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.”
Dental implants to replace teeth are a popular choice as much for their durability as their life-likeness. Most implants last for decades, which can result in lower long-term maintenance costs than other replacement options.
But to achieve this longevity, you must take care of your implants. You should brush and floss them daily right along with your remaining natural teeth — and continue regular semi-annual dental visits for cleanings and checkups.
You may be wondering, though: if they're made of inorganic materials, why worry with brushing them? It's true that bacterial plaque, the thin film of food particles most responsible for dental disease, doesn't affect them.
Your implants, though, don't exist in a bubble: they're imbedded in real bone, surrounded by real gum tissue and placed next to real teeth. All these other living tissues are susceptible to infection caused by plaque, even from plaque on non-organic implants.
The bone and tissues around an implant can even have a higher susceptibility to infection. This is because an implant's attachment in the jaw differs from that of natural teeth. An implant is imbedded directly into the bone; a natural tooth, on the other hand, maintains its hold through an elastic gum tissue between it and the bone called the periodontal ligament. Tiny fibers from the ligament attach to the tooth on one side and to the bone on the other.
Besides holding the tooth in place, the ligament also contains blood vessels that supply the tooth and surrounding tissues not only with nutrients but also antibodies that help fight infection. Due to the absence of a ligament connection, an implant doesn't enjoy the same level of protection from infection. Â It's much easier for tissues and teeth around an implant to become infected, and harder to stop it.
That's why prevention through daily hygiene is so important. So, be sure to brush and floss all your teeth — including implants — every day, and keep up your regular dental visits. And at the first sign of a possible infection — swollen, red or bleeding gums — see us as soon as possible for an examination.
Consider your implants a long-term investment in both your smile and dental health. Taking care of them will pay dividends for many years to come.
If you would like more information on taking care of your dental implants, 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 “Dental Implant Maintenance.”
X-ray imaging is a routine part of a child's dental care — and it undeniably makes a difference in preventing and treating dental disease. It's so routine, we can easily forget they're being exposed to an invisible form of electromagnetic radiation.Â And just like other sources of radiation, too much x-ray exposure could increase the risk of cancer.
But while it's possible for your child to be over-exposed to x-rays, it's highly unlikely. That's because healthcare professionals like dentists adhere to a standard known as ALARA when considering and administering x-rays. ALARA is an acronym for “as low as reasonably achievable.” In other words, we only want to expose a patient to the lowest and safest levels of x-ray dosage and frequency that will achieve the most benefit.
To achieve that standard, professional dental organizations advocate the use of x-rays only after a clinical examination of the patient, as well as a thorough review of their medical history for any usage of x-rays for other conditions. If x-rays are warranted, we then take further precautions to protect the patient and staff, and only use the type of x-ray application that's absolutely necessary. For most children that will be a set of two or four bitewing radiographs, which are quite effective for detecting decay in back teeth.
This dosage of radiation in a session of bitewing radiographs is roughly a fifth of the background radiation in the environment a child may be exposed to every day. By spacing these sessions at least six months apart, we're able to achieve a high level of decay detection at a safe and reasonable amount of x-ray exposure.
On top of that, the digital advances in x-ray imaging have reduced the amount of radiation energy needed to achieve the same results as we once did with film. These lower exposure levels and the ALARA standard helps ensure your child's exposure to x-rays will be well within safe limits.
If you would like more information on the use of x-rays with children, 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 “X-Ray Safety for Children.”
If you're considering dental implants, they'll need to be surgically placed in the jaw bone. But don't be alarmed — it's a relatively minor procedure that usually requires nothing more than local anesthesia.
But that being said, it's still an invasive procedure that involves making incisions in gum and bone tissues. That could introduce bacteria into the bloodstream and pose, for certain individuals, a slightly greater risk of infection.
But infection risk is quite low for most healthy patients. As a result, implants enjoy a greater than 95-percent success rate ten years after installation. But some patients have health issues that increase their risk of infection. These include older adults with a weakened immune system, smokers, diabetics or those well under or over their ideal weight.
If you have these or similar health situations, we may recommend undergoing an antibiotic treatment before you undergo surgery. This can help prevent bacteria from spreading and reduce the likelihood of an infection.
Preventive antibiotic therapy is commonplace with many other dental procedures. Both the American Dental Association and the American Heart Association recommend antibiotics before any invasive oral procedure for patients with prosthetic (false) heart valves, past endocarditis, a heart transplant or other heart conditions. To lower the risk of implant failure due to infection, we often advise antibiotics for patients who fall in these categories, as well as those with similar conditions mentioned earlier.
Of course, whether pre-surgical antibiotics is a wise choice for you will depend on your medical history and current health status. We'll consider all these factors thoroughly before advising you. But if you are more susceptible to infection, antibiotics before surgery could potentially lower your risk for an implant failure.
Teething is an important phase in your baby's dental maturity. During the approximate two-year process, they will acquire their first set of teeth.
It can also be an unpleasant two years as each tooth sequentially breaks through the gums. The severity of teething problems differs with each child, but there are common signs: irritability, biting and gnawing, chin rash, drooling or ear rubbing among them. Although for most babies the discomfort isn't that great, the pain can occasionally be a lot for them — and their care-givers — to handle.
Although having a very unhappy infant can be nerve-jangling, there's no real cause for concern health-wise. If, however, they begin to run a fever or experience diarrhea, that could be a sign of something more serious. In those cases, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.
Otherwise, there are some things you can do to make them more comfortable during teething episodes. One thing to remember: cold items for biting or gnawing usually work wonders. So, be sure you have chilled teething rings or pacifiers (but not frozen — the extreme temperature could burn their gums). For older children, an occasional cold food like a popsicle can bring relief.
You can also try massaging the gums with your clean finger, which will help counteract the pressure of an erupting tooth. But avoid rubbing alcohol or aspirin on the gums, and you shouldn't apply numbing agents to children less than two years of age unless advised by your doctor.
If their pain persists, it's permissible to give them a mild pain reliever like the appropriate dosage for their age of baby acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Again, you should give this by mouth and avoid rubbing it on the gums.
By the time they're three, all their primary teeth should be in and teething symptoms should have largely dissipated. In the meantime, make them as comfortable as you can â?? in no time the unpleasantness of teething will pass.
If you would like more information on coping with your child's teething, 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 “Teething Troubles: How to Help Keep your Baby Comfortable.”
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