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.”
If you’re over age 30 there’s a fifty percent chance you have periodontal (gum) disease—and you may not even know it. Without treatment this often “silent” bacterial infection could cause you to lose gum coverage, supporting bone volume or eventually your teeth.
That’s not to say there can’t be noticeable symptoms like swollen, red, bleeding or painful gums. But the surest way to know if you have gum disease, as well as how advanced it is, is to have us examine your gums with manual probing below the gum line.
Using a long metal device called a periodontal probe, we can detect if you’ve developed periodontal pockets. These are gaps created when the diseased gum’s attachment to teeth has weakened and begun to pull away. The increased void may become inflamed (swollen) and filled with infection.
During an exam we insert the probe, which has markings indicating depths in millimeters, into the naturally occurring space between tooth and gums called the sulcus. Normally, the sulcus extends only about 1-3 mm deep, so being able to probe deeper is a sign of a periodontal pocket. How deep we can probe can also tell us about the extent of the infection: if we can probe to 5 mm, you may have early to mild gum disease; 5-7 mm indicates moderate gum disease; and anything deeper is a sign of advanced disease.
Knowing periodontal pocket depth helps guide our treatment strategy. Our main goal is to remove bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that collects on teeth and is the main cause and continuing fuel for the infection. In mild to moderate cases this may only require the use of hand instruments called scalers to manually remove plaque from tooth surfaces.
If, however, our periodontal probing indicates deeper, advanced gum disease, we may need to include surgical procedures to access these infected areas through the gum tissue. By knowing the depth and extent of any periodontal pockets, we can determine whether or not to use these more invasive techniques.
Like many other health conditions, discovering gum disease early could help you avoid these more advanced procedures and limit the damage caused by the infection. Besides daily brushing and flossing to remove plaque and regular dental checkups, keep watch for signs of swollen or bleeding gums and contact us for an appointment as soon as possible. And be aware that if you smoke, your gums will not likely bleed or swell—that could make diagnosis more difficult.
If you would like more information on treating 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 article “Understanding Periodontal Pockets.”
As we age we become more susceptible to dental diseases. A common but often initially unnoticed problem for seniors is root decay.
We’re all familiar with tooth decay in the crown, the visible tooth above the gum line. Bacteria feeding on leftover sugar in the mouth produce acid, which at high levels erodes the teeth’s protective enamel. This forms cavities and, if untreated, deeper infection within the tooth that could reach the bone via the root canals.
But decay can also directly attack a tooth’s roots below the gum line. Roots are made of dentin and covered by a very thin layer of mineralized tooth structure called cementum. Cementum, which is much softer than enamel, is often lost because of its thinness, thus exposing the root’s dentin. This can make the area more susceptible to decay than the enamel-covered crown. Normally, though, the roots also have the gums covering them as added protection against bacterial infection.
But gum recession (shrinkage), a common experience for people in their later years, can expose the root surfaces. As a result, the roots become much more susceptible to decay. And an ensuing infection could spread more quickly into the interior of the tooth than decay originating in the crown.
That’s why it’s important to remove the decayed material and fill the root cavity to prevent the infection’s spread. While similar to a crown filling, the treatment can be more difficult if the root cavity extends below the gum line. In this case, we may need to perform a surgical procedure to access the cavity.
There are other things we can do to help prevent root cavities or limit their damage. We can apply fluoride varnish to strengthen the teeth and provide extra protection against cavities, or prescribe a fluoride rinse for use at home. We can also keep an eye out and treat periodontal (gum) disease, the main cause for gum recession.
The most important thing, though, is what you do: brush and floss thoroughly each day to remove bacterial plaque and limit sugary or acidic foods in your diet. Preventing decay and treating cavities as soon as possible will help ensure you’ll keep your teeth healthy and functional all through your senior years.
Discovering a loose tooth can be exciting — if you’re six, that is, and anticipating a windfall from the tooth fairy. If you’re an adult, a loose tooth is a different story. You’re in real danger of it becoming a lost tooth, and there won’t be another one coming in to replace it.
Fortunately, that result isn’t inevitable, but we have to take quick action if we’re going to save your tooth. The first step is to find out why it’s loose.
Tooth looseness occurs primarily because the gum and bone structures that hold teeth in place have been damaged in some way. Otherwise healthy teeth and gums can be injured in an accident or with dental habits like teeth grinding or clenching that increase the biting forces against teeth. The latter could require some intervention like a night guard to prevent teeth from grinding to reduce the abnormal biting force.
But disease is often the root cause for tooth looseness. Periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection triggered by bacterial plaque, can inflame and weaken gum tissues, eventually causing bone loss followed by the gum tissue detaching from the teeth. In this weakened condition even normal biting forces could loosen a tooth.
If gum disease is the primary culprit, our treatment starts there. By aggressively removing plaque and calculus (tartar) from the tooth surfaces, including deep below the gum line around the root, the gum tissues become less inflamed and begin to heal. This in turn can strengthen their attachment to a loose tooth. In more advanced cases, we may need to surgically graft lost bone and gum tissue to rebuild the attachment.
We may also need to stabilize a loose tooth while we’re performing these other treatments. The most common way is to join or splint a loose tooth to nearby stable teeth. There are varieties of splints: one type involves rigid dental material bonded across the enamel of the loose tooth and its neighbors. In another, we cut a small channel in the involved teeth, and then insert a metal splint, bonding it within the channel.
Whatever needs to be done, we need to do it promptly — if you notice a loose tooth, contact us as soon as possible. The earlier we begin treatment the more likely we’ll save your loose tooth.
If you would like more information on treating loose 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 article “Treatment for Loose Teeth.”
We’ve come a long way since the early 1980s when we first identified the HIV virus. Although approximately 35 million people worldwide (including a million Americans) now have the virus, many are living relatively long and normal lives thanks to advanced antiretroviral drugs.
Still, HIV patients must remain vigilant about their health, especially their oral health. In fact, problems with the teeth, gums and other oral structures could be a sign the virus has or is moving into the full disease stage, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). That’s why you or a loved one with the virus should maintain regular dental checkups or see your dentist when you notice any oral abnormalities.
One of the most common conditions among HIV-positive patients is a fungal infection called candidiasis (or “thrush”). It may appear first as deep cracks at the corners of the mouth and then appear on the tongue and roof of the mouth as red lesions. The infection may also cause creamy, white patches that leave a reddened or bleeding surface when wiped.
HIV-positive patients may also suffer from reduced salivary flow. Because saliva helps neutralize excess mouth acid after we eat as well as limit bacterial growth, its absence significantly increases the risk of dental disease. One of the most prominent for HIV-positive patients is periodontal (gum) disease, a bacterial infection normally caused by dental plaque.
While gum disease is prevalent among people in general, one particular form is of grave concern to HIV-positive patients. Necrotizing ulcerative periodontitis (NUP) is characterized by spontaneous gum bleeding, ulcerations and a foul odor. The disease itself can cause loosening and eventually loss of teeth, but it’s also notable as a sign of a patient’s deteriorating immune system. The patient should not only undergo dental treatment (including antibiotics), but also see their primary care physician for updates in treating and managing their overall symptoms.
Above all, HIV-positive patients must be extra diligent about oral hygiene, including daily brushing and flossing. Your dentist may also recommend other measures like saliva stimulators or chlorhexidine mouthrinses to reduce the growth of disease-causing bacteria. Together, you should be able to reduce the effects of HIV-induced teeth and gum problems for a healthier mouth and better quality of life.
If you would like more information on oral care for HIV-AIDS patients, 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 “HIV-AIDS & Oral Health.”
Can you have healthy teeth and still have gum disease? Absolutely! And if you don’t believe us, just ask actor David Ramsey. The cast member of TV hits such as Dexter and Arrow said in a recent interview that up to the present day, he has never had a single cavity. Yet at a routine dental visit during his college years, Ramsey’s dentist pointed out how easily his gums bled during the exam. This was an early sign of periodontal (gum) disease, the dentist told him.
“I learned that just because you don’t have cavities, doesn’t mean you don’t have periodontal disease,” Ramsey said.
Apparently, Ramsey had always been very conscientious about brushing his teeth but he never flossed them.
“This isn’t just some strange phenomenon that exists just in my house — a lot of people who brush don’t really floss,” he noted.
Unfortunately, that’s true — and we’d certainly like to change it. So why is flossing so important?
Oral diseases such as tooth decay and periodontal disease often start when dental plaque, a bacteria-laden film that collects on teeth, is allowed to build up. These sticky deposits can harden into a substance called tartar or calculus, which is irritating to the gums and must be removed during a professional teeth cleaning.
Brushing teeth is one way to remove soft plaque, but it is not effective at reaching bacteria or food debris between teeth. That’s where flossing comes in. Floss can fit into spaces that your toothbrush never reaches. In fact, if you don’t floss, you’re leaving about a thirdÂ to half of your tooth surfaces unclean — and, as David Ramsey found out, that’s a path to periodontal disease.
Since then, however, Ramsey has become a meticulous flosser, and he proudly notes that the long-ago dental appointment “was the last we heard of any type of gum disease.”
Let that be the same for you! Just remember to brush and floss, eat a good diet low in sugar, and come in to the dental office for regular professional cleanings.
If you would like more information on flossing or periodontal disease, please contact us today to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctormagazine article “Understanding Gum (Periodontal) Disease.”
It’s hard to avoid stress in the 21st Century. We’re all bombarded with stressors, from work to family — even our smart phones!
The problem really isn’t the stressors themselves but how we respond to them and try to relieve stress. This can often have a negative effect on our health. One example: bruxism, also known as teeth grinding or clenching.
These habits involve the rhythmic or spasmodic clenching, biting or grinding of the teeth, often involuntarily, beyond normal chewing function. It often occurs while we sleep — jaw soreness the next morning is a telltale sign. While there are other causes, stress is one of the most common for adults, bolstered by diet and lifestyle habits like tobacco or drug use, or excessive caffeine and alcohol.
Teeth grinding’s most serious consequence is the potential for dental problems. While teeth normally wear as we age, grinding or clenching habits can accelerate it. Wearing can become so extensive the enamel erodes, possibly leading to fractures or cracks in the tooth.
When dealing with this type of bruxism, we must address the root cause: your relationship to stress. For example, if you use tobacco, consider quitting the habit — not only for your overall health, but to remove it as a stress stimulant. The same goes for cutting back on your consumption of caffeinated or alcoholic drinks.
Adopt an “unwinding” pattern at night before you sleep to better relax: for example, take a warm bath or keep work items or digital media out of the bedroom.Â Many people also report relaxation or stress-relief techniques like meditation, mindfulness or biofeedback helpful.
There’s another useful tool for easing the effects of nighttime teeth grinding: an occlusal guard. This custom-fitted appliance worn while you sleep prevents teeth from making solid contact with each other when you clench them. This can greatly reduce the adverse effects on your teeth while you’re working on other stress coping techniques.
Teeth grinding or clenching can prove harmful over time. The sooner you address this issue with your dentist or physician, the less likely you’ll experience these unwanted consequences.
If you would like more information on the causes and treatments for teeth grinding, 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 “Teeth Grinding: Causes and Therapies for a Potentially Troubling Behavior.”
If you’ve lost some teeth you may eventually want to replace them with dental implants. Implants by far are the restoration of choice due to their life-likeness and durability. But those advantages don’t come cheaply — implants can be expensive especially for multiple teeth.
If you’re forced to wait financially for implants, you still have other intermediary options like a removable partial denture (RPD). The conventional RPD has a rigid acrylic base colored to resemble gum tissue supported by a metal frame with attached prosthetic (false) teeth at the missing teeth locations. They’re held secure in the mouth through metal clasps that fit over the remaining teeth.
But these conventional RPDs can sometimes be uncomfortable to wear and don’t always cover the bottom of the gum completely. If this is a concern, you might consider an alternative: flexible RPDs. The base of this RPD is made of a form of flexible nylon rather than acrylic plastic. They’re much more lightweight but still fit securely in the mouth with thin plastic extensions rather than metal clasps. The base can also be more easily formed to cover areas where gum tissue may have receded.
While flexible RPDs hold up better to wear and tear than their conventional counterparts, they must still be maintained like any other appliance. They can accumulate plaque (bacterial biofilm) responsible for tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease, so daily thorough cleaning is a must. And if there fit becomes loose they can be more difficult to reline or repair than other types of dentures.
They also share a common weakness with other dentures — they can’t prevent and may even stimulate bone loss. As bone ages, old cells dissolve and new ones form to take their place. As we eat and chew our teeth transmit the forces generated through the teeth to the bone to stimulate it to grow. RPDs and other dentures can’t transmit this stimulus, so the bone replaces much slower to the point that the bone volume can diminish.
That’s why it’s best to consider any RPD as a temporary solution until you can obtain an implant for a more permanent and bone-friendly option. In the meantime, though, an RPD can provide you with a great solution for both form and function for missing teeth.
If you would like more information on RPD choices, 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 “Flexible Partial Dentures: An Aesthetic Way to Replace Teeth Temporarily.”
When you’re among the top players in your field, you need every advantage to help you stay competitive: Not just the best equipment, but anything else that relieves pain and stress, and allows you to play better. For top-seeded Canadian tennis player Milos Raonic, that extra help came in a somewhat unexpected form: a custom made mouthguard that he wears on the court and off. “[It helps] to not grind my teeth while I play,” said the 25-year-old up-and-coming ace. “It just causes stress and headaches sometimes.”
Mouthguards are often worn by athletes engaged in sports that carry the risk of dental injury — such as basketball, football, hockey, and some two dozen others; wearing one is a great way to keep your teeth from being seriously injured. But Raonic’s mouthguard isn’t primarily for safety; it’s actually designed to help him solve the problem of teeth grinding, or bruxism. This habitual behavior causes him to unconsciously tense up his jaw, potentially leading to problems with muscles and teeth.
Bruxism is a common issue that’s often caused or aggravated by stress. You don’t have to be a world-class athlete to suffer from this condition: Everyday anxieties can have the same effect. The behavior is often worsened when you consume stimulating substances, such as alcohol, tobacco, caffeine, and other drugs.
While bruxism affects thousands of people, some don’t even suspect they have it. That’s because it may occur at any time — even while you’re asleep! The powerful jaw muscles that clench and grind teeth together can wear down tooth enamel, and damage both natural teeth and dental work. They can even cause loose teeth! What’s more, a clenching and grinding habit can result in pain, headaches and muscle soreness… which can really put you off your game.
There are several ways to relieve the problem of bruxism. Stress reduction is one approach that works in some cases. When it’s not enough, a custom made occlusal guard (also called a night guard or mouthguard) provided by our office can make a big difference. “When I don’t sleep with it for a night,” Raonic said “I can feel my jaw muscles just tense up the next day. I don’t sense myself grinding but I can sort of feel that difference the next day.”
Â An occlusal guard is made from an exact model of your own mouth. It helps to keep your teeth in better alignment and prevent them from coming into contact, so they can’t damage each other. It also protects your jaw joints from being stressed by excessive force. Plus, it’s secure and comfortable to wear. “I wear it all the time other than when I’m eating, so I got used to it pretty quickly,” said Raonic.
Teeth grinding can be a big problem — whether you put on your game face on the court… or at home. If you would like more information about bruxism, contact us or schedule an appointmentfor a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Stress & Tooth Habits” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
For most people, going to the dentist is as routine as getting their oil changed. But if you’re like the one in ten people with severe anxiety, dental visits are anything but routine.
What may have begun as a childhood fear has turned for many people into a lifetime avoidance of dental care. Â This absence of dental cleanings, checkups and treatments can have an adverse effect on not only their oral health but their general health too.
But there are ways you can reduce dental visit anxiety, beginning first with finding a compassionate dental provider. A good dentist-patient relationship is important for everyone, but more so for people with anxiety. Building a trust relationship with a dentist who listens and accepts your fears without judging is your first step to overcoming them.
Though finding an understanding provider is important, it may not be enough in the beginning of your return to regular dental care. To help you further relax during visits, we can also provide medicinal therapies known collectively as sedation.
Although it has some similarities, sedation is different from anesthesia. The latter deadens pain sensation; sedation aims to calm your emotions. The most common sedation is taken in oral form, usually a pill (or syrup for children) taken an hour or so before the appointment. Oral sedation is often used in conjunction with gases like nitrous oxide and local anesthesia.
For a more relaxed state (especially during an involved procedure) we may use intravenous (IV) sedation. With this method we deliver the medication through a small needle or catheter inserted into a vein.
IV sedation places you in a reduced state of consciousness. But it isn’t a “sleep” state as what’s achieved during general anesthesia, but more of a “semi-awake” state. You won’t need assistance with breathing or heart function and you can respond to verbal or touch commands. Many drugs used for IV sedation also have an amnesiac affect, so you won’t remember many details about the procedure.
Depending on your level of anxiety, we can match the right therapy to induce calm and relaxation. Sedation can help you see dental visits in a more positive light so that it truly does become a life routine.
If you would like more information on sedation therapy during dental visits, 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 “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”