Helping your infant or toddler develop good dental habits is one of the best head starts you can give them toward optimum oral health. But even after they’ve matured enough to handle hygiene tasks without you, they still need your guidance.
This is especially true in the “tween” and teen years. Although they’re beginning to flex their independence muscles, they’re still vulnerable at this age to peer pressure urging them to try things that, among other outcomes, could hurt their oral health.
Here are 3 areas where your input and guidance could save your older children and teens from oral health problems.
Sports activities. As children mature, they may also become involved with various physical activities, including contact sports. Years of diligent hygiene and dental care can be undone with one traumatic blow to the mouth. You can help avoid this by urging your child to wear a mouth guard during sports activity. While there are some good choices on the retail market, the most effective mouth guards are custom-created by a dentist to precisely fit your child’s mouth.
Oral piercings. While expressions of solidarity among young people are popular and often harmless, some like oral piercings and their hardware could potentially damage teeth and gums. You should especially discourage your child from obtaining tongue bolts or other types of lip or mouth hardware, which can cause tooth wear or fracture. Instead, encourage them to take up safer forms of self-expression.
Bad habits and addictions. A young person “spreading their wings” may be tempted to dabble in habit-forming or addictive activities. In addition to their effect on the rest of the body, tobacco, alcohol and drugs can have severe long-term consequences for oral health. Unsafe sexual practices could lead to the contraction of the human papilloma virus, which has been linked to oral cancer in young adults. Be sure your teen understands the dangers of these habits to both their oral and general health—and don’t hesitate to seek professional help when a habit becomes an addiction.
If you would like more information on helping your child develop great oral habits, 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 to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
Many otherwise attractive smiles have one noticeable blemish — a large gap between the two upper front teeth. If you have such a gap, there’s a solution that could transform your smile.
The most likely reason for the gap is an issue with a bit of muscle tissue between the gums and upper lip known as the frenum, part of the face’s muscular system. The frenum, though, can overdevelop and grow between the two front teeth into the front part of the palate (roof of the mouth). This can keep or push the teeth apart to form a gap.
To correct the issue, it’s first necessary to consult with an orthodontist, a specialist in bites and tooth alignment. It’s possible for there to be other factors contributing to the spacing including tongue thrusting or finger sucking habits, or missing or misaligned teeth. If the examination reveals an overly large frenum, then the treatment usually commences in two stages.
First, we would need to close the gap by the moving the teeth toward each other with some form of orthodontic appliance like braces or clear aligners. Once closed, the next stage would be to surgically remove the excess frenum tissue and cosmetically alter the gums if necessary.
The order of treatment is important — if you remove the frenum tissue first, any resulting scar tissue could prevent closing the gap with orthodontics. Further, cosmetic surgery on the gums beforehand could result in the loss of the papillae, the small triangular gum tissue between teeth, which results in an unattractive “black” hole.
A frenectomy, the procedure to remove the excess frenum, is a relatively minor procedure that can be performed by a periodontist (gum specialist), oral surgeon, or a general dentist with surgical training. The area is numbed with a local anesthetic, the tissue dissected with a small scalpel, and the resulting small wound closed with a few stitches (another option is to use a surgical laser to remove the frenum). Healing should be complete in about a week with only minor discomfort.
Depending on your individual circumstance, full treatment can take time. But in the end these otherwise routine dental procedures can have a huge impact — a more attractive smile without the noticeable gap.
If you would like more information on treating abnormal teeth spacing, 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 “Space between Front Teeth.”
Gum disease is a bigger problem than you might think. More than half of all adults over age 30 have it, and that figure jumps to 70% of adults over 65. If left untreated, gum (periodontal) disease can eventually loosen teeth and cause them to fall out. It can also cause health issues outside of the mouth, including an increased risk of heart disease and other systemic health conditions.
But the good news is that gum disease can be treated—and even better, prevented! Since September is National Gum Care Month, it’s a good time to answer some frequently asked questions about gum disease:
What causes gum disease?
Gum disease is caused by certain types of harmful oral bacteria that live in a sticky film called dental plaque that collects on teeth both above and below the gum line. If this film is not cleaned effectively each day, it can eventually harden into a substance called tartar that can only be removed by a dental professional. As your body tries to fight the bacteria and the toxins they produce, your gums can become inflamed and may start to pull away from the teeth. Eventually, bone beneath the gums can start to break down and with continued bone loss, the teeth could be lost.
How do I know if I have it?
Gum disease doesn’t always produce symptoms—especially in smokers. Smoking hides the symptoms of gum disease because nicotine reduces blood flow to the area. However, there are things you should look out for. Gingivitis, a mild form of gum disease, can produce red and/or puffy gums that bleed when you brush or floss. Signs of periodontitis, a more serious form of the disease, include gum recession, bad mouth odors or tastes, and tooth looseness. But the only way to truly know if you have gum disease is to come in for an exam.
What can I do about it?
If you have gingivitis, a professional teeth cleaning and a renewed commitment to oral hygiene at home—including daily flossing and rinsing with antibacterial mouthwash—may be all you need to turn the situation around. Periodontitis may require a variety of treatments, ranging from special cleaning procedures of the tooth root surfaces to gum surgery. The first step toward controlling gum disease is visiting the dental office for an exam.
How can I prevent it?
Regular professional teeth cleanings and meticulous oral hygiene at home are your best defenses against gum disease. Avoid sugary drinks and snacks—which feed the disease-causing bacteria in your mouth—and tobacco in all forms. If you have diabetes, do your best to manage it well because uncontrolled diabetes can worsen periodontal disease.
Regular dental visits are just as important for healthy teeth and gums as daily brushing and flossing. Not only will these visits reduce the amount of hidden or hard to reach bacterial plaque (the main source of dental disease), but they'll also boost the chances problems with teeth and gums are caught early and treated.
A lifetime habit of dental visits should begin around your child's first birthday, but children can be stressed or even frightened by trips to the dentist. This could stick with them, causing them to avoid regular dental visits when they become adults. The absence of professional dental care could prove hazardous to their dental health.
Here then are some things you can do to “de-stress” your child's dental visits.
Begin and sustain regular visits early. By not waiting a few years after age one, your child has a better chance of viewing it and subsequent visits as a normal part of life.
Choose a “kid-friendly” dentist. A pediatric dentist is trained not only for dental issues specific to children, but also in creating a comfortable environment for them. Some general dentists are also skilled with children, taking the time to talk and play with them first to ease any anxiety.
Stay calm yourself. Perhaps you've discovered, often in an embarrassing fashion, that your children are watching you and taking cues on how to act and react. Be sure then to project a sense of ease and a “nothing to this” attitude, rather than nervousness or anxiety. Your child will follow your lead.
Set the example. Speaking of following your lead, your children will intuitively pick up whether you're serious about your own dental health, which could influence them. So be sure you practice what you preach: daily oral hygiene, a dental-friendly diet and, of course, your own regular visits to the dentist. Your actions about your own dental care really will speak louder than words.
If you would like more information on effective dental care for your child, 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 “Taking the Stress out of Dentistry for Kids.”
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