Most babies come into the world ready and able to nourish at their mother's breast—no training required! About one in ten children, though, may have a structural abnormality with their tongue or lip that makes it difficult for them to breastfeed.
The abnormality involves a small strip of tissue called a frenum or frenulum, which is found in the mouth connecting soft tissue to more rigid structures. You'll find a frenum attaching the upper lip to the gums, while another connects the underside of the tongue to the floor of the mouth.
Frenums are a normal part of oral anatomy and usually don't pose a problem. But if the frenum tissue is too short, thick or tight, it could restrict lip or tongue movement. If so, a baby may not be able to achieve a good seal on their mother's nipple, causing them to ineffectively chew rather than suck to access the mother's milk. Such a situation guarantees an unpleasant experience for both mother and baby.
The problem can be addressed with a minor surgical procedure performed in a dentist's office. During the procedure, the dentist first numbs the area with an anesthetic gel. The frenum is then snipped with scissors or a laser.
With very little if any post-procedure care, the baby can immediately begin nursing. But although the physical impediment may be removed, the child may need to “relearn” how to nurse. It may take time for the baby to readjust, and could require help from a professional.
Nursing isn't the only reason for dealing with an abnormally shortened frenum. Abnormal frenums can interfere with speech development and may even widen gaps between the front teeth, contributing to poor bite development. It's often worthwhile to clip a frenum early before it creates other problems.
It isn't absolutely necessary to deal with a “tongue” or “lip tie” in this manner—a baby can be nourished by bottle. But to gain the physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding, taking care of this particular problem early may be a good option.
If you would like more information on the problem of tongue or lip ties in infants, 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 “Tongue Ties, Lip Ties and Breastfeeding.”
Your child could hit a speed bump on their road to dental maturity—tooth decay. In fact, children are susceptible to an aggressive form of decay known as Early Childhood Caries (ECC) that can lead to tooth loss and possible bite issues for other teeth.
But dentists have a few weapons in their arsenal for helping children avoid tooth decay. One of these used for many years now is the application of sealants to the biting surfaces of both primary and permanent teeth. Now, two major research studies have produced evidence that sealant applications help reduce children's tooth decay.
Applying sealant is a quick and painless procedure that doesn't require drilling or anesthesia. A dentist brushes the sealant in liquid form to the nooks and crannies of a tooth's biting surfaces, which tend to accumulate decay-causing bacterial plaque. They then use a curing light to harden the sealant.
The studies previously mentioned that involved thousands of patients over a number of years, found that pediatric patients without dental sealants were more than three times likely to get cavities compared to those who had sealants applied to their teeth. The studies also found the beneficial effect of a sealant could last four years or more after its application.
The American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommend sealants for children, especially those at high risk for decay. It's common practice now for children to first get sealants when their first permanent molars erupt (teeth that are highly susceptible to decay), usually between the ages of 5 and 7, and then later as additional molars come in.
There is a modest cost for sealant applications, but far less than the potential costs for decay treatment and later bite issues. Having your child undergo sealant treatment is a worthwhile investment: It could prevent decay and tooth loss in the near-term, and also help your child avoid more extensive dental problems in the future.
The straightening process for a crooked smile doesn't end when the braces come off. There's one more crucial phase to undergo to make sure we don't lose the progress you've achieved: wearing an orthodontic retainer.
Although often viewed as a nuisance, retainers are important because they prevent realigned teeth from reverting to their old positions. This is possible because the periodontal ligament, the gum attachment that allows us to move teeth in the first place, can contain “muscle memory” that naturally tries to draw teeth back to where they once were.
A retainer prevents this from happening: During wear the subtle pressure they exert keeps or “retains” the teeth in their new positions until they're firmly established, usually after several months. While most patients initially wear a retainer around the clock, this will gradually taper off until they're worn primarily during sleep hours.
While retainers come in many different styles and sizes, most fall into one of two categories: removable or non-removable (bonded). The first type, a custom-made appliance a patient can easily take in and out of the mouth, has its advantages. Removing it makes it easier to clean the teeth. They're also adaptable to reduced wear schedules for eating, brushing and flossing, or for special occasions.
But a removable retainer may be noticeable to others. Its removability can also lead to problems. Out of the mouth they're prone to be lost, resulting in additional replacement costs. And immature patients may be easily tempted to take them out too often—or not wear them at all.
A bonded retainer solves many of these potential problems. Because the retainer wire is securely bonded to the back of the teeth, it's not visible to others. And because it can't be removed except by an orthodontist, there's virtually no chance of losing it or haphazard wear.
On the other hand, bonded retainers can occasionally break, requiring repair or replacement. And flossing is more difficult than with a removable retainer, although a little training from a dental hygienist can make that easier.
The choice of retainer depends on the individual and their priorities. But whether removable or bonded, a retainer is absolutely essential for protecting your new, hard-earned smile.
If you would like more information on bonded retainers, 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 “Bonded Retainers.”
The fast-paced world of sports and entertainment isn’t all glitz and glamour. These high-profile industries create a unique kind of emotional and mental stress on celebrities. For many of them, a way to “let off steam” is an oral habit known as teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding is an involuntary habit in which a person bites and grinds their teeth outside of normal activities like eating or speaking. It’s common among young children, who usually grow out of it, but it can also affect adults, especially those who deal with chronic stress. If not addressed, teeth grinding can eventually wear down teeth, damage gum attachments or fracture weaker teeth. It can even contribute to tooth loss.
A number of well-known personalities in the spotlight struggle with teeth grinding, including actress Vivica Fox, model and TV host Chrissy Teigen, and star athletes Tara Lipinski and Milos Raonic of ice skating and tennis fame, respectively. The habit represents not only a threat to their dental health, but also to one of their most important career assets: an attractive and inviting smile. Fortunately, though, they each use a similar device to manage their teeth grinding.
Besides seeking ways to better manage life stress, individuals with a teeth-grinding habit can protect their teeth with a custom mouthguard from their dentist. Made of slick plastic, this device is worn over the teeth, usually while sleeping, to minimize dental damage. During a grinding episode, the teeth can’t make contact with each other due to the guard’s glossy surface—they simply slide away from each other. This reduces the biting forces and eliminates the potential for wear, the main sources of dental damage.
Chrissy Teigen, co-host with LL Cool J on the game show Lip Sync Battle, wears her custom-made guard regularly at night. She even showed off her guard to her fans once during a selfie-video posted on Snapchat and Twitter. Vivica Fox, best known for her role in Independence Day, also wears her guard at night, and for an additional reason: The guard helps protect her porcelain veneers, which could be damaged if they encounter too much biting force.
Mouthguards are a prominent part of sports, usually to protect the teeth and gums from injury. Some athletes, though, wear them because of their teeth grinding habit. Tara Lipinski, world renowned figure skater and media personality, keeps hers on hand to wear at night even when she travels. And Milos Raonic, one of the world’s top professional tennis players, wears his during matches—the heat of competition tends to trigger his own teeth-grinding habit.
These kinds of mouthguards aren’t exclusive to celebrities. If you or a family member contends with this bothersome habit, we may be able to create a custom mouthguard for you. It won’t stop teeth grinding, but it could help protect your teeth—and your smile.
If you would like more information about protecting your smile, please contact us or schedule a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
If all goes normally, we have most of our permanent teeth as we enter puberty. Except, though, when it doesn't—sometimes incoming permanent teeth don't fully erupt, often because there's not enough room for them on the jaw. This can leave all or part of a tooth still up inside the gum and bones.
This condition is known as impaction, and it can cause problems with a person's bite and their smile. This is especially true of the upper canines, those pointed teeth located just under the eyes. Without them present, a person's smile can look oddly different. Moreover, it can worsen their bite and increase the risk of trauma and disease for nearby teeth.
Fortunately, there may be a way to coax impacted canines into erupting into their proper position on the jaw. It will involve, though, some minor surgery and orthodontic intervention to accomplish that feat.
First, though, a patient with missing canines should undergo a thorough orthodontic evaluation. This exam will reveal not only what may be going on with the missing teeth, but how the whole bite has been affected. Knowing the big picture will help direct the next treatment steps.
After pinpointing the impacted teeth's exact position (usually through x-rays or cone beam CT scanning), we then decide whether it's feasible to attempt to expose the teeth. Sometimes, a tooth's position is so out of place that it may be best to remove it and consider a dental implant or other restorative measures.
If it is in a workable position, then the impacted teeth would be exposed surgically (usually by an oral surgeon or periodontist). The surgeon would then bond a small bracket to the exposed tooth and then attach a small chain.
After suturing the incised gum tissues back in place, the chain extending outward from the gums would then be looped over orthodontic hardware attached to other teeth. This will place downward pressure on the upper canine tooth, and over several months prod it to fully erupt.
This may sound like an elaborate procedure, but it's fairly routine and predictable. As a result, a patient can finally get the full benefit of all their teeth, enhance their dental health and transform their smile.
If you would like more information on dealing with impacted teeth, 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.”
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