It’s true — thumb sucking beyond age 4 can cause bite problems for permanent teeth. But prolonged thumb sucking is just one of a number of possible contributing factors for a bad bite (malocclusion). A dentist must identify all the factors involved when a bad bite is present — their involvement is essential for a successful treatment outcome.
A fairly benign habit for infants and toddlers, thumb sucking is related to an “infantile swallowing pattern” young children use by thrusting their tongues forward between the upper and lower teeth when they swallow. Around age 4, though, they usually transition to an adult swallowing pattern in which the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. Thumb sucking stops for most children around the same time.
Thumb sucking beyond this age, though, can put increased pressure on incoming permanent teeth pushing them forward. This could lead to an “open bite” in which the upper and lower teeth don’t meet when the jaws are closed. The tongue may also continue to thrust forward when swallowing to seal the resulting gap, which further reinforces the open bite.
Before treating the bite with braces, we must first address the thumb sucking and improper tongue placement when swallowing — if either isn’t corrected the teeth could gradually revert to their previous positions after the braces come off. Besides behavioral incentives, we can also employ a thin metal appliance called a “tongue crib” placed behind the upper and lower incisors. A tongue crib discourages thumb sucking and makes it more difficult for the tongue to rest within the open bite gap when swallowing, which helps retrain it to a more normal position.
An open bite can also occur if the jaws develop with too much vertical growth. Like thumb sucking and improper tongue placement, abnormal jaw growth could ultimately cause orthodontic treatment to fail. In this case, though, surgery may be necessary to correct the jaw structure.
With all these possible variables, our first step needs to be a thorough orthodontic exam that identifies all the cause factors for your child’s specific malocclusion. Knowing if and how thumb sucking may have contributed to the poor bite will help us design a treatment strategy that’s successful.
If you would like more information on the causes of poor tooth position, 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 Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
As a basic orthodontic appliance, braces are what allows us to move teeth into better positions to improve a person’s bite. In certain cases, though, this treatment application gets a little assistance from Temporary Anchorage Devices (TADs) to improve accuracy and reduce treatment time.
Braces take advantage of our teeth’s natural ability to move. Teeth are held in place within the bone by the periodontal ligament, an elastic tissue that attaches to the teeth with microscopic fibers secured by a hardened substance called cementum. The periodontal ligament is constantly remodeling in response to changes in the mouth. As pressure is placed on a tooth, new bone, ligament and cementum are formed on the “pulling” side of the tooth; on the other side, the bone and ligament dissolve (resorb), allowing the tooth to move in that direction.
Braces allow this natural process to occur with controlled forces applied by thin flexible wires threaded through the small brackets attached to the front of the teeth and then affixed or “anchored” to other teeth. By attaching the teeth to the other teeth by wires running through all the brackets, “anchorage” is created to allow teeth to be moved where the dentist wants them to go. By adjusting the tension on the wires, we can apply light but constant pressure on the “unanchored” teeth to move them into a new desired position.
Teeth we do not want to move are referred to as the anchorage for teeth we do want to move. If, however, the situation calls for more precise isolation of teeth to be moved, TADs can be very useful. TADs are mini-implants imbedded in the bone to serve as anchorage at strategic locations in the mouth. In this way, the group of teeth to be moved receives forces that are applied through the additional anchorage provided by the TADs. That “tension” or “pressure” is applied only to them and not to adjacent teeth that should not move. This increases efficiency for tooth movement and helps reduce the treatment time.
TADs can be placed using local anesthesia and with little discomfort, and are removed when orthodontic treatment is completed. Although the procedure is pretty straightforward, it does require collaboration between orthodontist and surgeon to ensure correct positioning.
In the end, TADs increase our ability to control the forces that move teeth during orthodontic treatment. This lessens discomfort for the patient and helps ensure the end result — a more functional bite and a transformed smile.
If you would like more information on the use of TADs and other orthodontic appliances, 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 TADs?”
Bite problems aren't limited to teeth simply out of position. The problem could be some teeth aren't there—visibly, that is. They still exist below the gums and bone, but they've been crowded out and blocked from erupting. We call this condition impaction.
Any tooth can become impacted and affect the bite, but a person's smile suffers more if it involves visible front teeth. This is especially so if the teeth in question are upper canines or "eye teeth"—the smile doesn't look normal without these pointed teeth on either side of the central and lateral incisors.
Impacted teeth can also contribute to more than a cosmetic problem: they're more susceptible to abscesses (pockets of infection) or root damage both to themselves or neighboring teeth. To minimize these potential health issues, we'll often remove impacted teeth surgically (as is often done with wisdom teeth).
But because of their important role in not only appearance but also bite function, we may first try to assist impacted canines to fully erupt before considering extraction. It takes a bit of orthodontic "magic," but it can be done.
Before we can make that decision, though, we want to precisely locate the impacted teeth's positions and how it may affect other teeth. This initial evaluation, often with advanced diagnostics like CT scanning or digital x-rays, helps us determine if the impacted teeth are in a workable position to save. If they're not, we may then need to consider removing them and ultimately replacing them with a dental implant or similar restoration.
But if their position is workable and there are no other impediments, we can proceed with helping them erupt. To do this we'll have to first expose them by creating a small opening in the gums through minor surgery. We then bond a small bracket to the tooth, to which we'll attach a small chain that we then attach to orthodontic braces. This enables us to exert continuous pressure on the tooth.
Over time, the pressure coaxes the tooth to erupt. We may still need to apply other forms of orthodontics and cosmetic procedures, but using this procedure to rescue impacted canines can produce a healthier and more attractive smile.
If you would like more information on treating complex bite problems, 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 “Exposing Impacted Canines.”
If you have tooth pain, we want to know about it. No, really—we want to know all about it. Is the pain sharp or dull? Is it emanating from one tooth or more generally? Is it constant, intermittent or only when you bite down?
Dentists ask questions like these because there are multiple causes for tooth pain with different treatment requirements. The more accurate the diagnosis, the quicker and more successful your treatment will be.
Here are 3 different examples of tooth pain, along with their possible causes and treatments.
Tooth sensitivity. If you feel a quick jolt of pain when you eat or drink something hot or cold, it may mean your gums have drawn back (receded) from your teeth to leave more sensitive areas exposed. Gum recession is most often caused by gum disease, which we can treat by removing dental plaque, the main cause for the infection. In mild cases the gums may recover after treatment, but more advanced recession may require grafting surgery.
Dull ache around upper teeth. This type of pain might actually be a sinus problem, not a dental one. The upper back teeth share some of the same nerves as the sinus cavity just above them. See your dentist first to rule out deep decay or a tooth grinding habit putting too much pressure on the teeth. If your dentist rules out an oral cause, you may need to see your family physician to check for a sinus infection.
Constant sharp pain. A throbbing pain seeming to come from one tooth may be a sign the tooth's central pulp layer has become decayed. The resulting infection is attacking the pulp's nerves, which is causing the excruciating pain. Advanced decay of this sort requires a root canal treatment to remove the diseased tissue and fill the empty pulp chamber and root canals to prevent further infection. See your dentist even if the pain stops—the infection may have only killed the nerves, but is still present and advancing.
Pain is the body's warning system—so heed the tooth pain alert and see your dentist as soon as possible. The sooner the problem is identified and treated, the better your chances of returning to full dental health.
If you would like more information on tooth pain and what it means, 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 “Tooth Pain? Don't Wait!”
Here’s the bad news about periodontal (gum) disease: It’s a leading cause for tooth loss. Even worse: Half of adults over 30 will have some form of it during their lifetime.
But here’s the good news: If caught early, we can often treat and stop gum disease before it can do substantial harm to your mouth. And the best news of all—you may be able to avoid a gum infection altogether by adopting a few healthy habits.
Here are 4 habits you can practice to prevent a gum infection from happening.
Practice daily brushing and flossing. Gum disease is a bacterial infection most often arising from dental plaque, a thin film of bacteria and food particles that accumulates on teeth. Removing plaque daily with brushing and flossing will reduce your chances of a gum infection. And be sure it’s daily—missing just a few days is enough for gum inflammation to get started.
Get regular dental cleanings and checkups. Even the most diligent personal hygiene can miss plaque, which may then harden into a calcified form impossible to remove with brushing and flossing called calculus (tartar). At least twice-a-year professional dental cleanings will clear away any remnant plaque and tartar, which can greatly reduce your risk for dental disease.
Make gum-friendly lifestyle changes. Smoking more than doubles your chances of gum disease. Likewise, a sugar-heavy diet, which feeds disease-causing bacteria, also makes you more susceptible to infection. Quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol consumption and following a dental-friendly diet could boost your teeth and gum health and avoid infection.
Watch for signs of infection. Although you can greatly reduce your risk of gum disease, you can’t always bring that risk to zero. So, be aware of the signs of gum disease: sometimes painful, swollen, reddened or bleeding gums. If you notice any of these signs, make a dental appointment—the sooner you’re diagnosed and begin treatment, the less likely gum disease will ruin your dental health.
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