Ah, the baby teeth: those cute little pearl buttons that start to appear in a child’s mouth at around 6 to 9 months of age. Like pacifiers and bedtime stories, they’ll be gone before you know it — the last usually disappear by age 10-13. So if the dentist tells you that your young child needs a root canal, you might wonder why — isn’t that tooth going to be lost anyway?
The answer is yes, it is — but while it’s here, it has some important roles to play in your child’s development. For one thing, baby teeth perform the same functions in kids as they do in adults: Namely, they enable us to chew, bite, and speak properly. The primary teeth also have a valuable social purpose: they allow us to smile properly. If a baby tooth is lost prematurely at age 6, the child may suffer detrimental effects for five years or more — and that’s a long time for someone so young!
Even more important, baby teeth have a critical function in the developing mouth and jaw: Each one holds a space open for the permanent tooth that will eventually replace it — and it doesn’t “let go” until the new tooth is ready to come in. If a primary (baby) tooth is lost too soon, other teeth adjacent to the opening may drift into the empty space. This often means that the permanent teeth may erupt (emerge above the gum line) in the wrong place — or sometimes, not at all.
The condition that occurs when teeth aren’t in their proper positions is called malocclusion (“mal” – bad; “occlusion” – bite). It can cause problems with eating and speaking, and often results in a less-than-perfect-looking smile. It’s the primary reason why kids get orthodontic treatment — which can be expensive and time-consuming. So it makes sense to try and save baby teeth whenever possible.
Procedures like a root canal — or the similar but less-invasive pulpotomy — are often effective at preserving a baby tooth that would otherwise be lost. But if it isn’t possible to save the tooth, an appliance called a space maintainer may help. This is a small metal appliance that is attached to one tooth; its purpose is to keep a space open where the permanent tooth can come in.
If your child is facing the premature loss of a primary tooth, we will be sure to discuss all the options with you. It may turn out that preserving the tooth is the most cost-effective alternative in the long run. If you have questions about your child’s baby teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.
There's something universal about thumb sucking: nearly all babies do it, and nearly all parents worry about it. While most such worries are unfounded, you should be concerned if your child sucks their thumb past age of 4 — late thumb sucking could skew bite development.
Young children suck their thumb because of the way they swallow. Babies move their tongues forward into the space between the two jaws, allowing them to form a seal around a nipple as they breast or bottle feed. Around age 4, this “infantile swallowing pattern” changes to an adult pattern where the tip of the tongue contacts the front roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. At the same time their future bite is beginning to take shape.
In a normal bite the front teeth slightly overlap the bottom and leave no gap between the jaws when closed. Â But if thumb sucking continues well into school age, the constant pushing of the tongue through the opening in the jaws could alter the front teeth's position as they erupt. As a result they may not fully erupt or erupt too far forward. This could create an open bite, with a gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are closed.
Of course, the best way to avoid this outcome is to encourage your child to stop thumb sucking before they turn four. If, however, they're already developing a poor bite (malocclusion), all is not lost — it can be treated.
It's important, though, not to wait: if you suspect a problem you should see an orthodontist for a full evaluation and accurate diagnosis. There are even some measures that could discourage thumb sucking and lessen the need for braces later. These include a tongue crib, a metal appliance placed behind the upper and lower incisors, or exercises to train the tongue and facial muscles to adopt an adult swallowing pattern. Often, a reward system for not sucking their thumbs helps achieve success as well.
Thumb-sucking shouldn't be a concern if you help your child stop before age 4 and keep an eye on their bite development. Doing those things will help ensure they'll have both healthy and straight teeth.
If you would like more information on 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.”
Your baby is turning one year old—and it's time for their first dental visit! Both the American Dental Association (ADA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend your child first see the dentist around this milestone birthday.
You'll also have a decision to make: do you see your family dentist or a pediatric dentist? While your family dentist can certainly provide quality care for your child, there are also good reasons to see a dentist who specializes in children and teenagers.
The "fear factor." Children are more likely than adults to be anxious about dental visits. But pediatric dentists are highly trained and experienced in relating to children one on one and in clinical techniques that reduce anxiety. Their offices also tend to be "kid-friendly" with bright colors and motifs that appeal to children. Such an atmosphere can be more appealing to children than the more adult environment of a general dentist's office.
The "development factor." Childhood and adolescence are times of rapid physical growth and development, especially for the teeth, gums and jaw structure. A pediatric dentist has extensive knowledge and expertise in this developmental process. They're especially adept at spotting subtle departures from normal growth, such as the early development of a poor bite. If caught early, intervention for emerging bite problems and similar issues could lessen their impact and treatment cost in the future.
Special needs. The same soothing office environment of a pediatric clinic that appeals to children in general could be especially helpful if your child has special needs like autism or ADHD. Some children may also be at risk for an aggressive and destructive form of tooth decay known as early childhood caries (ECC). Pediatric dentists deal with this more commonly than general dentists and are highly trained to prevent and treat this aggressive form of tooth decay.
Seeing a pediatric dentist isn't a "forever" relationship: Once your child enters early adulthood, their care will continue on with a general dentist. But during those early years of rapid development, a pediatric dentist could give your child the insightful care they need to enjoy optimum dental health the rest of their lives.
If you would like more information on pediatric dental care, 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 “Why See a Pediatric Dentist?”
$9.1 billion: That's how much we Americans spent in 2018 on Halloween festivities, according to the National Retail Federation. And a sizeable chunk of that was for candy—a whopping 600 million pounds worth. That, my friends, is a lot of sugary goodness. For kids, it's what Halloween is all about—scoring a sack full of sticky, gooey, crunchy candy. For parents, though, all that sugar raises concerns for their kids' dental health.
That's because of something that loves sugar as much as little humans: oral bacteria. The more these microscopic creatures consume, the more they reproduce, which consequently leads to more mouth acid, a by-product of their digestion. Elevated acid levels can dissolve the mineral content in enamel and create the conditions for tooth decay.
To cut to the chase, excessive candy consumption increases the risk of tooth decay. Short of banning candy and ruining your kids' holiday fun, what then can you do to lower that risk this Halloween?
Here are a few tips:
Limit candy to mealtimes. The mouth's acid levels tend to rise while we're eating. The body counters with saliva, which has the capacity to neutralize acid and restore lost minerals to enamel. But if your kids are snacking on sweets over a long period, saliva can't get ahead of the recurring waves of acid. So, try to limit your kids' candy consumption to a few pieces at mealtimes only.
Don't brush right after eating candy. The short period during and after eating of high acid levels can still soften tooth enamel. If your child brushes soon after eating candy, they could also remove tiny bits of softened enamel. Instead, wait at least 30 minutes to an hour before brushing to allow saliva time to remineralize the enamel.
Encourage alternatives to candy as Halloween treats. While candy is a huge part of Halloween, it needn't have a monopoly on all the celebratory fun. So, encourage your little tricksters to accept—and their treaters to provide—other kinds of treats like small toys, glow sticks, or other items that count as treasure to children (be sure they're age-appropriate, though).
Halloween is a great time of family fun, and candy may always play a prominent role in the merriment. Just be sure to practice moderation with sweet Halloween treats to avoid dental problems down the road.
If you would like more information about how to manage your family's sugar consumption for optimum dental health, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Bitter Truth About Sugar” and “Nutrition & Oral Health.”
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