For many parents, the image of an infant intently absorbed in sucking a pacifier — or her own thumb — is one of the cherished memories of babyhood. But if this habit goes on for too long, it can cause problems with the child's bite. Want to know what the potential predicaments are, when you should be concerned about the behavior, and what you can do? Read on!
Thumb sucking is a natural, comforting behavior of humans (and some other primates) related to nursing. It usually goes away on its own by the time the permanent teeth are coming in. But it can be a hard habit to break — and if it becomes a persistent behavior, the consequences may include a problem called an “open bite.”
In a normal bite, the top teeth slightly overlap the bottom teeth. When the thumb (or any other object) constantly rests between the upper and lower teeth, however, the pressure it exerts may prevent the teeth from fully erupting (coming out from the gums into the mouth) and alter the shape and development of the upper and lower jawbone. This result is a gap between the upper and lower teeth.
The same problem may also be caused by prolonging the “infantile swallowing pattern,” a forward-thrusting position of the tongue which, like thumb sucking, normally begins to cease around age four. That's when it is replaced by the adult swallowing pattern, where the tongue is held behind the teeth, against the roof on the mouth. Researchers believe that most open bites result from the failure to change from the infantile to the adult swallowing pattern.
When should you be concerned about the thumb sucking habit? If the behavior continues much past toddlerhood, or if the sucking is particularly active, you may wish to have us evaluate your child's bite. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends having the habit stop by age 3. Persistent thumb sucking can actually push the teeth forward and change the growth patterns of the jaw, creating more difficult problems.
There are several methods for controlling the behavior and correcting problems with the bite. One is an appliance called a “tongue crib.” This thin metal device is placed behind the upper and lower incisors. It discourages thumb sucking, while at the same time helping to keep the tongue from inserting itself between the upper and lower teeth. Eliminating these unhelpful habits is essential to allow the teeth to erupt into proper position and to allow for the normal development of the jawbones.
Recent research has also shown that individualized exercise routines called orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT) can be highly effective in preventing open bite relapses. These exercises are designed to retrain muscles in the face, tongue and lips, and can help to create good chewing and swallowing patterns.
If you would like more information about thumb sucking or children's bite problems, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about these issues by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects The Bite.”
If your infant is extra cranky and seems to want to chew everything in sight, it's a good bet that the first tooth is on the way! For parents, this is cause for both celebration and concern. After all, no parent wants to see a child suffer even a little bit. Decades ago, when a teething infant showed signs of discomfort, a parent might have rubbed some whisky or other strong liquor on the child's gums — a misguided and dangerous practice. There are far safer, more effective ways to help your child through this exciting yet sometimes uncomfortable phase of development. Here are our top five teething remedies:
Chilled rubber teething rings or pacifiers. Cold can be very soothing, but be careful not to freeze teething rings or pacifiers; ice can actually burn the sensitive tissues of the mouth if left in place too long.
Cold, wet washcloths. These are great for gnawing on. Make sure the washcloth is clean and that you leave part of it dry to make it more comfortable to hold.
Cold foods. When your child is old enough, cold foods such as popsicles may soothe sore gums. However, make sure you confine them to mealtimes because sugars can cause tooth decay — even in very young children.
Gum massage. Massaging inflamed gums with your clean finger can help counteract the pressure from an erupting tooth.
Over-the-counter medicine. If teething pain persists, you can give your baby acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but check with a pharmacist or this office for the correct dosage. The medicine should be swallowed and not massaged into the sore areas, as this, too, can burn.
So when does it all begin? Some babies start teething as early as three months or as late as twelve months, but the typical time frame is between six and nine months. Usually the two lower front teeth erupt first, followed by the two upper front teeth. The first molars come in next, followed by the canines (eyeteeth). Most children have all 20 of their baby teeth by age 3.
If you have any questions about teething or the development of your child's teeth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Teething Troubles.”
As a successful author, interior design guru (with 127 makeovers in eight years on The Oprah Winfrey Show), and host of his own television program, The Nate Berkus Show, Nate Berkus understands the important role a beautiful smile plays in one's life and career. In a recent interview with Dear Doctor magazine, Nate discussed his oral health history. Berkus credits his all natural smile — no cosmetic dentistry here — to the treatments he received as a child from his dentist. “I'm grateful for having been given fluoride treatments and sealants as a child.” He then added that, “healthy habits should start at a young age.”
Dental sealants are important because they help protect developing young teeth until the enamel has matured. Without dental sealants, the newly erupted immature enamel of teeth is more permeable, meaning that the acids produced by bacteria in the mouth can damage these teeth more easily. This makes the teeth less resistant and thus more susceptible to tooth decay.
Regardless of how much your children brush their teeth, the reality is that toothbrush bristles cannot reach down to clean out the crevices found in the deep grooves (“pits and fissures”) of teeth. And if not removed, the bacteria found in these grooves produce decay-causing acids as a byproduct of metabolizing sugar. However, when sealants are used in combination with fluoride, good hygiene and nutrition (including lower sugar consumption), the odds of having tooth decay is dramatically reduced.
We refer to dental sealants as “pit and fissure” sealants because they protect the grooves found in the top of back teeth and the back of front teeth. Sealants also may reduce the need for subsequent treatments as your child grows older — just as it did for Nate Berkus. For these reasons, sealants are definitely something that all parents and caregivers should consider for their young children.
To learn more about dental sealants, contact us today to schedule an appointment so that we can conduct a thorough examination, discuss any questions you have as well as what treatment options will be best for you or your child. Or to learn more about sealants now, you can continue reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sealants for Children.” And to read the entire interview with Nate Berkus, please see the Dear Doctor magazine article “Nate Berkus.”
Many youngsters look forward to finding a surprise under their pillow after a visit from the “tooth fairy.” This fable may comfort children who wonder why their first teeth come out. Parents need to know that losing baby teeth, also called primary or deciduous teeth, is completely normal, but at the right time and the right “space.”
A child's first set of teeth must be lost to create room for the adult or permanent teeth that have been forming beneath them. The buds of the permanent teeth grow within a child's jawbone just under the baby teeth. The tops, or crowns, grow first, followed by the roots. Then as the roots develop, the permanent teeth push the baby teeth above them up through the gum tissues. As this happens, the roots of the baby teeth are resorbed, or melted away.
With their roots gone, eventually the baby teeth become so loose that they can be easily removed or fall out on their own, making room for the adult teeth to appear. Sometimes, when a baby tooth is so loose, it can be wiggled out. It leaves a little bleeding gum tissue that heals easily. This is also normal.
Besides making sure the tooth fairy comes, parents need to be sure that their children are evaluated to determine whether baby teeth are being lost in the right sequence so they will act as guides for the adult teeth. If teeth are lost prematurely because of decay or trauma, it is important that space is maintained for the adult teeth when they come in.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment or to discuss whether your child's baby teeth are being lost in the right sequence and the adult teeth are coming in correctly. To read more about losing baby teeth, see the article “Losing a Baby Tooth: Understanding an important process in your child's development.”
In times of stress, people have many ways to comfort themselves. For adults, it can be habits such as eating, drinking, or smoking. For children, it is often sucking their thumb, fingers, or a pacifier. Babies have been observed in scans to suck on their fingers and thumbs even before they are born. It makes them feel secure.
When is thumb sucking a problem?
Sucking on fingers or thumbs can be a problem when it is done too vigorously and too long. A young child's jaws are soft and can change their shape to make room for the thumb if the child sucks too hard and too often. If thumb, finger or pacifier habits continue too long, the upper front teeth may tip toward the lip or not come into the correct position in the mouth.
How do you know if your child falls into the group that will suffer from the results of too much thumb sucking? It's best to visit our office so we can check on how the child's teeth and jaws are developing.
What can be done about thumb and finger sucking?
Most children naturally stop sucking their thumbs, fingers, or pacifiers between the age of two and four. The pacifier habit is easier to break than the thumb or finger sucking habit, probably because it is always easier to find their fingers or thumbs. It is a good idea to try to transfer your child's habit to a pacifier at an early age. The next steps are to cut down pacifier usage and gradually stop by 18 months.
If your child is still engaging in these habits at age three, we can recommend strategies for cutting back and stopping. Remember that positive reinforcement, in which a child is rewarded for the desired behavior, always works better than punishment for the behavior you don't like.
Also remember that finger and thumb sucking is normal. Help your child to feel safe, secure, and comfortable as the behavior will probably disappear by itself. If you are worried about your child's sucking a pacifier, thumb or fingers, please visit us to put your mind at rest.