Posts for category: Oral Health
One of the biggest concerns we hear from parents is about their child's thumb sucking habit. Our advice: if they're under age 4, there's no need for concern — yet. If they're older, though, you should be concerned about the possible effect on their bite.
Thumb sucking is a universal habit among infants and toddlers and is related to their swallowing pattern during feeding. As they swallow, their tongue thrusts forward to create a seal with the lips around the breast or a bottle nipple. Many pediatricians believe thumb sucking replicates nursing and so has a comforting effect on infants.
Around age 4, though, this swallowing pattern begins to change to accommodate solid food. The tongue now begins to rest at the back of the top front teeth during swallowing (try swallowing now and you'll see). For most children, their thumb sucking habit also fades during this time and eventually stops.
But for whatever reason, some children don't stop. As the habit persists, the tongue continues to thrust forward rather than toward the back of the top front teeth. Over time this can place undue pressure on both upper and lower front teeth and contribute to the development of an open bite, a slight gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut.
While late childhood thumb sucking isn't the only cause for an open bite (abnormal bone growth in one jaw is another), the habit is still a prominent factor. That's why it's important that you start encouraging your child to stop thumb sucking around age 3 and no later than 4. This is best accomplished with positive reinforcement like rewards or praise.
If they've continued the habit a few years after they should have stopped, we may also need to check to see if their swallowing mechanism has become stunted. If so, we may need to use certain exercises to retrain their tongue to take the proper position during swallowing.
While you shouldn't panic, it's important to take action to stop thumb sucking before it becomes a long-term problem. A positive, proactive approach will help avoid costly orthodontic problems later in their lives.
If you would like more information about thumb or finger 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.”
In the last half century, fluoride has become an effective weapon against tooth decay. The naturally occurring mineral helps strengthen enamel, the teeth's hard, protective cover.
Although it's safe for consumption overall, too much during early tooth development can lead to fluorosis, a brownish, mottled staining in enamel. To avoid it, a child's daily consumption of fluoride should optimally be kept at around 0.05-0.07 milligrams per kilogram of body weight, or an amount equal to one-tenth of a grain of salt per two pounds of weight.
The two main therapeutic fluoride sources have limits to help maintain this balance: utilities that fluoridate drinking water are required to add no more than 4 parts fluoride per million (ppm) of water; toothpaste manufacturers likewise only add a small amount of fluoride compared to clinical gels and pastes dentists apply to teeth for added decay protection.
But drinking water and toothpaste aren't the only sources of fluoride your child may encounter. Even if you have a non-fluoridated water supply, you should still keep a close watch on the following items that could contain fluoride, and discuss with us if you should take any action in regard to them.
Infant formula. The powdered form especially if mixed with fluoridated water can result in fluoride concentrations 100 to 200 times higher than breast or cow's milk. If there's a concern, use fluoride-free distilled or bottled spring water to mix formula.
Beverages. Many manufacturers use fluoridated water preparing a number of packaged beverages including sodas (two-thirds of those manufactured exceed .6 ppm), soft drinks and reconstituted fruit juices. You may need to limit your family's consumption of these kinds of beverages.
Certain foods. Processed foods like cereals, soups or containing fish or mechanically separated chicken can have high fluoride concentrations, especially if fluoridated water was used in their processing. When combined with other fluoride sources, their consumption could put children at higher risk for fluorosis.
Toothpaste. Although mentioned previously as a moderate fluoride source, you should still pay attention to how much your child uses. It doesn't take much: in fact, a full brush of toothpaste is too much, even for an adult. For an infant, you only need a smear on the end of the brush; as they grow older you can increase it but to no more than a pea-sized amount.
If you would like more information on fluoride and how it strengthens 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 “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”
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.”
Helping your infant or toddler develop good dental habits is one of the best head starts you can give them toward optimum oral health. But even after they’ve matured enough to handle hygiene tasks without you, they still need your guidance.
This is especially true in the “tween” and teen years. Although they’re beginning to flex their independence muscles, they’re still vulnerable at this age to peer pressure urging them to try things that, among other outcomes, could hurt their oral health.
Here are 3 areas where your input and guidance could save your older children and teens from oral health problems.
Sports activities. As children mature, they may also become involved with various physical activities, including contact sports. Years of diligent hygiene and dental care can be undone with one traumatic blow to the mouth. You can help avoid this by urging your child to wear a mouth guard during sports activity. While there are some good choices on the retail market, the most effective mouth guards are custom-created by a dentist to precisely fit your child’s mouth.
Oral piercings. While expressions of solidarity among young people are popular and often harmless, some like oral piercings and their hardware could potentially damage teeth and gums. You should especially discourage your child from obtaining tongue bolts or other types of lip or mouth hardware, which can cause tooth wear or fracture. Instead, encourage them to take up safer forms of self-expression.
Bad habits and addictions. A young person “spreading their wings” may be tempted to dabble in habit-forming or addictive activities. In addition to their effect on the rest of the body, tobacco, alcohol and drugs can have severe long-term consequences for oral health. Unsafe sexual practices could lead to the contraction of the human papilloma virus, which has been linked to oral cancer in young adults. Be sure your teen understands the dangers of these habits to both their oral and general health—and don’t hesitate to seek professional help when a habit becomes an addiction.
If you would like more information on helping your child develop great oral habits, 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.”
Although distressing to many parents, infants and toddlers sucking their thumb is a common if not universal habit. Most children phase out of it by around age 4, usually with no ill effects. But thumb-sucking continuing into late childhood could prove problematic for a child’s bite.
Thumb sucking is related to how young children swallow. All babies are born with what is called an infantile swallowing pattern, in which they thrust their tongues forward while swallowing to ensure their lips seal around a breast or bottle nipple when they nurse. Thumb-sucking mimics this action, which most experts believe serves as a source of comfort when they’re not nursing.
Around 3 or 4, their swallowing transitions to a permanent adult swallowing pattern: the tip of the tongue now positions itself against the back of the top front teeth (you can notice it yourself when you swallow). This is also when thumb sucking normally fades.
If a child, however, has problems transitioning to an adult pattern, they may continue to thrust their tongue forward and/or prolong their thumb-sucking habit. Either can put undue pressure on the front teeth causing them to move and develop too far forward. This can create what’s known as an open bite: a slight gap still remains between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut rather than the normal overlapping of the upper teeth over the lower.
While we can orthodontically treat an open bite, we can minimize the extent of any treatments if we detect the problem early and intervene with therapies to correct an abnormal swallowing pattern or prolonged thumb sucking. For the former we can assist a child in performing certain exercises that help retrain oral and facial muscles to encourage a proper swallowing pattern. This may also help diminish thumb sucking, but we may in addition need to use positive reinforcement techniques to further discourage the habit.
To stay ahead of possible problems with thumb sucking or the swallowing pattern you should begin regularly taking them to the dentist around their first birthday. It’s also a good idea to have an orthodontic evaluation around age 6 for any emerging bite problems. Taking these positive steps could help you avoid undue concern over this common habit.
If you would like more information on managing your child’s thumb-sucking 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 “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”