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.”
The March 27th game started off pretty well for NBA star Kevin Love. His team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were coming off a 5-game winning streak as they faced the Miami Heat that night. Less than two minutes into the contest, Love charged in for a shot on Heat center Jordan Mickey—but instead of a basket, he got an elbow in the face that sent him to the floor (and out of the game) with an injury to his mouth.
In pictures from the aftermath, Love’s front tooth seemed clearly out of position. According to the Cavs’ official statement, “Love suffered a front tooth subluxation.” But what exactly does that mean, and how serious is his injury?
The dental term “subluxation” refers to one specific type of luxation injury—a situation where a tooth has become loosened or displaced from its proper location. A subluxation is an injury to tooth-supporting structures such as the periodontal ligament: a stretchy network of fibrous tissue that keeps the tooth in its socket. The affected tooth becomes abnormally loose, but as long as the nerves inside the tooth and the underlying bone have not been damaged, it generally has a favorable prognosis.
Treatment of a subluxation injury may involve correcting the tooth’s position immediately and/or stabilizing the tooth—often by temporarily splinting (joining) it to adjacent teeth—and maintaining a soft diet for a few weeks. This gives the injured tissues a chance to heal and helps the ligament regain proper attachment to the tooth. The condition of tooth’s pulp (soft inner tissue) must also be closely monitored; if it becomes infected, root canal treatment may be needed to preserve the tooth.
So while Kevin Love’s dental dilemma might have looked scary in the pictures, with proper care he has a good chance of keeping the tooth. Significantly, Love acknowledged on Twitter that the damage “…could have been so much worse if I wasn’t protected with [a] mouthguard.”
Love’s injury reminds us that whether they’re played at a big arena, a high school gym or an outdoor court, sports like basketball (as well as baseball, football and many others) have a high potential for facial injuries. That’s why all players should wear a mouthguard whenever they’re in the game. Custom-made mouthguards, available for a reasonable cost at the dental office, are the most comfortable to wear, and offer protection that’s superior to the kind available at big-box retailers.
If you have questions about dental injuries or custom-made mouthguards, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
Philosopher Will Durant wrote, "…We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." While that observation could aptly apply to a great deal of life, it's certainly true of dental health. Strong, healthy teeth and gums are largely the result of good oral habits started in early childhood.
Here are some important dental care habits you'll want to instill in your child, as well as yourself.
Practice and teach daily oral hygiene. Keeping your child's mouth clean helps prevent future dental disease. It should begin before teeth appear by wiping your baby's gums with a clean, wet cloth after every feeding to keep decay-causing bacteria from growing. Once teeth appear, switch to brushing with just a smear of toothpaste until age 2, when you can increase to a pea-sized amount. As your child matures, be sure to teach them to brush and floss for themselves, especially by modeling the behavior for them.
Begin dental visits early. Besides daily hygiene, regular professional dental care is one of the best habits for keeping healthy teeth and gums. Plan to begin your child's dental visits by age 1 when some of their teeth may have already come in. And by beginning early, it's more likely your child will view dental visits as a routine part of life, a habit they'll more likely continue into adulthood.
Keep your oral bacteria to yourself. Many strains of bacteria, especially harmful ones, don't occur spontaneously in a child's mouth. They come from the outside environment, most often from their parents or caregivers. To avoid transmitting disease-causing bacteria from you to your baby don't share eating utensils, don't lick a pacifier to clean it, and avoid kissing infants (whose immune systems are immature) on the mouth.
Encourage your teenager to avoid bad habits. Hopefully when your children reach adolescence, they've already developed good oral habits. But there are some bad habits you should also help your teen avoid. While piercings are a popular expression among this age group, teens should avoid tongue and lip bolts and other piercings that could damage teeth. A tobacco habit can also have negative consequences for dental health including increased decay or gum disease risk and cancer.
If you would like more information on dental care for children, 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 “Dentistry & Oral Health for Children.”
As a parent, you have plenty of questions about your child’s health. One we hear quite often is when dental care should begin for a child.
The short answer is when their first tooth comes in, usually at six months to a year of age: that’s when you should begin brushing at home. But there’s also the matter of when to begin your child’s regular dental visits: we recommend the first visit around the child’s first birthday. Here are 4 reasons why this is the right time to start.
Prevention. First and foremost, starting visits at age one gives your child the best start for preventing tooth decay through cleanings, topical fluoride or, in some cases, sealants. Preventive care for primary teeth may not seem that important since they’ll eventually give way to the permanent teeth. But primary teeth also serve as guides for the next teeth’s ultimate position in the mouth — if a primary tooth is lost prematurely, it could affect your child’s bite in later years.
Development. Early dental visits give us a chance to keep an eye on bite and jaw development. If we notice a developing malocclusion (bad bite) or conditions favorable for it, we can refer you to an orthodontist for consultation or interventional therapy to reduce the possibility or extent of future treatment.
Support. Your child’s regular dental visits can also help you as a parent. We can advise you on all aspects of dental care, including brushing and flossing techniques, nutrition dos and don’ts, and how to handle situations like late thumb sucking.
Familiarization. Dental visits starting at age one will help your child become familiar and comfortable with visiting the dentist that might be more difficult to achieve if they’re older. Dental visit anxiety is a major reason why many people don’t maintain regular visits later in life. Children who come to realize that dental visits are a normal, even pleasant experience are more likely to continue the practice into adulthood.
Caring for your child’s teeth is just as important as other aspects of their health. Getting an early start can head off brewing problems now and set the course for healthy teeth and gums tomorrow.
If you would like more information on pediatric dental care, 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 “Age One Dental Visit.”
Tooth decay is an ever present danger for your baby’s developing teeth. It begins with disease-causing bacteria feasting on leftover sugar, producing high levels of oral acid that slowly dissolves the teeth’s protective enamel. The softened enamel then becomes an open door for decay to infect the tooth.
Meanwhile, those bacteria continue to eat and produce acid….
So how can you stop this devastating cycle? Besides daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits, the most important thing you can do is deprive bacteria in your baby’s mouth of sugar through limiting their consumption of it. This means you’ll first need to identify the different sources of sugar available to your baby—and some of them might surprise you.
Here, then, are 3 not-so-obvious sugar sources your baby might be consuming.
During feeding. If you’re breast-feeding, you may not think this is causing a sugar problem for your baby. True, breast milk by itself doesn’t promote decay: it’s the combination of it with other sugar-rich foods and liquids the baby might be consuming as they get older. Together this could significantly increase their risk of pediatric tooth decay (also known as early childhood caries or ECC). So, be careful to limit sugar in other things they’re eating or drinking in addition to nursing.
24/7 Baby bottles and pacifiers. To calm infants at nap or sleep time, parents or caregivers often use bottles filled with sweet liquids or pacifiers dipped in jam, syrup or sugar. This practice increases decay risk from both the added sugar and its constant availability to bacteria in the mouth around the clock. Instead, avoid this practice and limit any sugary foods or liquids to mealtimes.
Medications. Some medications an infant may be taking for a chronic illness may contain small amounts of sugar. Additionally, medications like antihistamines can reduce the production of saliva that’s needed to neutralize acid after meals. If your child is on medication, ask your healthcare provider about its dental effects and if there are any sugar-free alternatives. Be sure to keep up daily brushing and flossing and regular dental visits too.
Limiting your baby’s sugar intake is critical in preventing tooth decay. It’s one of the most important things you can do to protect their dental health.
If you would like more information on helping your child avoid tooth decay, 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 “Age One Dental Visit: Why It’s Important for Your Baby.”
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