Posts for: October, 2017
Although distressing to many parents, infants and toddlers sucking their thumb is a common if not universal habit. Most children phase out of it by around age 4, usually with no ill effects. But thumb-sucking continuing into late childhood could prove problematic for a child’s bite.
Thumb sucking is related to how young children swallow. All babies are born with what is called an infantile swallowing pattern, in which they thrust their tongues forward while swallowing to ensure their lips seal around a breast or bottle nipple when they nurse. Thumb-sucking mimics this action, which most experts believe serves as a source of comfort when they’re not nursing.
Around 3 or 4, their swallowing transitions to a permanent adult swallowing pattern: the tip of the tongue now positions itself against the back of the top front teeth (you can notice it yourself when you swallow). This is also when thumb sucking normally fades.
If a child, however, has problems transitioning to an adult pattern, they may continue to thrust their tongue forward and/or prolong their thumb-sucking habit. Either can put undue pressure on the front teeth causing them to move and develop too far forward. This can create what’s known as an open bite: a slight gap still remains between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut rather than the normal overlapping of the upper teeth over the lower.
While we can orthodontically treat an open bite, we can minimize the extent of any treatments if we detect the problem early and intervene with therapies to correct an abnormal swallowing pattern or prolonged thumb sucking. For the former we can assist a child in performing certain exercises that help retrain oral and facial muscles to encourage a proper swallowing pattern. This may also help diminish thumb sucking, but we may in addition need to use positive reinforcement techniques to further discourage the habit.
To stay ahead of possible problems with thumb sucking or the swallowing pattern you should begin regularly taking them to the dentist around their first birthday. It’s also a good idea to have an orthodontic evaluation around age 6 for any emerging bite problems. Taking these positive steps could help you avoid undue concern over this common habit.
If you would like more information on managing your child’s thumb-sucking 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 “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Even though baby teeth are not meant to last forever, they serve some very important functions for the time they are around. Healthy baby teeth allow your child to bite and chew food, articulate sounds correctly during speech, and, of course, to smile! They also help guide the permanent teeth, which will one day replace them, into proper alignment. So it’s important to take good care of them while they’re here. Let’s answer some frequently asked questions about pediatric dentistry.
Can I get my teeth cleaned while I’m pregnant?
Yes — and you should! Both the American Dental Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend that women keep up with their regular schedule of dental cleanings and exams during pregnancy. Not doing so can allow disease-causing oral bacterial to flourish, which can be a health risk for both the expectant mother and her fetus.
Do infants need their teeth brushed?
Yes, it’s important to start a daily oral hygiene routine as soon as the first baby tooth appears — usually sometime between six and nine months of age. Use a very soft-bristled child-sized toothbrush and just a smear of fluoride toothpaste (the size of a grain of rice). When your child turns 3, increase the amount of fluoride toothpaste to the size of a pea.
When should I take my child in for her first dental appointment?
The answer to this one may surprise you: All children should see a dentist by the age of 1. Early dental visits get children accustomed to having their mouths examined and their teeth cleaned. Establishing this healthy habit early will go a long way toward promoting a lifetime of good oral health.
Should I worry that my child sucks his thumb?
That depends on how old he is. Thumb sucking is a normal, comforting habit for babies and toddlers. Most outgrow it by the time they are 4. But kids who don’t are at increased risk for orthodontic issues later on. If your child seems unable to break the habit, let us know; we can give you more detailed recommendations at your next appointment.
What can I do to prevent my children from getting cavities?
Make sure your children have an effective daily oral hygiene routine that includes brushing with fluoride toothpaste twice a day and flossing at least once per day. If they are too young to do a good job by themselves, help them complete these important tasks. Keep their sugar consumption as low as possible; pay particular attention to beverages — soda, sports drinks and even 100 % natural fruit juices can all promote tooth decay. We can offer individualized advice on fighting cavities, and even provide fluoride treatments and dental sealants for extra protection against cavities. So don’t forget to bring your child in to the dental office for regular exams and cleanings!