Along with thumb sucking, childhood teeth grinding is one of the top concerns anxious parents bring to their dentists. It’s so prevalent, though, many providers consider it normal behavior—the sleep-disturbing sound it can generate is often the worst consequence for the habit.
But that doesn’t mean you should brush aside all concern, especially if the habit continues into late childhood. Long-term teeth grinding could eventually damage the teeth and gums.
Teeth grinding (or clenching) is the involuntary movement of the jaws when not engaged in normal functions like chewing, speaking or swallowing. The action often produces higher than normal chewing forces, which over time can accelerate tooth wear, cause fractures, or contribute to loose teeth, all of which could increase the risk of dental disease. While it can occur at any time it’s most common among children during nighttime sleep.
While stress is the usual trigger for teeth grinding in adults, with young children the causes for the habit are more complex and less understood. Most doctors hold to the theory that most pediatric teeth grinding arises during shifts from lighter to heavier, rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. The child’s immature neuromuscular chewing control may engage involuntarily during this shift. Teeth grinding is also prevalent among children who snore or mouth-breathe, or who take anti-depressant medication.
But as mentioned before, there’s usually no cause for concern unless the habit persists beyond about age 11. If the habit isn’t fading, you should speak to your dentist about ways to reduce it or its effects. One way is with a custom-made night guard worn during sleep. The smooth, plastic surface of the appliance prevents teeth from making solid contact with each other during a grinding episode.
You might also seek treatment from an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist if your child is having issues with airway obstruction, which could also relieve teeth grinding. And children experiencing stressful situations or events may find relief both emotionally and physically from psychological therapy.
At younger ages, you can safely regard your child’s grinding habit as normal. But if it persists, it’s worth looking for ways to reduce it.
If you would like more information on your child’s teeth grinding 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 “When Children Grind Their Teeth: Is the Habit of ‘Bruxism’ Harmful?”
If you or a family member has problems with teeth alignment or your bite, you may be considering braces. This tried and true method can straighten out most smiles — but there's more to braces than you may realize.
For one thing, orthodontic treatment wouldn't work if it weren't for the natural mechanism for tooth movement that already exists in the mouth. It may seem your teeth are rigidly set in the jawbone but that's not how they maintain their attachment: that's the job of an elastic connective tissue known as the periodontal ligament that lies between the tooth and the bone. The ligament has tiny fibers that attach to the tooth on one side and to the bone on the other to actually hold the teeth in place, much like a hammock secured between two posts.
The ligament attachment also allows the teeth to move incrementally in response to environmental factors or the aging process. We harness this natural movement ability with braces to move teeth to a more desirable position. We first attach small brackets to the front crowns of the teeth (the visible portion) and then string arch wires through them. We then attach the wires to anchor points where we can adjust the amount of tension they're exerting through the brackets against the teeth. By gradually increasing that tension, the teeth respond as they would when any force is applied against them and begin to move.
By precisely controlling that movement we can transform a patient's smile. But we believe the advantages are more than cosmetic: the teeth will function better and will be easier to care for and keep clean. These benefits, though, have to be balanced with heightened risks for root resorption (something that occurs only about 10% of the time) in which the ends of the roots can shrink, or loss of mineral content in teeth enamel where the hardware makes it more difficult to remove bacterial plaque. These risks can be reduced by closely monitoring dental health during the entire treatment process and through stepped up efforts in daily oral hygiene.
The starting point for deciding on an orthodontic treatment is a thorough dental examination with x-rays or CT scan imaging. Once we have a complete picture of your misalignment problems and any other extenuating circumstances, we can recommend a treatment plan just for you.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment, 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 “Moving Teeth with Orthodontics.”
Some moviegoers have been known to crunch popcorn, bite their fingers or grab their neighbor’s hands during the intense scenes of a thriller. But for one fan, the on-screen action in the new superhero film Black Panther led to a different reaction.
Sophia Robb, an 18-year-old Californian, had to make an emergency visit to the orthodontic office because she snapped the steel wire on her retainer while watching a battle scene featuring her Hollywood crush, Michael B. Jordan. Her jaw-clenching mishap went viral and even prompted an unexpected reply from the actor himself!
Meanwhile, Sophia got her retainer fixed pronto—which was exactly the right thing to do. The retention phase is a very important part of orthodontic treatment: If you don’t wear a retainer, the beautiful new smile you’re enjoying could become crooked again. That’s because if the teeth are not held in their new positions, they will naturally begin to drift back into their former locations—and you may have to start treatment all over again…
While it’s much more common to lose a removable retainer than to damage one, it is possible for even sturdy retainers to wear out or break. This includes traditional plastic-and-wire types (also called Hawley retainers), clear plastic retainers that are molded to fit your teeth (sometimes called Essix retainers), and bonded retainers: the kind that consists of a wire that’s permanently attached to the back side of your teeth. So whichever kind you use, do what Sophia did if you feel that anything is amiss—have it looked at right away!
When Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan heard about the retainer mishap, he sent a message to the teen: “Since I feel partly responsible for breaking your retainers let me know if I can replace them.” His young fan was grateful for the offer—but even more thrilled to have a celebrity twitter follower.
If you have questions about orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers” and “Bonded Retainers.”
If you want to keep that new smile after orthodontic treatment, you’ll need to wear a retainer for awhile. Teeth have a tendency to “rebound” to their old positions and a retainer prevents that from happening.
Most people are familiar with the standard removable retainer. But there’s another option: a bonded retainer. While performing the same function as a removable one, the bonded retainer differs in one important aspect—it’s fixed in place and can’t be removed except by a dentist. It’s especially useful for certain bite repairs like the closure of the gap between the front teeth.
If you’re thinking this retainer sounds a lot like the braces just removed, it’s not. The main part of a bonded retainer is a thin metal wire that we bond with a dental composite material across the back of the affected teeth. While you can definitely feel it with your tongue it can’t be seen by others, which is an advantage over many removable retainers.
The fixed nature of bonded retainers also creates a couple of advantages, especially for younger patients. There’s no compliance issue as with removable retainers—the patient doesn’t have the option of taking it out. That also means it can’t be lost, a frequent and costly occurrence with the removable variety.
But a bonded retainer does have some drawbacks. For one, the wire and composite material make it more difficult to floss. There’s also a possibility of breakage from high biting forces, which if that should occur must be immediately repaired to avoid the teeth rebounding. But while removable retainers have their downsides, it’s much easier with them to keep the teeth clean of plaque—you simply take the appliance out to brush and floss.
With your dentist’s help you can weigh the pros and cons of both types of retainers and decide which is best for you or your child. Whichever one you choose, wearing a retainer will help protect that hard-earned smile for years to come.
If you would like more information on protecting your bite after orthodontic treatment, 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 “Bonded Retainers: What are the Pros and Cons?”
Shingles is a painful viral infection that could potentially recur in sufferers for years. It causes painful skin rashes, general nerve pain, fever and fatigue. In extreme cases, it can cause blindness if the eyes become infected. And because it’s highly contagious, it could affect your dental treatment.
Formally known as herpes zoster, shingles is a recurrent form of chicken pox. If you contracted chicken pox in childhood, the shingles virus could lay dormant for several years. In fact, most people who contract shingles are over 50.
Because it acutely affects the nerves around the skin, the disease’s most common symptom is a belted or striped rash pattern that often appears on one side of the body and frequently on the head, neck or face. While the severity of symptoms may vary among patients, shingles can be a significant health threat to certain people, especially pregnant women, cancer patients or individuals with compromised immune systems.
In its early stages, the shingles virus can easily pass from person to person, either by direct contact with the rash or by airborne secretions that others can inhale. Because it’s highly contagious, even a routine teeth cleaning could potentially spread the virus to dental staff or other patients. Because of the significant health threat it potentially poses to some people, your dental provider may decline to treat you if you’re showing symptoms of the disease.
To stay ahead of this, let your dentist know you’re experiencing a shingles episode if you have an upcoming dental appointment, in which case you may need to reschedule. In the meantime, you should seek medical attention from your physician who may prescribe antiviral medication. Starting it within 3 days of a shingles outbreak can significantly reduce your pain and discomfort as well as its contagiousness.
And if you’re over sixty or at risk for shingles, consider getting the shingles vaccine. This readily available vaccine has proven effective in preventing the disease and could help you avoid the pain and disruption this viral infection can bring to your life.
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