Teeth grinding is one childhood habit that sounds worse than it usually is: often the most harm done is to your night’s sleep. That said, though, it’s still a habit to keep your eye on.
Also known as bruxism, teeth grinding is so common among children that it’s considered normal behavior by many healthcare professionals. As for causes, some suggest a child’s immature neuromuscular chewing control may trigger it, while others point to the change from deeper sleep to a lighter stage as a possible cause. Problems like airway obstruction, medications or stress also seem to contribute to the habit.
For most children, teeth grinding usually fades by age 11 with no adverse effect on their teeth. If the habit extends into adolescence, however, there’s an increased risk for damage, mainly tooth wear.
This can happen because grinding often produces chewing forces 20-30 times greater than normal. Over time this can cause the biting surfaces of the teeth to wear and reduces the size of the teeth. While teeth normally wear over a lifetime, accelerated wear can pose a significant health risk to your teeth. Any sign of tooth wear in a child or adolescent is definitely cause for concern.
If your child’s tooth grinding habit appears to be developing into a problem, your dentist may recommend a few treatment options. The most common is a thin, plastic night guard worn in the mouth during sleep that prevents the upper and lower teeth from making contact. If the suspected cause is airway obstruction, they may refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist to seek treatment for that, as well as other professionals to help with managing stress or medications.
Like thumb sucking, the habit of teeth grinding usually ends with no permanent ill effects. But if you notice it continuing late into childhood or your dentist finds tooth wear or other problems, take action to avoid problems long-term.
If you would like more information on childhood bruxism, 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.”
Do-it-yourself (DIY) whitening kits are a popular option for restoring a healthy shine to stained and dulled teeth. They're relatively safe and generally live up to their packaging claims.
But a home kit might not always be your best option. Here are 4 reasons why DIY whitening might not be right for you.
You're on the early side of your teen years. Tooth whitening at home is quite popular with teenagers. For older teens it doesn't really pose a dental risk as long as you use the product appropriately (more on that in a moment). However, the immature enamel of younger teens' permanent teeth is still developing and can be vulnerable to damage by whitening processes.
You don't follow instructions well. Not to say you have this particular character quirk — but if you do you may run into trouble with DIY whitening. Home kits are safe if you follow their instructions carefully. If you use them to excess as one 13-year old boy was reported to have done, you could severely (and permanently) erode your teeth's protective enamel.
Your teeth are in need of dental work. Tooth whitening can't fix everything that may be contributing to an unattractive smile. It's always better to have issues like dental disease or chipped teeth addressed first before whitening. And, if your tooth discoloration originates from inside your tooth, a whitening kit won't help — they're only designed for staining on the enamel's outside surface. You'll need a special dental procedure to whiten internal (or intrinsic) tooth staining.
You want to control the amount of brightness. Home kits don't have the level of fine-tuning that a clinical procedure can achieve. While the bleaching agent in a professional whitening solution is much stronger than a home kit, your dentist is trained in techniques that can vary the amount of bleaching, from a softer white to dazzling “Hollywood” bright. And clinical whitening usually takes fewer sessions and may last longer than a home kit.
If you're interested in teeth whitening, see your dentist for a dental examination first before purchasing a DIY kit. Even if you decide to do it yourself, your dentist can give you buying advice for whitening kits, as well as how-to tips.
If you would like more information on tooth whitening, 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 Whitening Safety Tips.”
In the early 1900s, a Colorado dentist noticed his patients had fewer cavities than the norm. He soon found the cause: naturally occurring fluoride in their drinking water. That discovery led to what is now heralded as one of the most important public health measures of the last century — the use of fluoride to prevent tooth decay.
While you're most likely familiar with fluoride toothpaste and other fluoridated hygiene products, there are other sources of this chemical you should know about — especially if you're trying to manage your family's fluoride intake. Here are 3 of these common sources for fluoride.
Fluoridated drinking water. Roughly three-quarters of U.S. water utilities add fluoride to their drinking water supply under regulations governed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The federal government currently recommends 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water as the optimum balance of maximum protection from tooth decay and minimal risk of a type of tooth staining called dental fluorosis. You can contact your local water service to find out if they add fluoride and how much.
Processed and natural foods. Many processed food manufacturers use fluoridated water in their processes. Although not always indicated on the packaging, there are often traces of fluoride in cereals, canned soups, fruit juices or soda. Many varieties of seafood naturally contain high levels of fluoride and infant formula reconstituted with fluoridated water can exceed the level of fluoride in breast or cow's milk. Beer and wine drinkers may also consume significant levels of fluoride with their favorite adult beverage, particularly Zinfandel, Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon wines.
Clinical prevention measures. As part of a child's regular dental treatment, dentists may apply topical fluoride to developing teeth, especially for children deemed at high risk for tooth decay. This additional fluoride can be applied in various forms including rinses, gels or varnishes. The additional fluoride helps strengthen a child's developing enamel and tooth roots.
How much fluoride your family ingests depends on a number of factors like your drinking water, food purchases and dental hygiene products and procedures. If you have any concerns about how much fluoride you're encountering in your daily life, please be sure and discuss them with your dentist.
If you would like more information on fluoride's benefits for dental health, 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 “Fluoride & Fluoridation in Dentistry.”
Biting the inside of your cheek is high on the list of minor but painfully irritating occurrences like paper cuts or tongue scalding from hot coffee. A mouth bite, though, has an additional tormenting feature — there's a good chance you'll bite the same spot again.
This kind of repeated mouth injury results in an enlargement of the soft tissue that has been traumatized. They're often diagnosed and referred to as a traumatic fibroma. When you bite your cheek, lips or tongue, you create a small wound that usually heals quickly. This healing process, though, can be interrupted if you bite the area again, which can then cause excess scar tissue to form.
The fibrous scar tissue, made up of a protein called collagen, is similar to a callous. You can often feel it with your tongue — a knot of tough skin that protrudes from the otherwise flat cheek wall. Because of this prominence, it tends to get in the “line of fire” during eating or biting, so you'll bite it again — and again. If this cycle continues, then even a more prominent scar tissue forms that you're more likely to bite again.
The wound will heal most of the time, unless you continually bite it. If it becomes a nagging problem, we can surgically remove the lump. After numbing the area with local anesthesia, we'll either use a laser or scalpel to remove it. The area is easy to fix and will flatten out the cheek surface. The entire procedure takes fifteen minutes or less and in a few days to a week you won't even notice it had been there.
While the vast majority of these lesions are harmless, it's still standard protocol to biopsy the removed tissue: a pathologist examines it under a microscope for cancer cells. This is a routine part of any medical practice and not a cause for alarm.
If you've had a lump for awhile that you always seem to be biting, see us for an examination. With a simple procedure, we may be able to remove that irritation once and for all.
If you would like more information on treating mouth lumps and other sores, 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 “Common Lumps and Bumps in the Mouth.”
A child with a chronic illness or condition often requires a lot of focus on care for their special needs. Other aspects of their health can often take a back seat — too often including dental care.
Proper dental care can be a challenge for special needs children if they have diminished physical, intellectual or behavioral capacities. Children with autism or attention deficit disorders may not be able or willing to perform tasks like brushing and flossing. Other conditions could make them intolerant to toothpaste in the mouth, or create an inability to keep their mouths open or to spit.
Some chronic conditions also seem predisposed to dental defects. For example, enamel hypoplasia, a lack of sufficient tooth enamel, is common with Down, Treacher-Collins or Turner Syndromes, and can greatly increase the risk of tooth decay.
But even though difficult, effective dental care isn't impossible. It begins with your dental provider.
Pediatric dentists are often excellent in this regard: they often have the training and experience to treat children with chronic conditions. Whoever you choose must be able to partner with you in caring for your child's dental needs.
Daily hygiene is also a critical factor. Your goal should be the same as with any child — to teach them to brush and floss for themselves. Depending on their condition, however, you may need to assist them for a longer term, perhaps permanently. But it is imperative — daily hygiene is their best defense against oral diseases.
You should also consider their medication and how it may impact their dental health. Antidepressants, antihistamines or drugs that assist with breathing function can cause mouth dryness. This, as well as drugs with sugar or acid compounds, can increase risk for dental disease. If they must take these types of medications, try to give them at mealtime to reduce their effect in the mouth.
Above all, pursue the same professional dental care as you would for any other child. Keep up regular dental visits beginning around their first birthday for cleanings and preventive measures like topical fluoride or sealants. By taking these measures you'll help ensure their dental health won't suffer.
If you would like more information on dental care for special needs children, 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 “Managing Tooth Decay in Children with Chronic Diseases.”
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