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?”
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.”
Periodontal disease may start in the gums’ superficial layers, but it’s not likely to stay there. As the disease moves deeper it can wreak havoc on tooth roots and bone as well as gum tissue attachments. Teeth with multiple roots are in particular peril because of the “forks” called furcations that form where the roots separate from each other. Infected furcations can be very difficult to treat.
We primarily treat gum disease by removing its main source, a thin film of bacteria and food particles called dental plaque that builds up on teeth. To remove it we most often use special hand tools or ultrasonic equipment to vibrate it loose. As the plaque and tartar diminish, the infection begins to wane.
But we can’t be completely successful in stopping the disease if any lingering plaque deposits remain. This especially includes furcations where the infection can cause significant damage to the roots. Although cleaning furcations of plaque can be difficult, it’s not impossible with the aforementioned tools and antimicrobial substances to disinfect the area.
The real problem, though, is access—effectively getting to the furcations to treat them. We may need to perform a surgical procedure called flap surgery where we create a hinged flap in the gum tissue to move it aside and access the root area beneath. Afterward we replace the flap and suture the tissue back in place.
In some cases, the infection may have already caused significant damage to the tissue and underlying bone. We may therefore need to graft gum or bone tissues to these damaged areas to stimulate re-growth. We may also need to surgically reshape the gum attachments around a tooth to make it easier in the future to access and clean the area.
These additional treatments around furcations can be very involved and labor-intensive. That’s why the best outcomes occur if we’re able to start treatment in the early stages of an infection. So, if you notice red, swollen or bleeding gums contact your dentist as soon as possible. Treating gum disease as early as possible will help ensure your tooth roots won’t suffer extensive damage.
If you would like more information on treating gum disease, 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 “What are Furcations? Branching Tooth Roots can be Periodontal Nightmares.”
Like a second New Year’s Day, the month of September offers its own chance to make a brand new start: It’s back-to-school season! This can be an exhilarating time—a chance to meet new friends, face new challenges and set new goals. It’s also a great time to get started on the things that can keep your children healthy all year long…like a routine visit to the dental office.
Preventive dental visits are one of the most important ways to help keep a smile in top condition—not just for kids, but for people of any age. They are also one of the best values in health care, because so much can be accomplished in such a short time. What exactly happens at a routine visit? Here’s a brief run-down:
- A professional teeth cleaning clears sticky plaque and hardened tartar from places where your brush can’t reach. These deposits can harbor the bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease, and removing them helps prevent more serious problems from getting started.
- A complete dental exam involves a check for cavities, but it’s also much more: It includes screening for gum disease, oral cancer, and other potential maladies. X-rays or other diagnostic tests may be performed at this time; any changes can be observed, and the need for preventive or restorative treatments can be evaluated.
- The growth and development of children’s teeth is carefully monitored, from the first baby teeth to the third molars. If orthodontic work or wisdom teeth removal could benefit your child, this is a great time to discuss it. Adults may also benefit from ongoing evaluation for gum recession and other potential issues.
- Keeping your teeth and gums healthy also depends on how you take care of them at home. A routine office visit is a great opportunity to “brush up” on proper techniques for tooth brushing and flossing, and to ask any questions you may have about oral hygiene.
So if you have youngsters starting a new school year—or if you’re looking to make a fresh start toward good oral health yourself—make it a point to stop in to the dental office for a routine visit this season!
If you would like more information about maintaining good oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Top 10 Oral Health Tips For Children” and “Dental Hygiene Visit: A True Value in Dental Healthcare.”
We breathe every moment of every day and we’re hardly aware of it most of the time. But if you take the time to focus, you’ll find two possible pathways for your breath: through the nose or through the mouth.
While either pathway provides the air exchange needed to live, nose breathing offers better health benefits. Air passes through the nasal passages, which filter out many harmful particles and allergens. The mucous membranes in the nose also humidify the air and help produce heart-friendly nitric oxide.
Nose breathing also plays a role in your child’s facial and jaw development: the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth (the palate) and becomes a kind of mold around which the developing upper jaw can form. With chronic mouth breathing, however, the tongue rests just behind the lower teeth, depriving the upper jaw of its normal support. This could result in the development of a poor bite (malocclusion).
To avoid this and other undesirable outcomes, you should have your child examined if you notice them breathing mostly through the mouth, particularly at rest. Since chronic mouth breathing usually occurs because of an anatomical obstruction making nose breathing more difficult, it’s usually best to see a physician or an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist first for evaluation and treatment.
It’s also a good idea to obtain an orthodontic evaluation of any effects on their bite development, such as the upper jaw growing too narrowly. If caught early enough, an orthodontist can correct this with a palatal expander, a device that exerts gradual outward pressure on the jaw and stimulating it to grow wider.
Another bite problem associated with chronic mouth breathing is misalignment of the jaws when closed. An orthodontist can address this with a set of removable plates worn in the mouth. As the jaws work the angled plates force the lower jaw forward, thus encouraging it to grow in the direction that best aligns with the upper jaw.
Any efforts to correct a child’s breathing habits can pay great dividends in their overall health. It could likewise head off possible bite problems that can be both extensive and costly to treat in the future.
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