One of the most common parental concerns is the habit of many children, even late into childhood, to suck their thumbs or fingers. Many parents have asked us, “Could this affect their teeth?”
The answer, unfortunately, is yes — thumb sucking can contribute to a malocclusion (bad bite) that could eventually require orthodontic treatment. Before making any assumptions, however, we need to understand the bigger picture.
To begin with, infants have a different swallowing mechanism than adults and older children. When you as an adult swallow, you'll notice the tip of your tongue positions itself just above the back of the top front teeth. An infant, however, will thrust their tongue between their upper and lower jaw as they swallow (also known as an infantile swallowing pattern or primary tongue thrust). The infant normally begins changing to an adult swallowing pattern when their primary (baby) teeth begin to erupt.
However, if a child's swallowing transition is slower than normal and the tongue rests between the jaws for a longer duration, it can inhibit the full eruption of teeth, believed to be the main cause of an open bite (a gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut). The thumb during sucking resting between the teeth can have the same effect.
Thumb sucking may not necessarily lead to a malocclusion — for example, an abnormally developing jawbone could be the culprit. If prolonged thumb sucking does become a concern, however, there are steps we can take to reduce the impact of the habit. We can install a thin metal “tongue crib” behind the upper and lower incisors that will not only discourage thumb sucking, but also help retrain the tongue not to rest between the upper and lower teeth. There are also exercise routines known as orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT) that can retrain specific muscles in the mouth to encourage more normal chewing and swallowing patterns.
These steps may not prevent future orthodontic treatment, but they could reduce its extent. The key is regular dental checkups and consultation to ensure your child's teeth and bite are developing normally.
If you would like more information on the effects of chronic thumb sucking on the mouth, 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.”
Lots of people collect Beatles memorabilia, but one Canadian dentist took this hobby to new heights recently when he paid $31,200 for John Lennon's molar at auction. According to published reports, Lennon had given the extracted tooth to his housekeeper as a souvenir in the 1960s after coming home from the dentist's office. The molar was discolored and had a cavity, according to the dentist who purchased it after the housekeeper's family put it up for bids. “For the cavity to be this large he probably wasn't seeing a dentist that regularly,” the dentist said. His brushing and flossing routine may not have been that conscientious either!
For healthy teeth, it's important to have a good daily oral hygiene routine at home and regular professional cleanings here at the office. Our hygienist will scale your teeth to remove hard deposits (tartar), and polish them to remove stains for a wonderful, extra-clean feeling.
Dental hygienists are trained to do lots of other things to promote your oral health besides cleaning your teeth. They can check the skin in and around your mouth looking for any suspicious bumps, sores, etc., that may need further evaluation. They will also evaluate your periodontal health (“peri” – around; “odont” – tooth), checking for signs of gum inflammation and bleeding (gingivitis). And they monitor teeth for signs of decay, which is actually the world's most widespread disease.
Cavities, or dental caries as it is also known, are the most notable consequences of tooth decay. Left untreated, caries can lead to pain and tooth loss. John Lennon's dentist must have believed there was nothing more to be done for the badly decayed molar that later went on to fetch such a high price.
Unless you're a rock star, your teeth are worth a lot more in a healthy and functioning state — inside your mouth! So if it's been a while since your last appointment, please come in and see us. Remember: Good dental health is priceless.
If you would like more information on tooth decay, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article, “Tooth Decay.” Dear Doctor also has more on the “Dental Hygiene Visit.”
As soon as the braces come off, many people feel that the hard work in getting a new smile is all done. But wait! There's one critical piece of the process that remains: the orthodontic retainer. What makes this little device so important?
To understand that, let's look at how your teeth are attached, and how they may move. A tooth isn't anchored into the jaw like a screw in wood — it's joined to its bony housing by a unique, hammock-like suspension system called the periodontal (“peri” – around; “odont” – tooth) ligament. The periodontal tissues are living, constantly changing and renewing themselves.
Orthodontic appliances like braces are designed to apply just enough pressure to move the teeth slowly and steadily into new positions. As the teeth are moved, the periodontal tissue gradually re-forms around them, helping to hold them in their new locations.
But tooth, bone and gum tissues also have a “memory” which, if left alone, tends to move the teeth rapidly back to their original places. This unwanted movement gradually lessens, but it can be an issue for a long time after treatment. That's where the retainer comes in.
This little device holds the teeth steady in their new positions until the bones and ligaments have had enough time to re-form — a development that can take several months. It brings the entire process of moving the teeth to a gradual close, helps to prevent trauma and to maintain proper tooth location.
Once, all retainers were made of plastic and wire, and all were removable. These are still popular, and are usually worn 24 hours a day at first, then less often, until (after a period of time) they're only worn at night. Alternatively, in many cases a thin wire can be bonded to the inside surfaces of the front teeth. This type of retainer doesn't show, and it doesn't have to be removed.
How long will you have to wear it? It's hard to say. Teeth are kept in position not only by bone and ligament, but also by a balance of forces between the tongue, lips and cheeks. They aren't permanently fixed in place, but can move over time in a way that's unique to every person. Depending on the type of tooth movement done, we can recommend what type of retainer is right for you, and how often to wear it. Having the right retainer will help ensure you get the best result: a great new smile.
If you would like more information about orthodontic retainers, 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 “Why Orthodontic Retainers?” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”