Posts for category: Oral Health
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 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.”
Parents will do just about anything to relieve their children's discomfort when they're in pain. When a toddler is suffering through a teething episode, it's tempting to turn to a topical numbing ointment to soothe their gums.
But there can be a hidden danger for kids if you use certain over-the-counter products used by adults for gum or teeth pain. Many of these topical ointments contain a pain reliever called benzocaine. While it's relatively safe for adults, benzocaine can be hazardous for infants and young children.
Studies have found that benzocaine contributes to a disease called methemoglobinemia, in which a protein in the blood called methemoglobin increases to abnormal levels. Too much of this protein inhibits the transport of oxygen throughout the body. For young children, this can cause shortness of breath, fatigue and dizziness. In extreme cases, it could lead to seizures, coma or even death.
Parents are urged to avoid using any product containing benzocaine to ease gum or teething pain in children. Instead, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends providing a child a chilled (not frozen) teething ring, pacifier or a damp clean cloth to chew on. The chewing action helps relieve gum swelling pressure and the cold will help numb the pain. Massaging the gums with a clean finger may also help.
If the pain persists, parents should consult a doctor or pharmacist about giving their child pain medication. Drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen (never aspirin) administered in the proper dosage for a child's age can help ease teething discomfort. Medications should always be given orally—you should never rub substances like aspirin or alcohol directly on the gums, which can further irritate already inflamed tissues.
Teething episodes come and go during a child's early dental development—they are like storms that swell and abate before they finally pass. Except when accompanied by fever or diarrhea, there's no need for concern. Your main goal is to help ease their discomfort as much—and as safely—as possible.
Your child could hit a speed bump on their road to dental maturity—tooth decay. In fact, children are susceptible to an aggressive form of decay known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC) that can lead to tooth loss and possible bite issues for other teeth.
But dentists have a few weapons in their arsenal for helping children avoid tooth decay. One of these used for many years now is the application of sealants to the biting surfaces of both primary and permanent teeth. Now, two major research studies have produced evidence that sealant applications help reduce children's tooth decay.
Applying sealant is a quick and painless procedure that doesn't require drilling or anesthesia. A dentist brushes the sealant in liquid form to the nooks and crannies of a tooth's biting surfaces, which tend to accumulate decay-causing bacterial plaque. They then use a curing light to harden the sealant.
The studies previously mentioned that involved thousands of patients over a number of years, found that pediatric patients without dental sealants were more than three times likely to get cavities compared to those who had sealants applied to their teeth. The studies also found the beneficial effect of a sealant could last four years or more after its application.
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend sealants for children, especially those at high risk for decay. It's common practice now for children to first get sealants when their first permanent molars erupt (teeth that are highly susceptible to decay), usually between the ages of 5 and 7, and then later as additional molars come in.
There is a modest cost for sealant applications, but far less than the potential costs for decay treatment and later bite issues. Having your child undergo sealant treatment is a worthwhile investment: It could prevent decay and tooth loss in the near-term, and also help your child avoid more extensive dental problems in the future.
As a parent, you strive to instill good habits in your children: looking both ways for traffic, doing chores or washing behind the ears. Be sure you also include sound habits for teeth and gum care.
Daily brushing and flossing should be at the top of that habit list. These hygiene tasks remove dental plaque, a bacterial film that builds up on teeth and is most responsible for diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease.
Although you'll have to perform these tasks for them early on, your aim should be to teach them to do it for themselves. The best approach is to teach by example: If your child sees you're serious about your own oral hygiene, they're more likely to do so as well.
You should also help them form habits around the foods they eat. Like other aspects of our health, some foods are good for our teeth and gums, and some are not. The primary food in the latter category is sugar: This popular carbohydrate is also a favorite food source for disease-causing oral bacteria.
It's important, then, to minimize sugar and other processed foods in your child's diet, and maximize their consumption of whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other foods rich in calcium and phosphorous. Instilling good eating habits at an early age can boost both their dental and general health throughout their lives.
Finally, help the budding star athlete in your family develop the habit of wearing a protective mouthguard during contact sports. Your best choice is a custom-made mouthguard by a dentist: Although they cost more than the more common “boil and bite” mouthguard, they tend to offer more protection and are more comfortable to wear. A mouthguard could help your child avoid a costly dental injury that could affect them the rest of their life.
Adopting good dental hygienic, dietary, and safety habits at an early age can have a huge impact on your child's teeth and gum development. And if those early habits “stick,” it could mean a lifetime of disease-free dental health.
If you would like more information on helping your child develop sound dental 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.”