There are usually two moments when primary (“baby”) teeth generate excitement in your family: when you first notice them in your child’s mouth, and when they come out (and are headed for a rendezvous with the “tooth fairy”!).
Between these two moments, you might not give them much thought. But you should—although primary teeth don’t last long, they play a pivotal role in the replacing permanent teeth’s long-term health.
This is because a primary tooth is a kind of guide for the permanent one under development in the gums. It serves first as a “space saver,” preventing nearby teeth from drifting into where the permanent tooth would properly erupt; and, it provides a pathway for the permanent tooth to travel during eruption. If it’s lost prematurely (from injury or, more likely, disease) the permanent tooth may erupt out of position because the other teeth have crowded the space.
That’s why we try to make every reasonable effort to save a problem primary tooth. If decay, for example, has advanced deep within the tooth pulp, we may perform a modified root canal treatment to remove the diseased tissue and seal the remaining pulp from further infection. In some circumstances we may cap the tooth with a stainless steel crown (or possibly a white crown alternative) to protect the remaining structure of the tooth.
Of course, even the best efforts can fall short. If the tooth must be removed, we would then consider preserving the empty space with a space maintainer. This orthodontic device usually takes the form of a metal band that’s cemented to a tooth on one side of the empty space with a stiff wire loop soldered to it that crosses the space to rest against the tooth on the other side. The wire loop prevents other teeth from crowding in, effectively “maintaining” the space for the permanent tooth.
Regular dental visits, plus your child’s daily brushing and flossing, are also crucial in preventing primary teeth from an “early departure.” Keeping them for their full lifespan will help prevent problems that could impact your child’s dental health future.
If you would like more information on the right care approach for primary 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 “Importance of Baby Teeth.”
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.
Many things can affect your child’s future dental health: oral hygiene, diet, or habits like thumb sucking or teeth grinding. But there’s one you might not have considered: how they breathe.
Specifically, we mean whether they breathe primarily through their mouth rather than through their nose. The latter could have an adverse impact on both oral and general health. If you’ve noticed your child snoring, their mouth falling open while awake and at rest, fatigue or irritability you should seek definite diagnosis and treatment.
Chronic mouth breathing can cause dry mouth, which in turn increases the risk of dental disease. It deprives the body of air filtration (which occurs with nose breathing) that reduces possible allergens. There’s also a reduction in nitric oxide production, stimulated by nose breathing, which benefits overall health.
Mouth breathing could also hurt your child’s jaw structure development. When breathing through the nose, a child’s tongue rests on the palate (roof of the mouth). This allows it to become a mold for the palate and upper jaw to form around. Conversely with mouth breathers the tongue rests behind the bottom teeth, which deprives the developing upper jaw of its tongue mold.
The general reason why a person breathes through the mouth is because breathing through the nose is uncomfortable or difficult. This difficulty, though, could arise for a number of reasons: allergy problems, for example, or enlarged tonsils or adenoids pressing against the nasal cavity and interfering with breathing. Abnormal tissue growth could also obstruct the tongue or lip during breathing.
Treatment for mouth breathing will depend on its particular cause. For example, problems with tonsils and adenoids and sinuses are often treated by an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist. Cases where the mandible (upper jaw and palate) has developed too narrowly due to mouth breathing may require an orthodontist to apply a palatal expander, which gradually widens the jaw. The latter treatment could also influence the airway size, further making it easier to breathe through the nose.
The best time for many of these treatments is early in a child’s growth development. So to avoid long-term issues with facial structure and overall dental health, you should see your dentist as soon as possible if you suspect mouth breathing.
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.”
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