our mouth and facial structures. Over time change will result in a flatter facial profile: this will cause the nose to gain more prominence as the lower part of our face becomes shorter. The extent of our lip movement can also change with time, resulting in less of our teeth appearing when we smile. The teeth themselves will also wear, which can make them appear shorter.
These and other aging consequences should be taken into account in our dental care. We should consider their impact on the health and function of our teeth (the therapeutic aspect) and our appearance (the cosmetic aspect). Rather than less attention, the effects of aging often require a multi-layered approach to care. The foundation for this care, of course, isn’t laid when we reach our middle or later years, but with the regular and special treatments we receive when we’re young.
For example, the best time to address teeth alignment and bite is usually during early adolescence. Orthodontic treatment will certainly improve dental function and smile appearance in the short term; but improving the bite can also have implications later in life. By anticipating how the soft tissue and bone structure within the face and jaws will continue to develop, we can better determine the final teeth position we wish to achieve. This creates satisfying results in the present and a more stable platform for oral health in the future.
We can apply the same approach to other areas, like the position of the lower jaw. Using orthognathic surgery to reposition it will benefit jaw development throughout adulthood. Making these improvements can diminish the effects of aging later in life.
In essence, dental care is a life-long endeavor that begins when we’re very young and continues into our senior years. Properly caring for your teeth at any age is the key to enjoying good oral health for your entire life.
If you would like more information on the effects of aging on dental 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 “Understanding Aging Makes Beauty Timeless.”
Fans of the primetime TV show The Middle were delighted to see that high school senior Sue, played by Eden Sher, finally got her braces off at the start of Season 6. But since this popular sitcom wouldn’t be complete without some slapstick comedy, this happy event is not without its trials and tribulations: The episode ends with Sue’s whole family diving into a dumpster in search of the teen’s lost retainer. Sue finds it in the garbage and immediately pops it in her mouth. But wait — it doesn’t fit, it’s not even hers!
If you think this scenario is far-fetched, guess again. OK, maybe the part about Sue not washing the retainer upon reclaiming it was just a gag (literally and figuratively), but lost retainers are all too common. Unfortunately, they’re also expensive to replace — so they need to be handled with care. What’s the best way to do that? Retainers should be brushed daily with a soft toothbrush and liquid soap (dish soap works well), and then placed immediately back in your mouth or into the case that came with the retainer. When you are eating a meal at a restaurant, do not wrap your retainer in a napkin and leave it on the table — this is a great way to lose it! Instead, take the case with you, and keep the retainer in it while you’re eating. When you get home, brush your teeth and then put the retainer back in your mouth.
If you do lose your retainer though, let us know right away. Retention is the last step of your orthodontic treatment, and it’s extremely important. You’ve worked hard to get a beautiful smile, and no one wants to see that effort wasted. Yet if you neglect to wear your retainer as instructed, your teeth are likely to shift out of position. Why does this happen?
As you’ve seen firsthand, teeth aren’t rigidly fixed in the jaw — they can be moved in response to light and continuous force. That’s what orthodontic appliances do: apply the right amount of force in a carefully controlled manner. But there are other forces at work on your teeth that can move them in less predictable ways. For example, normal biting and chewing can, over time, cause your teeth to shift position. To get teeth to stay where they’ve been moved orthodontically, new bone needs to form around them and anchor them where they are. That will happen over time, but only if they are held in place with a retainer. That’s why it is so important to wear yours as directed — and notify us immediately if it gets lost.
And if ever you do have to dig your retainer out of a dumpster… be sure to wash it before putting in in your mouth!
If you would like more information on retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Why Orthodontic Retainers?”
People mainly identify orthodontics with braces. But while they’re a major part of it, braces aren’t the only way this important dental specialty can make a difference in a person’s bite.
For example, orthodontics can help guide the development of a younger patient’s facial structure that could head off future upper teeth misalignment. The area of focus is the upper jaw and palate (the roof of the mouth) that jointly make up a structure called the maxilla. The maxilla is actually formed by two bones fused together in the center of the palate along what is known as the midline suture running from front to back in the mouth.
The two bones remain separated until puberty, which helps accommodate rapid structural growth during childhood. But problems can arise if the upper jaw is too narrow, causing a “cross-bite” where the lower back teeth bite abnormally outside the upper ones. This can crowd upper permanent teeth and cause them to erupt improperly.
Using a technique called palatal expansion we can correct this abnormality if we act before the maxillary bones fuse. The technique employs a custom-made appliance called a palatal expander that attaches to the posterior teeth of the upper arch. Expanders have two halves joined by a small screw device to increase tension against the teeth to widen the jaw. A parent or the patient (if old enough) increases the tension by using a special key to turn the adjustment screw a tiny amount each day. This may cause minor discomfort that normally eases in a few minutes.
The patient wears the device until the jaw expands to the desired width and then allows the bones to stabilize in the new position. This can sometimes create a small gap between the upper front teeth, but it often closes on its own or it may require braces to close it.
While palatal expanders are not for every case, they can help normalize development and improve the bite, and thus preclude more extensive orthodontic treatment later. But time is of the essence: after the maxilla has fused, surgery will be necessary to separate them and widen the palate. It’s important then not to delay if your child could benefit from this effective treatment.
If you would like more information on palatal expanders and other orthodontic treatments, 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 “Palatal Expanders.”
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