It’s true — thumb sucking beyond age 4 can cause bite problems for permanent teeth. But prolonged thumb sucking is just one of a number of possible contributing factors for a bad bite (malocclusion). A dentist must identify all the factors involved when a bad bite is present — their involvement is essential for a successful treatment outcome.
A fairly benign habit for infants and toddlers, thumb sucking is related to an “infantile swallowing pattern” young children use by thrusting their tongues forward between the upper and lower teeth when they swallow. Around age 4, though, they usually transition to an adult swallowing pattern in which the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. Thumb sucking stops for most children around the same time.
Thumb sucking beyond this age, though, can put increased pressure on incoming permanent teeth pushing them forward. This could lead to an “open bite” in which the upper and lower teeth don’t meet when the jaws are closed. The tongue may also continue to thrust forward when swallowing to seal the resulting gap, which further reinforces the open bite.
Before treating the bite with braces, we must first address the thumb sucking and improper tongue placement when swallowing — if either isn’t corrected the teeth could gradually revert to their previous positions after the braces come off. Besides behavioral incentives, we can also employ a thin metal appliance called a “tongue crib” placed behind the upper and lower incisors. A tongue crib discourages thumb sucking and makes it more difficult for the tongue to rest within the open bite gap when swallowing, which helps retrain it to a more normal position.
An open bite can also occur if the jaws develop with too much vertical growth. Like thumb sucking and improper tongue placement, abnormal jaw growth could ultimately cause orthodontic treatment to fail. In this case, though, surgery may be necessary to correct the jaw structure.
With all these possible variables, our first step needs to be a thorough orthodontic exam that identifies all the cause factors for your child’s specific malocclusion. Knowing if and how thumb sucking may have contributed to the poor bite will help us design a treatment strategy that’s successful.
If you would like more information on the causes of poor tooth position, 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.”
Even the sweetest children don’t always have sweet-smelling breath. If your child has persistent bad breath, it may be for one of the following reasons:
POOR ORAL HYGIENE HABITS. Bad breath often results from bacteria on the teeth and tongue that is not effectively removed during brushing and flossing.
- Tip: To encourage thorough cleaning as children are developing their oral hygiene habits, try handheld flossers that are colorful and easy to use, sing or play music to make brushing time fun, or try an electric toothbrush with a timer or a tooth-brushing app that keeps kids brushing for a full two minutes.
PLAQUE BUILDUP, TOOTH DECAY AND GUM DISEASE: Plaque, a sticky bacterial biofilm, can build up on tooth surfaces, between the teeth and under the gum line and can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. These conditions may result in bad breath.
- Tip: Stay on top of your child’s oral hygiene at home, and keep up with regular dental visits for professional cleanings and checkups.
POST-NASAL DRIP: This common cause of foul-smelling breath in children results when excessive mucus is produced and drips down the back of the throat.
- Tip: Schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to determine and treat the cause.
MOUTH BREATHING. Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose can cause a dry mouth. This can lead to increased oral bacteria, which can cause bad breath. If children breathe through the mouth all the time, not just because of a temporary cold or allergies, your child is at greater risk for tooth decay and gum disease.
- Tip: If your child is a chronic mouth breather, schedule a dental visit so we can check for any adverse effects on dental health. Note that over time, habitual mouth breathing may lead to poor alignment of the teeth. An ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist can treat problems with tonsils, adenoids and sinuses — common causes of mouth breathing.
FOREIGN OBJECT IN THE NOSE. It wouldn’t be the first time a child has stuck a pea or other small object up their nose â?? or their sibling’s nose — only to find that it won’t come back out. A foreign body in the nasal passage can cause infection and lead to bad breath.
- Tip: Don’t try to remove the object at home, as part of it may remain in the nasal passage. A medical professional will have the right equipment to dislodge the object more comfortably.
MEDICATION. Children who take antibiotics for a long time may develop a fungal infection (thrush) in the mouth. Other medications can cause bad breath due to the way they break down in the body.
- Tip: Call your pharmacist if you have a question about medications and bad breath.
MEDICAL CONDITION. Infections of the throat, sinus or tonsils can cause bad breath, as can more serious health conditions.
- Tip: If your child’s breath is unpleasant for an extended period of time, get it checked out by a health professional.
If you are concerned about your child’s breath, schedule a visit. We are happy to remind your child of proper brushing techniques and check for other problems that need to be addressed.
For more on young children’s oral health, read “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Why See a Pediatric Dentist?”
As a member of the best-selling pop group Spice Girls, Mel C (AKA Sporty Spice) enjoyed her share of musical superstardom. At the band’s peak in the Nineties, the young singer’s signature look featured baggy sweatpants, an assortment of tattoos, a nose stud and a gold-capped incisor, front and center in her mouth. Today, Melanie Chisholm is still singing — but now she’s a mom, an amateur triathlete… and that gold tooth is just a memory. Not only that, her smile looks more evenly spaced and whiter than it did when she was referred to as the “tomboy” of the group.
What happened? In our view, it all boils down to changing tastes — plus a little bit of help from dental professionals. As the “wannabe” singer proves, there’s no single standard when it comes to making your teeth look their best. Your own look is unique to you — and your smile can reflect that individuality.
For example, crowns (caps) are substantial coverings that may be placed on teeth when they are being restored. They are available in three types: gold, all-porcelain, or porcelain-fused-to-metal. The latter two are tooth-colored, while the gold is — well, shiny like gold bling. Which one is right for you? In many cases, it’s your choice.
Likewise, dental veneers — wafer-thin shells that can correct cosmetic issues by covering the surface of your teeth — can be made in a variety of shades. Their hues may range from natural ivory to Hollywood white, and everything in between. What’s the best color for you? Only you can say.
Some people opt for a “smile makeover” that uses small irregularities in the spacing and color of teeth to create a more “natural” look. Other folks want a perfectly even, brilliant white smile that dazzles the eye. Still others are looking to match or restore the smile they once had — perhaps even re-creating a signature gap between the teeth. As long as there are no other dental issues involved, the choice is yours.
So if you’re unhappy with your smile — or if you feel it doesn’t reflect the person you “wannabe” — why not talk to us about a smile makeover? Just call our office to schedule a consultation. You can learn more about this topic in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Impact of a Smile Makeover.”
Children losing their primary (“baby”) teeth is both natural and necessary. So, is it really that much of a concern if they lose one early?
The answer is yes — premature primary tooth loss could have long-term consequences for the permanent teeth as they develop within the jaw before eruption. Primary teeth play a crucial role in this development: as the permanent teeth form and grow the primary teeth serve as placeholders until they’re ready to erupt. A natural process then takes place in which the primary tooth’s roots dissolve (resorb) to allow them to fall out. Once they’re out of the way, the permanent teeth can then erupt.
If, however, they’re lost before the permanent teeth are ready, it leaves a space in the child’s bite. The dynamic mechanism between teeth and the periodontal ligament causes adjacent teeth to move or “drift” into the space. This can crowd out the permanent tooth intended for the space, causing it to come in improperly forming a malocclusion (bad bite), or it may become impacted and remain partially or fully below the surface of the gums.
This poor dental development could lead to extensive orthodontic treatment later in life, which is why we seek to preserve even decayed primary teeth for their entire natural lifespan. If the tooth is lost, however, we need to take action to preserve the space for the permanent tooth and avoid costly treatment later.
This usually calls for a “space maintenance” appliance — a type of orthodontic “retainer” — worn by the child to prevent other teeth from drifting into the space. Designed by your orthodontist, the appliance can also perform a cosmetic and social function by causing the space to appear unnoticeable.
Maintaining that space requires monitoring — especially by an orthodontist — and continued dental hygiene and care both at home and at the dentist’s office. The extra care preserving the space caused by premature tooth loss will help to ensure your child’s dental structure develops properly and their future smile will be an attractive one.
If you would like more information on the care and treatment of 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 articles “Early Loss of Baby Teeth” and “Losing a Baby Tooth.”
Like many other families, you may use formula instead of breast milk as a safe and healthy alternative to feed your infant. But, if you use a powdered form that you mix with water your child may be taking in more fluoride than they require.
Fluoride is a natural chemical that can strengthen tooth enamel and help prevent decay. After decades of study it's also been shown to pose no serious health risks. Because of fluoride's benefits and safety, many water utilities add tiny amounts to their drinking water supply.
But it can have one side effect called enamel fluorosis. If a child ingests too much fluoride during early development it can cause discoloring mottled spots or streaking in permanent teeth. Although it doesn't affect their health, the teeth can be unattractive and require cosmetic attention.
That's why it's best to keep fluoride consumption to a healthy minimum for children. That, however, is often easier said than done, since we can encounter hidden fluoride in a variety of places. Besides hygiene products and fluoridated drinking water, you may find fluoride in prepared juices and other beverages, bottled water or in foods processed with fluoridated water. There are no labeling requirements for fluoride, so you'll have to research to find out if a product contains fluoride.
There are, however, some things you can do to control your child's fluoride intake. First, know as much as you can about known sources your child may encounter like your water supply. You can find out if your utility adds fluoride and by how much by contacting them or visiting My Water's Fluoride online at https://nccd.cdc.gov/DOH_MWF/.
If you use fluoride toothpaste apply only a “smear” on the end of the brush for children under two and a pea-sized amount for older children. If you have fluoridated drinking water, consider breastfeeding your infant, use ready-to-feed formula or mix powdered formula with bottled water labeled “de-ionized,” “purified,” “demineralized” or “distilled.”
And, do feel free to discuss your concerns with us during your child's regular checkup. We'll help you adjust their diet, water intake and hygiene habits to be sure they're receiving the right amount they need for developing strong teeth — and no more.
If you would like more information on appropriate fluoride levels for 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 “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
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