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.”
Good oral care is part of many people’s daily routine. However, only a fraction of people floss their teeth daily, a task that prevents serious dental conditions like periodontal disease. According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial research, periodontal disease is the number one cause of tooth loss, making its prevention crucial in maintaining your smile. Find out more about periodontal disease symptoms and treatments with Dr. Jeffery Johnson and Dr. Jodi Johnson in St. Louis, MO.
What is periodontal disease?
Periodontal, or gum, disease occurs when the gums become irritated and infected with bacteria. These bacteria begin growing on the teeth, fed by the carbohydrates and sugars in the foods you eat, then harden into a sticky white substance called plaque. Plaque eventually hardens into tartar. The irritation in the gums causes pockets which form between the gum and the tooth, trapping bacteria and plaque, causing further irritation.
Do I have periodontal disease?
While many people mistakingly believe that bleeding gums while flossing is a sign that they should stop flossing altogether, this is the opposite of the truth. Flossing removes plaque and bacteria from not just between the teeth, but under the gums, too. The process may cause your irritated gums to bleed at first, but will also clear out the bacteria causing the inflammation. Most patients notice that their gums stop bleeding after about two weeks of continued flossing. Other signs of gum disease include:
- loosened teeth
- unexplained bad breath
- swollen or irritated gums
- gums which pull away from the teeth
- receding gums
- sensitive teeth and gums
Treating Periodontal Disease in St. Louis
Most cases of mild to moderate periodontal disease clear up with a professional teeth cleaning and continued flossing. However, other, more serious cases, may require a more in-depth periodontal cleaning. Very serious cases require flap surgery, which cleans the tooth all the way to the tip of its root. Consult with your dentist to determine the best course of treatment for your periodontal disease.
For more information on periodontal disease, please contact Dr. Jeffery Johnson and Dr. Jodi Johnson in St. Louis, MO. Call (314) 427-7400 to schedule your appointment with your dentist today!
When you think orthodontics, you may instantly picture braces or clear aligners worn by teenagers or adults. But there’s more to orthodontics than correcting fully developed malocclusions (poor bites). It’s also possible to intervene and potentially reduce a malocclusion’s future severity and cost well beforehand.
Known as interceptive orthodontics, these treatments help guide jaw growth in children while mouth structures are still developing and more pliable. But timing is critical: waiting until late childhood or puberty could be too late.
For example, we can influence an upper jaw developing too narrowly (which can cause erupting teeth to crowd each other) with an expander appliance placed in the roof of the mouth. The expander exerts slight, outward pressure on the upper jaw bones. Because the bones haven’t yet fused as they will later, the pressure maintains a gap between them that fills with additional bone that eventually widens the jaw.
Functional appliances like the Herbst appliance influence muscle and bone development in the jaws to eventually reshape and reposition them. The Herbst appliance utilizes a set of metal hinges connected to the top and bottom jaws; when the patient opens and closes their jaws the hinges encourage the lower jaw to move (and eventually grow) forward. If successful, it could help a patient avoid more invasive treatments like tooth extraction or jaw surgery.
Some interceptive objectives are quite simple in comparison like preserving the space created by a prematurely lost primary tooth. If a child loses a primary tooth before the incoming permanent tooth is ready to erupt, the nearby teeth can drift into the empty space. Without enough room, the permanent tooth could erupt out of position. We can hold the space with a simple loop device known as a space maintainer: usually made of acrylic or metal, the device fits between adjacent teeth and prevents them from drifting into the space until the permanent tooth is ready to come in.
Interceptive orthodontics can have a positive impact on your child’s jaw development, now and in the future. For these techniques to be effective, though, they must begin early, so be sure your child has a complete orthodontic evaluation beginning around age 7. You may be able to head off future bite problems before they happen.
Want to know the exact wrong way to pry open a stubborn lid? Just ask Jimmy Fallon, host of NBC-TV’s popular “Tonight Show.” When the 40-year-old funnyman had trouble opening a tube of scar tissue repair gel with his hands, he decided to try using his teeth.
What happened next wasn’t funny: Attempting to remove the cap, Fallon chipped his front tooth, adding another medical problem to the serious finger injury he suffered a few weeks before (the same wound he was trying to take care of with the gel). If there’s a moral to this story, it might be this: Use the right tool for the job… and that tool isn’t your teeth!
Yet Fallon is hardly alone in his dilemma. According to the American Association of Endodontists, chipped teeth account for the majority of dental injuries. Fortunately, modern dentistry offers a number of great ways to restore damaged teeth.
If the chip is relatively small, it’s often possible to fix it with cosmetic bonding. In this procedure, tough, natural-looking resin is used to fill in the part of the tooth that has been lost. Built up layer by layer, the composite resin is cured with a special light until it’s hard, shiny… and difficult to tell from your natural teeth. Best of all, cosmetic bonding can often be done in one office visit, with little or no discomfort. It can last for up to ten years, so it’s great for kids who may be getting more permanent repairs later.
For larger chips or cracks, veneers or crowns may be suggested. Veneers are wafer-thin porcelain coverings that go over the entire front surface of one or more teeth. They can be used to repair minor to moderate defects, such as chips, discolorations, or spacing irregularities. They can also give you the “Hollywood white” smile you’ve seen on many celebrities.
Veneers are generally custom-made in a lab, and require more than one office visit. Because a small amount of tooth structure must be removed in order to put them in place, veneers are considered an irreversible treatment. But durable and long-lasting veneers are the restorations of choice for many people.
Crowns (also called caps) are used when even more of the tooth structure is missing. They can replace the entire visible part of the tooth, as long as the tooth’s roots remain viable. Crowns, like veneers, are custom-fabricated to match your teeth in size, shape and color; they are generally made in a dental lab and require more than one office visit. However, teeth restored with crowns function well, look natural, and can last for many years.
So what happened to Jimmy Fallon? We aren’t sure which restoration he received… but we do know that he was back on TV the same night, flashing a big smile.
If you would like more information about tooth restorations, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Porcelain Crowns & Veneers” and “Artistic Repair Of Front Teeth With Composite Resin.”
A new school year is right around the corner.Â Here's something to add to your back-to-school list: Schedule a dental visit for your child. There are several good reasons for this:
1. Hidden Problems
Nearly 1 of 5 school-age children has untreated tooth decay. If decay progresses, it can interfere with eating, speaking, sleeping and learning. A checkup at the dental office can uncover a small problem before it turns into a much bigger issue.
2. Oral Hygiene
A back-to-school appointment is the ideal opportunity to get a professional cleaning. In addition, we can check on whether your child's oral hygiene efforts are up to par — and give pointers where needed.
3. Mouth Protection
Will your children be playing sports? If so, ask us about a custom mouthguard to help protect their teeth. If your child already has a mouthguard, we can check that the condition and fit are still adequate, given that your child is still growing.
4. Preventive Treatment
Speaking of protecting your child's teeth, an end-of-summer appointment is a good time to ask about preventive measures like tooth-strengthening fluoride treatments or protective dental sealants.
Make sure your child starts the new school year with strong, healthy teeth that will sparkle in school pictures. Please contact us to schedule a back-to-school dental appointment today!
This website includes materials that are protected by copyright, or other proprietary rights. Transmission or reproduction of protected items beyond that allowed by fair use, as defined in the copyright laws, requires the written permission of the copyright owners.