First the bad news: Those nightly hair-raising sounds are indeed coming from your child’s bedroom—from your child. It’s the result of them grinding their teeth while they sleep.
But here’s the good news: the only likely harm is a lack of sleep members of your household might experience because of it. Teeth grinding is so prevalent among pre-teen children that many healthcare professionals consider it normal. But that doesn’t mean it can’t become a problem, so it’s worth monitoring.
Teeth grinding is part of a family of dental habits known as bruxism. It involves any involuntary movement of the teeth and jaws outside of their intended functions not associated with chewing, speaking or swallowing. Our main concern with any bruxism is the possibility for generating stronger biting forces than normal that could damage teeth and gums and contribute to jaw joint problems.
Teeth grinding can occur in adulthood, with stress seeming to be the major trigger for it. With children, though, it’s believed to be mainly caused by an immaturity of the child’s neuromuscular process that controls chewing. As this matures, most children will tend to outgrow the habit none the worse for wear.
But there are pediatric cases in which the generated biting forces are strong enough to cause damage. Teeth grinding is also prevalent in children who snore or breathe through their mouths, which could be a sign of a serious health condition called obstructive sleep apnea. And certain medications used to treat depression and attention deficit disorder (ADHD) may also contribute to teeth grinding.
Most of the time we can simply let the habit run its course. If, however, the child begins to experience abnormal tooth wear, headaches, jaw pain or other issues believed caused by teeth grinding, we may need to intervene. This could include a plastic night guard the child wears during sleep that prevents the teeth from making solid contact during grinding episodes. And children with signs of airway obstruction should be evaluated by an ear, nose and throat specialist.
It can be irritating or even distressing. But your child’s teeth grinding doesn’t mean you should be alarmed—only that you should keep your eye on it.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding and similar habits, 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.”
Fans of the legendary rock band Steely Dan received some sad news a few months ago: Co-founder Walter Becker died unexpectedly at the age of 67. The cause of his death was an aggressive form of esophageal cancer. This disease, which is related to oral cancer, may not get as much attention as some others. Yet Becker's name is the latest addition to the list of well-known people whose lives it has cut short—including actor Humphrey Bogart, writer Christopher Hitchens, and TV personality Richard Dawson.
As its name implies, esophageal cancer affects the esophagus: the long, hollow tube that joins the throat to the stomach. Solid and liquid foods taken into the mouth pass through this tube on their way through the digestive system. Worldwide, it is the sixth most common cause of cancer deaths.
Like oral cancer, esophageal cancer generally does not produce obvious symptoms in its early stages. As a result, by the time these diseases are discovered, both types of cancer are most often in their later stages, and often prove difficult to treat successfully. Another similarity is that dentists can play an important role in oral and esophageal cancer detection.
Many people see dentists more often than any other health care professionals—at recommended twice-yearly checkups, for example. During routine examinations, we check the mouth, tongue, neck and throat for possible signs of oral cancer. These may include lumps, swellings, discolorations, and other abnormalities—which, fortunately, are most often harmless. Other symptoms, including persistent coughing or hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, and unexplained weight loss, are common to both oral and esophageal cancer. Chest pain, worsening heartburn or indigestion and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can also alert us to the possibility of esophageal cancer.
Cancer may be a scary subject—but early detection and treatment can offer many people the best possible outcome. If you have questions about oral or esophageal cancer, call our office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Cancer.”
While teeth often seem to be the main focus of dental care, there’s another part of your mouth that deserves almost as much attention—your gums. Neglect them and you could eventually lose one of those teeth! In recognition of September as National Gum Care Month, we’re doing a little well-deserved bragging about your gums, and why they’re worth a little extra TLC.
Here are four reasons why gums are essential to dental health:
They secure your teeth. Your teeth are held in place by strong collagen fibers called the periodontal ligament. Lying between the teeth and bone, this ligament attaches to both through tiny fibers. Not only does this mechanism anchor the teeth in place, it also allows incremental tooth movement when necessary. Preventing gum disease helps guarantee this ligament stays healthy and attached to the teeth.
They protect your teeth. A tooth’s visible crown is protected from disease and other hazards by an outer layer of ultra-strong enamel. But the root, the part you don’t see, is mainly protected by gum tissues covering it. But if the gums begin to shrink back (recede), most often because of gum disease, parts of the root are then exposed to bacteria and other harmful threats. Teeth protected by healthy gums are less susceptible to these dangers.
They’re linked to your overall health. The chronic inflammation that accompanies gum disease can weaken and damage gum attachment to the teeth. But now there’s research evidence that gum inflammation could also worsen other conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease or arthritis. Reducing gum inflammation through treatment could also make it easier to manage these other inflammatory conditions.
They’re part of a winning smile. If your gums are inflamed, abscessed or recessing your smile will suffer, regardless of how great your teeth look. Treating gum disease by removing the dental plaque and tartar fueling the infection not only restores these vital tissues to health, it could also revitalize your smile. Treatment can be a long, intensive process, but it’s well worth the outcome for your gums—and your smile.
Brushing and flossing each day and seeing your dentist regularly will help keep your teeth and your gums in tip-top shape. And if you notice swollen, reddened or bleeding gums, see your dentist promptly—if it is gum disease, the sooner you have it treated the less damage it can cause.
If you would like more information about best gum care practices, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Gum Recession” and “10 Tips for Daily Oral Care at Home.”
Braces are a common experience among teens and pre-teens. And although the treatment can be a major financial undertaking, more and more families pursue it to help their child attain a straighter, more attractive smile.
But orthodontics isn’t first and foremost a cosmetic treatment. Although an improved appearance is a benefit, the main reason for treatment is therapeutic—it can improve your child’s current and future dental health.
The teeth’s relationship to the jaws and gums makes moving them possible. Rather than simply being fixed within their jawbone socket, teeth are actually held in place by a strong, elastic tissue called the periodontal ligament. The ligament lies between the teeth and jawbone and attaches to both with tiny extending fibers. This attachment secures the teeth in place.
But the ligament also has a dynamic quality—it can reshape itself when necessary and allow teeth to move gradually into new positions. This is most necessary during the early years of mouth and jaw development, but it can also occur throughout life. Orthodontics takes advantage of this mechanism by applying precise pressure to the teeth in the direction of desired movement. The periodontal ligament does the rest by reshaping and allowing the teeth to move in response to this pressure.
The result is straighter teeth and a more normal bite. With the teeth now where they should be, it’s also easier to clean them of disease-causing dental plaque, whereas misaligned teeth are more prone to plaque accumulation that can be difficult to remove. And because the whole mouth including teeth are involved when we talk, teeth positioned in a more normal bite will improve speech.
Orthodontics is a long-term process, often encompassing more than the actual time wearing braces. Both orthodontists and pediatric dentists recommend a bite evaluation by an orthodontist around the age of 6. If it does appear an abnormal bite is forming, it may be possible to intervene and stop or at least slow the development. This could have a more positive impact on any future treatment.
Braces and other treatments can make a difference in your child’s self-image and social relationships. But the main beneficiary will be their dental health.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatment, 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 “Moving Teeth With Orthodontics.”
It’s common for kids to be less than enthusiastic about visiting the dentist. For some, though, it’s even more of a challenge: A child with extreme anxiety and fear during dental visits could interfere with them receiving the dental care they need. The impact could even extend into adulthood.
Recognizing the need to reduce this high anxiety, dentistry has used a number of pharmacological tools for many years that relax a child during dental care. Sedatives have often been the only choice for reducing anxiety, especially during extensive procedures and treatments. But now there’s a promising new approach in dentistry that doesn’t depend on drugs.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a psychotherapeutic method used for decades to treat depression, phobias and eating disorders, has been investigated recently as a possible approach for relieving children’s dental anxiety. During CBT, trained therapists use specific behavioral techniques to help patients develop mental and emotional strategies for dealing with stress.
During the usual course of CBT therapy, a therapist meets in counseling sessions with patients weekly over several months to help them change their routine thinking or behavior surrounding a stressful issue. Initially, the therapist guides the patient toward understanding the underlying causes for their negative reaction to the issue. They then work with the patient to devise an objective way to test whether those emotions and beliefs about the issue are true.
Using this effective method for changing behavioral and emotional responses for dental anxiety has had encouraging results from initial research. One study found CBT successfully reduced dental anxiety among a majority of a group of European children ages 9 through 16 who participated in the method.
CBT isn’t an overnight cure, often requires a number of months to achieve results. But for children who suffer from extreme fear of professional dental care, this drug-free method may provide long-term benefits that extend well past their childhood years.
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