One of the biggest concerns we hear from parents is about their child's thumb sucking habit. Our advice: if they're under age 4, there's no need for concern — yet. If they're older, though, you should be concerned about the possible effect on their bite.
Thumb sucking is a universal habit among infants and toddlers and is related to their swallowing pattern during feeding. As they swallow, their tongue thrusts forward to create a seal with the lips around the breast or a bottle nipple. Many pediatricians believe thumb sucking replicates nursing and so has a comforting effect on infants.
Around age 4, though, this swallowing pattern begins to change to accommodate solid food. The tongue now begins to rest at the back of the top front teeth during swallowing (try swallowing now and you'll see). For most children, their thumb sucking habit also fades during this time and eventually stops.
But for whatever reason, some children don't stop. As the habit persists, the tongue continues to thrust forward rather than toward the back of the top front teeth. Over time this can place undue pressure on both upper and lower front teeth and contribute to the development of an open bite, a slight gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut.
While late childhood thumb sucking isn't the only cause for an open bite (abnormal bone growth in one jaw is another), the habit is still a prominent factor. That's why it's important that you start encouraging your child to stop thumb sucking around age 3 and no later than 4. This is best accomplished with positive reinforcement like rewards or praise.
If they've continued the habit a few years after they should have stopped, we may also need to check to see if their swallowing mechanism has become stunted. If so, we may need to use certain exercises to retrain their tongue to take the proper position during swallowing.
While you shouldn't panic, it's important to take action to stop thumb sucking before it becomes a long-term problem. A positive, proactive approach will help avoid costly orthodontic problems later in their lives.
If you would like more information about thumb or finger 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.”
All treatments for periodontal (gum) disease focus on one goal — to remove any bacterial plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits) that are at the heart of the infection. Plaque is a thin surface film of food particles and bacteria that cause gum disease.
Plaque builds up on tooth surfaces due to inadequate oral hygiene. And as the disease progresses brushing and flossing won’t be enough — you’ll need our services and specialized equipment to fully remove the plaque and calculus. The basic technique is called scaling in which we remove plaque and calculus manually from tooth surfaces above and just a few millimeters below the gum line.
As the disease develops, though, the slight natural gap between teeth and gums may begin to increase to form voids known as periodontal pockets. Filled with infection, these pockets can extend below the gum line onto the roots of the tooth. If the pocket extends more than 4 millimeters, basic scaling may not be able to remove all of the plaque and calculus.
Periodontists (dentists who specialize in the treatment and care of gum tissues) can perform a surgical method to access these deeper areas. Known as flap surgery, this procedure aims not only to reach and disinfect periodontal pockets and root surfaces, but also repair damaged gum tissue and create a better environment for future hygiene and treatment.
As the name implies, we create an opening in the gum tissue with one side remaining attached to the gum structure — much like the flap of a paper envelope. Through this opening we’re able to reach areas to remove plaque and calculus, as well as install both bone grafts to regenerate lost bone and growth factors to stimulate tissue growth. Once finished, we stitch the flap back into place with sutures and, in many cases, place a moldable dressing to protect and hold the flap secure while the incision heals.
This relatively minor procedure can be performed with local anesthesia and requires only a few days of recuperation. The results, though, can provide long-term benefits — reduced infection, better bone and gum health, and a more conducive environment for future maintenance of health — that could save your teeth and your smile for many years to come.
If you would like more information on treatments for gum disease, 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 “Periodontal Flap Surgery.”
Although oral cancer isn't the most prevalent among metabolic diseases, it is one of the most deadly with only a 50% survival rate after five years. That's because it can be difficult to detect in its early stages when treatment is most effective.
That's why prevention to reduce your chances of oral cancer is so important. Many people know quitting tobacco products, including smokeless varieties, and moderating alcohol consumption are key to any prevention strategy. But there's one other factor you should also consider: your diet.
We've learned quite a bit in the last few decades about how certain foods we eat contribute to the cancer disease process. Cancer seems to originate when elements in the body or environment (known as carcinogens) damage DNA, our unique genetic code, on the cellular level. For example, a class of chemicals called nitrosamines is a known carcinogen: we often encounter it in the form of nitrites used to preserve meat (like bacon or ham) or as byproducts in beer, seafood or cheese.
Another form of carcinogen is the unstable molecules produced during normal cellular function called free radicals. But our bodies have a natural neutralizer for free radicals called antioxidants. We obtain these substances in our food in the form of vitamins and minerals. While you can also ingest these in the form of supplements, the best way to obtain them is through a diet rich in plant-based food, particularly fruits and vegetables.
So in addition to lifestyle changes like quitting tobacco or moderating alcohol consumption, make sure your diet is a healthy and nutritious one. Limit your intake of processed foods (especially meats) and increase your portions of fresh fruits, vegetables and dairy products.
And don't neglect practicing effective brushing and flossing each day, along with regular dental cleanings and checkups. All of these healthy practices will greatly decrease your chances for life-threatening oral cancer.
If you would like more information on preventing oral cancer, 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 “Diet and Prevention of Oral Cancer.”
Your gums not only help hold your teeth securely in place, they also help protect them. They're also part of your smile — when healthy and proportionally sized, they provide a beautiful frame for your teeth.
But if they become weakened by periodontal (gum) disease, they can detach and begin to shrink back or recede from the teeth. Not only will your smile be less attractive, but you could eventually lose teeth and some of the underlying bone.
Treating gum recession begins with treating the gum disease that caused it. The primary goal is to remove the source of the disease, a thin film of food particles and bacteria called dental plaque, from all tooth and gum surfaces. This may take several sessions, but eventually the infected gums should begin showing signs of health.
If the recession has been severe, however, we may have to assist their healing by grafting donor tissue to the recession site. Not only does this provide cover for exposed tooth surfaces, it also provides a “scaffold” for new tissue growth to build upon.
There are two basic surgical approaches to gum tissue grafting. One is called free gingival grafting in which we first completely remove a thin layer of surface skin from the mouth palate or a similar site with tissue similar to the gums. We then attach the removed skin to the recession site where it and the donor site will usually heal in a predictable manner.
The other approach is called connective tissue grafting and is often necessary when there's extensive root exposure. The tissue is usually taken from below the surface of the patient's own palate and then attached to the recession site where it's covered by the surrounding adjacent tissue. Called a pedicle or flap, this covering of tissue provides a blood supply that will continue to nourish the graft.
Both of these techniques, but especially the latter, require extensive training and micro-surgical experience. The end result is nothing less than stunning — the tissues further rejuvenate and re-attach to the teeth. The teeth regain their protection and health — and you'll regain your beautiful smile.
If you would like more information on treating gum recession, 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 “Periodontal Plastic Surgery.”
Archeologists can tell us quite a bit about our primitive ancestors. For example, because of their coarse, abrasive diet and a primitive understanding of oral hygiene, their teeth had a rough go of it. They simply wore out faster — a contributing factor, no doubt, to their short life spans of thirty or forty years.
But thanks to improvements in lifestyle, healthcare and diet, people live much longer today. And so do their teeth, thanks to advances in dental care and disease prevention. While teeth still wear to some degree as we age, if we care for them properly with daily oral hygiene and regular dental visits, we can keep that wear to a minimum. Teeth truly can last a lifetime.
Unfortunately, it's still all too common for people to lose their teeth prematurely. The main reason: the two most prevalent dental diseases, tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. Tooth decay arises from high concentrations of mouth acid that erode enamel, teeth's irreplaceable protective shell. Gum disease is an infection that damages the bone supporting tissues as it infiltrates deep below the visible gum line.
While they occur by different mechanisms, the two diseases have some commonalities. They both, of course, can lead to tooth loss. And, they're both triggered by oral bacteria found in dental plaque, a thin film of food particles built up on tooth and gum surfaces. Multiplying bacteria feed on plaque and produce acid as a by-product. And certain bacterial strains infect gum tissues.
Both of these diseases can be treated successfully, especially if detected early. But the better approach is to prevent them in the first place. This introduces another commonality — they share the same prevention strategy of daily, comprehensive brushing and flossing for plaque removal, regular dental cleanings and checkups, and a sharp eye for any signs of disease like bleeding gums or tooth pain.
With diligent dental care and close attention to your oral health, you increase your chances of avoiding the full threat of these diseases.Â And with healthy teeth, you have a better chance of living a long and healthy life.
If you would like more information on minimizing tooth wear, 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 and Why Teeth Wear.”
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