One of the most frequent concerns parents express to us is their child’s thumb or finger sucking habit. The good news, though, is that thumb sucking is a completely normal activity for babies and young children, and if they stop by age 4 it should have no adverse effects on their future bite.
In fact, there are positive aspects to thumb sucking: it provides babies with a sense of security, as well as a way to learn about the world. As a child grows and becomes more confident with their surroundings, the thumb sucking habit will fade and eventually stop: for most children this occurs between the ages of two and four.
If, however, the habit continues later in childhood, there is a chance the upper front teeth may be influenced to tip toward the lip during eruption and come into an improper position that could also adversely affect jaw development. The same concern exists for pacifier use — we recommend weaning a child off a pacifier by the time they’re eighteen months of age.
If your child still has a thumb or finger sucking habit as they prepare to enter school, it’s quite appropriate to work on getting them to stop. Punishment, shaming or similar negative approaches, however, aren’t the best ways to accomplish this: it’s much more effective to try to modify their behavior through reward, praise or some creative activity.
Another factor that may help is to begin regular dental visits around their first birthday. Regular checkups give us a chance to monitor the development of their bite, especially if thumb sucking continues longer than normal. We can also assist you with strategies to encourage them to stop thumb sucking or pacifier use.
Thumb sucking that continues later than normal isn’t a cause for panic, but it does require attention and action. Helping your child “grow” past this stage in their life will improve their chances of developing a normal and healthy bite.
If you would like more information on thumb sucking, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Thumb Sucking in Children.”
If you have a few missing teeth but can't afford dental implants or fixed bridgework, consider a removal partial denture (RPD). Although implants may be the superior choice aesthetically and functionally, an RPD can still effectively give you back your teeth.
RPDs are designed to replace one or more missing teeth but not a full arch like a full denture. Considered a permanent restoration, RPDs are also more durable than transitional "flippers," denture appliances that are flexible and light enough to be flipped out of the mouth with a flick of the tongue.
The key to both their affordability and durability is vitallium, a strong but lightweight metal alloy most often used in their frame construction. To it we attach artificial teeth usually made of porcelain or glass-filled resins that occupy the precise location of the missing teeth on the gum ridge. The artificial teeth and frame are surrounded by gum-colored plastic for a more natural look.
Each RPD is custom-made depending on the number and location of the missing teeth. Its construction will focus on minimizing any rocking movement of the RPD during chewing or biting. Too much of this movement could damage the adjacent teeth it's attaching to and cause the appliance to be uncomfortable to wear. We can stabilize the frame by precisely fitting it between teeth to buttress it. We also insert small rests or clasps made of vitallium at strategic points to grip teeth and minimize movement.
RPDs do have some downsides: their unique attachment with teeth encourages the accumulation of dental plaque, the thin bacterial film that's the leading cause of tooth decay and periodontal (gum) disease. These diseases can affect your remaining teeth's health and stability, which could in turn disrupt the fit of the RPD. Also, too much movement of the appliance can make the teeth to which it's attached become more mobile. It's important, then, if you wear a RPD to remove it daily for cleaning (and to thoroughly brush and floss your natural teeth), and to remove it at night to give the attaching teeth a rest.
A RPD can give you back the teeth you've lost for many years to come—if you take care of it. Maintaining both your RPD and the rest of your teeth and gums will help extend the life and use of this effective and affordable replacement restoration.
If you would like more information on teeth replacement options, 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 “Removable Partial Dentures: Still a Viable Tooth-Replacement Alternative.”
More than 20 million people in the United States use electronic cigarettes or e-cigs as an alternative to tobacco smoking. While many users believe "vaping" is a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes, recent research into the health effects of e-cigs could put a damper on that belief. There's particular concern among dentists that this popular habit could harm users' dental health.
E-cigs are made with a chamber that holds the liquid vaping solution and a heating mechanism to heat the liquid and vaporize it. Users inhale the vapor, which contains nicotine and flavorings, as they would a traditional cigarette.
The nicotine alone can be problematic for dental health as we'll see in a moment. But the vapor also contains aerosols that some research indicates could damage the inner skin linings of the mouth in a similar fashion to the smoke of traditional cigarettes. One study by researchers with the Université Laval in Quebec, Canada found evidence that e-cig vapor increased the death rate of mouth cells, and led to greater cell irregularities over time.
According to other studies, there's evidence that e-cig vapor may disrupt the balance of the oral microbiome, the communities of both beneficial and harmful bacteria that normally live in the mouth. The imbalance in favor of more harmful bacteria could increase the risk for dental disease, particularly periodontal (gum) disease.
Finally, nicotine from e-cigs seemed to create similar conditions in the mouth as it does with tobacco. Nicotine in any form can constrict blood vessels and reduce the body's ability to fight infection and to heal. Research indicates both forms of nicotine increase the risk for dental disease and make treatment more difficult.
These findings only identify conditions created by e-cigs that could be problematic for future dental health. Although we don't fully understand the long-term health effects of this new habit, based on the evidence so far the mouth may not fare so well. It's looking like e-cigs may be no safer for your teeth and gums than the cigarettes they replace.
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
Drugs play an indispensable role in treating disease. For example, life without antibiotics would be much more precarious—common infections we think nothing of now would suddenly become life-threatening.
But even the most beneficial drug can have disruptive side effects. Antibiotics in particular can cause a rare but still disturbing one: a growth on the tongue that at first glance looks like dark hair. In fact, it's often called "black hairy tongue."
It isn't hair—it's an overgrowth of naturally occurring structures on the tongue called filiform papillae. These tiny bumps on the tongue's upper surface help grip food while you're chewing. They're normally about a millimeter in length and tend to be scraped down in the normal course of eating. As they're constantly growing, they replenish quickly.
We're not sure how it occurs, but it seems with a small portion of the population the normal growth patterns of the papillae become unbalanced after taking antibiotics, particularly those in the tetracycline family. Smoking and poor oral hygiene also seem to contribute to this growth imbalance. As a result, the papillae can grow as long as 18 millimeters with thin shafts resembling hair. It's also common for food debris and bacteria to adhere to this mass and discolor it in shades of yellow, green, brown or black.
While it's appearance can be bizarre or even frightening, it's not health-threatening. It's mostly remedied by removing the original cause, such as changing to a different antibiotic or quitting smoking, and gently cleaning the tongue everyday by brushing it or using a tongue scraper you can obtain from a pharmacy.
One word of caution: don't stop any medication you suspect of a side effect without first discussing it with your prescribing doctor. While effects like black hairy tongue are unpleasant, they're not harmful—and you don't want to interfere with treatments for problems that truly are.
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