As a parent you’re concerned with a number of issues involving your child’s health, not the least of which involves their teeth. One of the most common is thumb-sucking.
While later thumb-sucking is a cause for concern, it’s quite normal and not viewed as harmful in infant’s and very young children. This universal habit is rooted in an infant swallowing pattern: all babies tend to push the tongue forward against the back of the teeth when they swallow, which allows them to form a seal while breast or bottle feeding. Infants and young children take comfort or experience a sense of security from sucking their thumb, which simulates infant feeding.
Soon after their primary teeth begin to erupt, the swallowing pattern changes and they begin to rest the tongue on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth when swallowing. For most children thumb sucking begins to fade as their swallowing pattern changes.
Some children, though, continue the habit longer even as their permanent teeth are beginning to come in. As they suck their thumb the tongue constantly rests between the front teeth, which over time may interfere with how they develop. This can cause an “open bite” in which the upper and lower teeth don’t meet properly, a problem that usually requires orthodontic treatment to correct it.
For this reason, dentists typically recommend encouraging children to stop thumb-sucking by age 3 (18-24 months to stop using a pacifier). The best approach is positive reinforcement — giving appropriate rewards over time for appropriate behavior: for example, praising them as a “big” boy or girl when they have gone a certain length of time without sucking their thumb or a pacifier. You should also use training or “Sippy” cups to help them transition from a bottle to a regular cup, which will further diminish the infant swallowing pattern and need for thumb-sucking.
Habits like thumb-sucking in young children should be kept in perspective: the habit really isn’t a problem unless it goes on too long. Gentle persuasion, along with other techniques we can help you with, is the best way to help your child eventually stop.
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 articles “Thumb Sucking in Children” and “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
“What can I do about my child's teeth grinding habit?”
It's a common question we get from many concerned parents. Their exasperation involves more than having to wake every night to the annoying sounds coming from their child's bedroom: they're also worried about any potential damage occurring to their teeth.
Teeth grinding and similar habits fall under the umbrella term “bruxism.” In basic terms, bruxism is the involuntary movement of the teeth and jaws not engaged in regular functions like chewing, speaking or swallowing. Bruxism is actually common among pre-adolescent children, considered by many healthcare professionals as normal behavior like thumb sucking.
It's not fully known why children grind their teeth, especially during sleep. Stress can play a part, but many believe it could also be related to immaturity on the part of the neuromuscular system that controls chewing. In some cases it could be linked to sudden arousals from sleep, particularly if the child is prone to airway obstruction causing sleep apnea. And there may be a link with certain medications, especially for hyperactivity disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Most children eventually outgrow the habit. If it persists, though, it can contribute to teeth problems. Teeth can withstand a lot of biting force, but when chronically exposed to the higher than normal forces produced during teeth grinding they can begin to wear. Sodas, fruit juices, sports drinks or similar acidic beverages complicate matters because they increase mouth acid that can soften enamel. And besides dental issues, teeth grinding can also cause jaw problems, ear pain and headaches.
If symptoms begin to appear, we can take steps to reduce the effect of teeth grinding, such as a mouth guard worn at night to reduce biting forces and protect against wear. We can also look at curbing consumption of acidic foods and beverages, addressing possible airway obstructions, changing medications or counseling for psychological stress.
As with thumb sucking, there's no cause for immediate alarm if your children grind their teeth. But if it continues on into their later childhood years or begins to affect their health and well-being, we'll need to intervene to prevent further harm.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding and similar 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 “When Children Grind their Teeth.”
Children’s ailments come and go, and thankfully most are relatively minor. Some children, however, have impaired health caused by a more serious, chronic disease. For them, the condition impacts not only their overall well-being, but also their dental health.
This often occurs because the specific healthcare needs of children with these chronic conditions are given greater priority over dental health. Besides the treatment focus, children with special healthcare needs may have physical, mental or behavioral limitations that can make it difficult to keep up with oral hygiene and care.
Children with autism or attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may have a difficult time practicing (or cooperating with) oral hygiene tasks. Some may not have the physical ability to perform effective brushing and flossing without assistance. In these cases, it’s important for parents or caregivers to seek out instruction and training that will optimize their children’s hygiene and so reduce the chance of dental disease.
Certain medications for chronic conditions can increase mouth dryness, or they’re acidic or sweetened with sugar, any of which can increase the child’s risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. Parents or caregivers should consult with their physicians about these medications or if they could be administered at mealtime to minimize their effect on the mouth.
Finally, there’s the direct effect some conditions may have on a child’s teeth and gums. Children with severe gag reflexes due to their condition may not be able to tolerate toothpaste or be able to spit it out completely. Other conditions can give rise to dental defects such as enamel hypoplasia in which not enough enamel develops to adequately protect the teeth.Â Such defects call for special dental attention and closer monitoring of teeth and gum health.
The key is to see us and the other healthcare providers for your child’s chronic condition as part of an overall team. Sharing information and regarding both dental and general care as part of a comprehensive strategy will help to prevent dental problems from developing and improve their health.
If you would like more information on dental care for children with chronic conditions, 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 “Managing Tooth Decay in Children with Chronic Diseases.”
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.”
As a parent you’re always on the lookout for dangers to your toddler’s well-being: sharp corners on furniture, uneven walks or the occasional stomach bug. But a situation could be brewing in their mouth you might not be aware of until it’s become a full-blown problem.
The silent danger is tooth decay, which could be developing as early as infancy. Undiagnosed and untreated, it could ultimately cause premature loss of primary (“baby”) teeth with adverse effects on the eruption of incoming permanent teeth.
Tooth decay arises from certain strains of mouth bacteria, often passed down from parent to child. These bacteria produce acid as a byproduct after feeding on carbohydrates (especially sugars). The more food available, the more acid they produce. This wreaks havoc on tooth enamel, the teeth’s outer protective covering by softening and dissolving its mineral content. This gives decay an opening to infect the interior of a tooth.
Combine inadequate hygiene practices (especially brushing) with poor dietary habits, and you have the conditions for a perfect disease storm in your child’s mouth. That’s why you should begin oral hygiene as soon as you notice their first teeth. Wiping them with a clean, wet cloth is sufficient in the beginning, but you should start daily brushing (with fluoridated toothpaste to strengthen young enamel) by their first birthday.
You should also practice good dietary habits. For example, avoid giving an infant or toddler a bottle filled with juice, milk or formula to sleep with through the night — the constant sipping bathes the mouth in sugars bacteria feed on. Instead, use plain water.Â You should also focus on nutrition from the get-go to help build overall good health as well as strong teeth and gums.
As an added measure, begin regular dental visits by their first birthday. A checkup and cleaning every six months will help us detect early tooth decay and lessen its impact. We can also provide sealants and topical fluoride to give added protection against decay.
Catching and treating decay early before it gets too far is the best way to prevent early tooth loss. Your child’s future dental health might depend on it.
If you would like more information on your child’s 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 “Taking the Stress out of Dentistry for Kids.”
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