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.”
Although dental care is our primary focus, we dentists are also on the lookout for other health problems that may manifest in the mouth. That's why we're sometimes the first to suspect a patient may have an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are abnormal dietary patterns that can arise from mental or emotional issues, the most common being anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Each has different behaviors: Anorexics abnormally restrict their food intake (“self-starvation”), while bulimics typically eat heavily and then induce vomiting (“binge and purge”).
Although bulimics are more likely to binge and purge, anorexics may also induce vomiting. That practice in particular can leave a clue for dentists. While vomiting, powerful stomach acid enters the mouth, which can then soften and erode tooth enamel.
It's the pattern of erosion a dentist may notice more than the erosion itself that may indicate an eating disorder. A person while vomiting normally places their tongue against the back of the lower teeth, which somewhat shields them from acid. The more exposed upper teeth will thus tend to show more erosion than the bottom teeth.
A dentist may also notice other signs of an eating disorder. Enlarged salivary glands or a reddened throat and tongue could indicate the use of fingers or objects to induce vomiting. Lack of oral hygiene can be a sign of anorexia, while signs of over-aggressive brushing or flossing may hint of bulimia.
For the sake of the person's overall well-being, the eating disorder should be addressed through professional counseling and therapy. An excellent starting point is the website nationaleatingdisorders.org, sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association.
The therapy process can be lengthy, so patients should also take steps to protect their teeth in the interim. One important measure is to rinse out the mouth following purging with a little baking soda mixed with water. This will help neutralize oral acid and reduces the risk of erosion. Proper brushing and flossing and regular dental visits can also help prevent dental disease.
An eating disorder can be traumatic for both patients and their families, and can take time to overcome. Even so, patients can reduce its effect on their dental health.
If you would like more information on eating disorders and 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 “Bulimia, Anorexia & Oral Health.”
During the COVID-19 quarantines, stir-crazy celebrities have been creating some “unique” home videos—like Madonna singing about fried fish to the tune of “Vogue” in her bathroom or Cardi B busting through a human-sized Jenga tower. But an entertaining Instagram video from Kevin Bacon also came with a handy culinary tip: The just-awakened film and TV actor showed fans his morning technique for cutting a mango to avoid the stringy pulp that gets between your teeth. After cutting a mango in half, he scored it lengthwise and crosswise to create squares and then turned the mango inside out for easy eating.
With his mango-slicing video garnering over a quarter-million views, the City on a Hill star may have touched a nerve—the near universal annoyance we all have with food stuck between our teeth. Trapped food particles aren't only annoying, they can also contribute to a bacterial film called dental plaque that's the top cause for tooth decay and gum disease.
Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to avoid stuck food if you love things like popcorn, poppy-seed muffins or barbecue ribs. It's helpful then to have a few go-to ways for removing food caught between teeth. First, though, let's talk about what NOT to use to loosen a piece of stuck food.
A recent survey of more than 1,000 adults found that when removing something caught between our teeth, we humans are a creative lot. The makeshift tools that survey respondents said they've used in a pinch included twigs, safety pins, screwdrivers and nails (both the hammer and finger/toe variety). Although clever, many such items are both unsanitary and harmful to your gums and tooth enamel, especially if they're metallic or abrasive.
If you want a safe way to remove unwanted food debris, try these methods instead:
Brush your teeth: The gentle abrasives in toothpaste plus the mechanical action of brushing can help dislodge trapped food.
Use dental floss: A little bit of dental floss usually does the trick to remove wedged-in food—and it's easy to carry a small floss container or a floss pick on you for emergencies.
Try a toothpick. A toothpick is also an appropriate food-removing tool, according the American Dental Association, as long as it is rounded and made of wood.
See your dentist. We have the tools to safely and effectively remove trapped food debris that you haven't been able to dislodge by other means—so before you get desperate, give us a call.
You can also minimize plaque buildup from food particles between teeth by both brushing and flossing every day. And for optimally clean teeth, be sure you have regular dental office cleanings at least twice a year.
Thanks to Kevin Bacon's little trick, you can have your “non-stringy” mango and eat it too. Still, you can't always avoid food getting wedged between your teeth, so be prepared.
Unless you're 6 years old and on speed dial with the Tooth Fairy, a loose tooth isn't a good feeling. It's also a sign something is wrong in your mouth. If you don't take prompt action, you may lose that tooth for good.
To begin with, teeth are held in place by an elastic tissue known as the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the tooth and bone and attaches to both through tiny fibers. The thing to note about the ligament is that it does allow for tooth movement, which serves as a “shock absorber” against the forces generated while biting and chewing.
But that movement is normally so slight, you won't perceive it. If you do, chances are there's a problem with the ligament attachment, which may have been damaged due to trauma or disease.
A hard blow to the face could certainly damage both the teeth and their attachments. But it can also happen if one tooth extends out farther than the rest and absorbs more stress during chewing. You could encounter similar damage if you attempt DIY orthodontics or wear tongue jewelry.
The more common source of ligament damage, though, is periodontal (gum) disease, usually caused by dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles left on tooth surfaces. If not treated, the infection can advance deeper into the gum tissues (and eventually the supporting bone), causing the ligaments to weaken and detach. In fact, a loose tooth is often a sign of well-advanced gum disease.
If you notice a loose tooth, you should make an appointment with us as soon as possible. Our first step is to ascertain the underlying cause and initiate any needed treatment. We may also want to splint a loose tooth to adjacent teeth to prevent excessive movement while the ligaments heal and reform their attachment to the tooth.
There will be times when a loose tooth is beyond repair. In that case, it may be best to remove the tooth and install a life-like replacement like a dental implant. But that's not inevitable. If at all possible and practical, we'll try to save your loose tooth.
If you would like more information on loose permanent 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 “When Permanent Teeth Become Loose.”
Breastfeeding is nature's way of providing complete nourishment to a newborn in their first years of life. It can also have a positive impact on their emerging immune system, as well as provide emotional support and stability. But although nursing comes naturally to an infant, there are circumstances that can make it more difficult.
One example is an abnormality that occurs in one in ten babies known as a tongue tie. A tongue tie involves a small band of tissue called a frenum, which connects the underside of the tongue with the floor of the mouth. The frenum, as well as another connecting the inside of the upper lip with the gums, is a normal part of oral anatomy that helps control movement.
But if the frenum is too short, thick or taut, it could restrict the movement of the tongue or lip. This can interfere with the baby acquiring a good seal on the breast nipple that allows them to draw out milk. Instead, the baby may try to chew on the nipple rather than suck on it, leading to an unpleasant experience for both baby and mother.
But this problem can be solved with a minor surgical procedure called a frenotomy (also frenectomy or frenuplasty). It can be a performed in a dentist's office with just a mild numbing agent applied topically to the mouth area (or injected, in rare cases of a thicker frenum) to deaden it. After a few minutes, the baby's tongue is extended to expose the frenum, which is then snipped with scissors or by laser.
There's very little post-op care required (and virtually none if performed with a laser). But there may be a need for a child to “re-learn” how to breastfeed since the abnormal frenum may have caused them to use their oral muscles in a different way to compensate. A lactation expert may be helpful in rehabilitating the baby's muscles to nurse properly.
A restrictive frenum isn't necessarily a dire situation for an infant—they can continue to feed with a bottle filled with formula or pumped breastmilk. But employing this minor procedure can enable them to gain the other benefits associated with breastfeeding.
If you would like more information on tongue ties and other oral abnormalities in 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 “Tongue Ties, Lip Ties and Breastfeeding.”
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