Posts for category: 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.”
COVID-19 containment restrictions could put a kink in many of our vacation plans this summer. With leisure air travel discouraged and popular attractions like Disney closed, this may be the year for a “staycation.” But however your summer plans turn out, be sure you keep up with the essentials—like taking care of your teeth and gums.
Vacations, whether a road trip or a camping getaway in your own backyard, are times to recharge the “mental batteries” by temporarily leaving everyday life behind. But not everything—you still need to take care of life's necessities, including daily dental care. Not to sound like a schoolmarm, but there is no vacation from brushing and flossing.
Actually, it's not that onerous: Just five short minutes a day is all you need to effectively perform these two essential hygiene tasks before you head out for your vacation activities (or non-activities, as the case may be). During those five minutes, though, you'll be removing built-up dental plaque, a bacterial film that's the top cause for tooth decay and gum disease.
You should also keep an eye on your vacation diet. For many people, seasonal getaways often come with an increase in sweet treats like pastries, ice cream or, the perennial campfire favorite, s'mores. But increased sugar may also raise your risk for dental disease. So, limit those sweet treats, consider alternative snacks without sugar, and brush after eating to keep tooth decay or gum disease from getting a foothold.
An equally important measure for maintaining healthy teeth and gums is a regular dental visit at least twice a year. During these visits we'll clean your teeth of any missed plaque or tartar (hardened plaque) and check for any signs of dental disease. Our goal is to keep you in the best oral health for the long haul.
Everyone needs a break from the routine now and then, even if it's a creative alternative to the traditional summer trip. Just be sure you have your dental care covered before your vacation.
If you would like more information about daily and regular dental care, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Daily Oral Hygiene” and “The Bitter Truth About Sugar.”
The amount of sugar your child consumes has a huge bearing on their tooth decay risk: The more they take in, the higher it is for this destructive disease. That's why you should moderate their intake of the usual suspects: sodas, candies and other sugar-laden foods. But you should also put the brakes on something considered wholesome and nutritious: fruit juices. And that includes all natural juice with no sugar added.
Sugar in any form is a prime food source for decay-causing bacteria. As bacteria consume leftover sugar in the mouth, they produce acid as a byproduct. With an ample source of sugar, they also multiply—and this in turn increases their acid production. Acid at these high levels can soften and erode tooth enamel, which leads to tooth decay and cavities.
Limiting or even excluding sugar-added foods and snacks can help minimize your children's risk for tooth decay. For designated snack times, substitute items like carrot sticks or even popcorn with a dash of spice rather than sweet snacks and candies. If you do allow occasional sweet foods, limit those to mealtimes when saliva, which neutralizes acid, is most active in the mouth.
As you manage sugary items your children may eat or drink, the American Academy of Pediatrics also advises you to moderate their consumption of fruit juices, including all-natural brands with no added sugar. Their recommended limits on daily juice drinking depend on a child's age and overall health:
- Infants (less than one year) or any children with abnormal weight gain: no juice at all;
- Toddlers (ages 1-3): 4 ounces or less per day;
- Younger children (4-6): 6 ounces or less per day; and
- Older children (7-18): 8 ounces (1 cup) or less per day.
As for the rest of your children's daily hydration needs, the most dental-friendly liquid for any of us is plain water. For older school-age children, low- or non-fat milk is also a sound choice.
Preventing tooth decay in your children is a continuous task that requires all of us, parents and dental providers, to do our part. Besides daily hygiene (brushing and flossing) and regular dental visits, keeping sugar at bay—including with juices—is an important part of that effort.
This year's Carol Burnett Award, presented at the Golden Globes, goes to Ellen DeGeneres for her “outstanding contributions to the television medium on or off the screen.” This is the latest in a long list of honors for the comedienne, talk show host and activist that includes Emmys, Grammys and Teen Choice Awards. And one not quite as well-known: a 2004 “Flossy” award.
DeGeneres received this honor from the National Flossing Council in recognition of her passionate promotion of oral hygiene, particularly flossing. She wrote about its virtues in her 2003 book, The Funny Thing Is…., saying, among other things, “Don't even think for a second that you can get away with not flossing.”
DeGeneres's motivational cheerleading for flossing is helpful and necessary because, well, many of us just don't like doing it. It requires more manual dexterity than its more popular sibling, brushing. And the tendency for the floss to gunk up with plaque residue for some is simply unpleasant.
Mainly, though, many folks think brushing is enough. Not so fast, according to dental professionals. While brushing removes disease-causing bacterial plaque from broad tooth surfaces, it can't effectively get into the spaces between teeth. It takes flossing to clear plaque from these more difficult areas.
But don't fret: There are ways to make flossing an easier—and more pleasant—task.
Ask us for help. As we said before, flossing does take some hand dexterity and coordination to perform. You may also wonder if you're doing it effectively. We can provide training and tips on how to be a more effective flosser at your next visit.
Practice, practice, practice. You probably think nothing of riding a bicycle, and yet it probably took you weeks or months as a kid to become proficient. Similarly, your first attempts at flossing might feel awkward, but you'll improve with practice, so don't give up.
Brush before you floss. Most people floss before brushing, but if you tend to encounter a lot of soft plaque debris that makes flossing “icky” for you, then try brushing first to clear a good portion of it out of the way before you floss. Just be aware, most professionals believe that flossing first is better because it loosens up debris between teeth so the bubbles from the toothpaste can carry it away. But any flossing is better than no flossing!
Try flossing tools. For some people, floss picks, small pre-threaded tools you can use with one hand, seem easier to maneuver than regular floss thread. If you have issues with manual dexterity, an oral irrigator can make the task easier: This handheld device uses a stream of pressurized water to loosen and flush away plaque between teeth.
So, follow Ellen DeGeneres's advice she gave Tulane University graduates during a commencement speech: “Remember to exfoliate, moisturize, exercise…and floss.” The latter, along with brushing, will certainly help keep your teeth and gums healthy.
Your child’s teeth and gum development is truly a wonder. In just a little more than two decades they’ll gain and lose one set of teeth, while the subsequent permanent set will grow in coordination with other facial and oral structures. All of these structures will finally reach maturity sometime in early adulthood.
Sometimes, though, obstacles can arise: disease, trauma or even genetics can derail normal development and endanger future health. So although nature does most of the heavy lifting, there are things you should do to keep your child’s dental development on track.
For instance, begin oral hygiene practices before their first teeth come in. By wiping their gums after feeding with a clean damp cloth, you can help reduce the numbers of disease-causing bacteria in the mouth. Once teeth appear switch to brushing.
There are also habits to avoid. Don’t kiss your baby directly on the lips—you may transfer to them your own mouth bacteria, which their young immune system can’t yet adequately handle. Also, avoid putting them to bed with a sleep-time bottle filled with sugary fluids (including milk or formula) because the constant contact between the sugar and their teeth could increase their risk for tooth decay, the number one dental disease in young children.
Of course, not all prevention efforts depend on you alone—we’re your partner in helping to keep your child’s dental development progressing normally. We can provide preventive treatments like sealants or topical fluoride to reduce the risk of tooth decay, while continually monitoring for signs of the disease that may require treatment. We also look for signs of emerging bite problems that may require intervention before their effects worsen.
This is all part of regular dental visits, usually at six-month intervals, which are best begun around your child’s first birthday. Not only does this enable us to stay ahead of dental problems, it also helps your child become more comfortable with dental visits and increase the likelihood they’ll continue the habit in adulthood.
As we said, nature is responsible for most of this amazing development without any help from us. But we can assist development and hopefully prevent issues that could diminish their dental health in years to come.