Posts for: December, 2014
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.”
Our “baby” teeth begin appearing around six months of age — by age 10 or 13, they’ve largely been replaced by our permanent teeth. Though their lifespan is relatively short, baby teeth play an important role in our dental development. In fact, saving a damaged baby tooth is an extremely important treatment goal even though they will be eventually lost.
Baby teeth perform a number of functions as our mouth and facial structure develops during our formative years (infancy to early adulthood). Besides providing a means to chew food, baby teeth aid speech by providing contact points for the tongue while speaking. They help us relate to others socially through smiling and other facial gestures. And, in relation to our long-term development, they serve as both guides and “placeholders” for our permanent teeth until they’re ready to erupt.
Thus, a permanent tooth’s development could be stymied if its counterpart baby tooth is lost prematurely. It could come in misaligned or not erupt fully if adjacent teeth have drifted into the open space. The resulting malocclusion (bad bite) could require long-term orthodontic treatment with higher costs than treatments to save the baby tooth and avoid the misalignment.
There are various treatments to prevent and save at-risk baby teeth. Even a badly decayed tooth might be saved with a pulpotomy, a similar treatment to a root canal but less invasive. This is often followed with a stainless steel crown to cover the remaining tooth and restore some of its form and function.
If it’s not feasible to save a baby tooth, we may recommend installing a space maintainer that prevents other teeth from drifting into the resulting space until the permanent tooth is ready to erupt. This orthodontic appliance usually consists of a metal band cemented to an adjacent tooth with an attached stiff wire loop that extends across the gap and rests against the tooth on the other side. Although effective, space maintainers can break or become dislodged, require extra monitoring and are often cosmetically unappealing.
In any event, the primary goal should be to save a baby tooth, if possible. Doing so will prevent more serious long-term problems for permanent teeth.
FAQs About This New and Miraculous Procedure
How can sinus surgery contribute to the replacement of missing back teeth with dental implants?
Dental implants must be anchored the in bone to be successful. Maxillary sinus surgery can help regenerate bone that has been lost and is critically needed to anchor dental implants.
What are the maxillary air sinuses?
Inside the upper jaw, or “maxilla,” are structures known as the maxillary air sinuses, one on either side of the upper jaw. Each sinus is an air-filled space lined by a membrane. Upper back teeth are normally encased in the bone of the maxilla, below the sinuses.
Why is it important to replace missing back teeth?
Replacing back teeth restores the ability to eat, chew, and talk properly. The back teeth also provide facial and cheek support.
Why use dental implants?
Dental implants are the state-of-the-art method for replacing missing teeth.
Why does bone loss occur?
Unless special precautions are taken to prevent it, when teeth are lost, the bone supporting them is also lost.
If there is insufficient bone to anchor dental implants, what are the alternatives?
If all the back teeth are lost and dental implants cannot be placed, removable upper dentures may be the only alternative.
How do you determine whether a sinus surgical procedure is necessary?
The size, shape, and remaining bone of the maxillary sinuses influence whether you can have dental implants with or without a sinus surgical procedure.
How does surgery grow bone?
A small window is created in the sinus wall above where implants need to be placed. The sinus membrane is lifted and the space thus created filled with bone grafting and biologically active bone generating materials. The window is then closed and simply heals.
How is the surgery done?
The surgical procedures are performed from inside the mouth in the area just above the missing back teeth. They are generally carried out under local anesthesia (small shots, just like for a filling), sometimes with the addition of sedation or anti-anxiety medication.
How do bone grafts work?
Bone grafts act as scaffolds that the body replaces with its own bone. The most well researched bone substitute grafting material is currently bovine (cow) bone. All grafting materials are approved by the Food and Drug Administration. They are specially treated to render them completely sterile, non-contagious, and free of rejection factors.
What can I expect after surgery?
Moderate swelling and discomfort after surgery generally lasts for a few days to a week, about the same as having an upper impacted wisdom tooth removed. Supportive treatment usually includes a course of antibiotics to prevent infection and prescription strength medication of the aspirin or ibuprofen type. A decongestant may also be prescribed, if necessary. Healing is generally uneventful.
Who performs this surgery?
Maxillary sinus augmentations are usually carried out by oral surgeons, periodontists, or appropriately trained general dentists. Proper assessment of your situation and diagnosis are critical pre-requisites to the right procedure.
If you are missing upper back teeth, contact us today to schedule an appointment and discuss maxillary sinus augmentation. You can also learn more about this procedure by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sinus Surgery: Creating Bone for Dental Implants out of Thin Air.”