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.”
As dentists, we often see other mouth problems besides those with teeth and gums. One of the most common is cracking around the corners of the mouth. Although usually not serious, it can be irritating and uncomfortable.
Medically known as angular cheilitis (literally “an inflammation of the angles of the lip”), it’s also called perleche, derived from the French lecher, “to lick.” The latter moniker aptly describes the tendency of sufferers to compulsively lick the sores to relieve irritation, which actually can make things worse.
Perleche has a number of possible causes, mostly from in or around the mouth (although systemic diseases or medications can cause it on rare occasions). It’s often found among younger people who drool during sleep or older people with deep wrinkles along the sides of the mouth that increase the chances of dryness and cracking. Long-term wind or cold exposure, ill-fitting dentures or a lack of back teeth (which help support facial structure) may also contribute to the condition.
Patients with perleche can also develop yeast infections from a strain called candida albicans. The infection can spread through the whole mouth, significantly increasing the chances of physical discomfort.
Treating perleche often involves topical ointments with inflammation-reducing steroids and zinc oxide, which has antifungal properties, to provide an environmental barrier during the healing process. If a yeast infection occurs, we may treat it with oral or topical antifungal medication like Nystatin for the whole mouth and chlorhexidine rinses, which has antibacterial properties.
It also helps to adopt a few preventive measures that can minimize the occurrence of perleche. If you wear dentures, for example, cleaning them often (including, if necessary, with chlorhexidine) and leaving them out at night reduces bacterial and fungal growth. We can also see if your dentures are fitting properly. Replacing missing teeth provides better facial support and could minimize wrinkling around the mouth. And, of course, keeping up daily brushing and flossing helps ensure a healthy and disease-free mouth.
If you’re experiencing cracked mouth corners, let us know at your next appointment. With our help and of other medical professionals we may be able to give you relief from this irritating condition.
If you would like more information on gaining relief from angular cheilitis, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
It's easy to go overboard with sweets during the holiday season. But overconsumption of sugar, month after month, can jeopardize your oral and general health. A sugary diet nourishes the bacteria that cause tooth decay. Eating too much sugar over time also promotes general health problems such as diabetes and excessive weight gain.
The beginning of a new year is a great time to bring your diet back into balance. But if you really want to cut down on sugar, you'll need to be aware that there is a lot of sugar hiding in foods you where wouldn't normally suspect it. Here are some examples:
Ketchup. Do you like ketchup on your burger and fries? For every tablespoon of ketchup you use, you'll be adding about 4 grams of sugar (one teaspoon). That can add up pretty quickly into a significant amount of sugar!
Canned tomato soup. Read the label of your favorite brand and you might see as much as 12 grams of sugar per half-cup serving. That equals three teaspoons of sugar in every half cup of soup—even more in a full bowl!
Granola. You may think of granola as a healthy choice for breakfast. Yet you're likely to see sugar listed as the second ingredient on many favorite brands—right after oats. This typically adds up to 15 grams of sugar per serving. That's almost 4 teaspoons, in a food promoted as healthful!
Yogurt. Here, the amount of sugar varies widely among brands and flavors. One container of vanilla yogurt might contain 3 or more teaspoons of added sugar. Put that on a breakfast serving of granola, and your first meal of the day has already topped the 6-teaspoon daily limit recommended by the World Health Organization.
So, to prevent sugar from sneaking up on you, it's important to read those labels! And if you have any questions about sugar and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Bitter Truth About Sugar” and “Nutrition and Oral Health.”
Ever since childhood, when her career as a model and actress took off, Brooke Shields has enjoyed worldwide recognition — through advertisements for designer jeans, appearances on The Muppet Show, and starring roles in big-screen films. But not long ago, that familiar face was spotted in an unusual place: wearing a nasal anesthesia mask at the dentist's office. In fact, Shields posted the photo to her own Instagram account, with the caption “More dental surgery! I grind my teeth!” And judging by the number of comments the post received, she's far from alone.
In fact, researchers estimate that around one in ten adults have dental issues that stem from teeth grinding, which is also called bruxism. (Many children also grind their teeth, but it rarely causes serious problems, and is often outgrown.) About half of the people who are teeth grinders report problems like persistent headaches, jaw tenderness and sore teeth. Bruxism may also result in excessive tooth wear, and may damage dental work like crowns and bridges; in severe cases, loosened or fractured teeth have been reported.
Researchers have been studying teeth grinding for many years; their findings seem to indicate that it has no single cause. However, there are a number of factors that play a significant role in this condition. One is the anatomy of the jaw itself, and the effect of worn or misaligned teeth on the bite. Another factor relates to changes in brain activity that occur during the sleep cycle. In fact, nocturnal (nighttime) bruxism is now classified as a sleep-related movement disorder. Still other factors, such as the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs, and a high level of stress or anxiety, can make an individual more likely to experience bruxism.
What can be done for people whose teeth grinding is causing problems? Since this condition may have many causes, a number of different treatments are available. Successful management of bruxism often begins by striving to eliminate the factors that may cause problems — for example, making lifestyle changes to improve your health, creating a soothing nighttime environment, and trying stress-reduction techniques; these may include anything from warm baths and soft music at bedtime, to meditation and mindfulness exercises.
Several dental treatments are also available, including a custom-made occlusal guard (night guard) that can keep your teeth from being damaged by grinding. In some cases, a bite adjustment may also be recommended: In this procedure, a small amount of enamel is removed from a tooth to change the way it contacts the opposite tooth, thereby lessening the biting force on it. More invasive techniques (such as surgery) are rarely needed.
A little tooth grinding once in a while can be a normal response to stress; in fact, becoming aware of the condition is often the first step to controlling it. But if you begin to notice issues that could stem from bruxism — or if the loud grinding sounds cause problems for your sleeping partner — it may be time to contact us or schedule an appointment. You can read more about bruxism in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Stress and Tooth Habits.”
You’ve lived most of your life with crooked teeth and an imperfect smile. You feel you should have done something about it years ago, but now you’re approaching your golden years — what would be the point?
Here’s the point: there’s a growing trend of older adults undergoing orthodontic treatment. People are discovering the life-changing benefits of straightening their teeth — even if they’re no longer teenagers.
So, what’s really holding you back?
I’m too old to have my teeth straightened. Not true — teeth can be straightened at any age, not just during childhood or adolescence. If anything would prevent orthodontic treatment it would be the state of your oral and general health, not your age. Your teeth’s supporting bone must be reasonably sound and healthy; likewise, systemic problems like bleeding disorders, leukemia and uncontrolled diabetes can make orthodontics difficult. But if you and your mouth are reasonably healthy, you can have your teeth straightened.
It’s too much to spend just to look better. Yes, orthodontic treatment can transform your smile — but it can also improve your oral health. Misaligned teeth are harder to keep clean, increasing the risks for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease; they also don’t work well together so chewing is more difficult. By correcting your bite, you can reduce your chances of dental disease and improve overall mouth function.
I’d look silly at my age in braces. Self-consciousness about wearing these traditional appliances is common at any age. It’s understandable — the glint of metal is the first thing people see when you smile. But there’s a good chance you may be able to wear an alternative appliance that’s barely noticeable: clear aligners. These are a series of removable, clear plastic trays that you wear in sequence to gradually move your teeth. Not only are they less noticeable than braces, you can take them out for special occasions.
Don’t let these or other excuses keep you from a more attractive smile and healthy mouth. Visit your dentist for an examination to see if orthodontics can work for you.
If you would like more information on transforming your smile through orthodontics, 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 “Orthodontics for the Older Adult.”
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