Along with thumb sucking, childhood teeth grinding is one of the top concerns anxious parents bring to their dentists. It’s so prevalent, though, many providers consider it normal behavior—the sleep-disturbing sound it can generate is often the worst consequence for the habit.
But that doesn’t mean you should brush aside all concern, especially if the habit continues into late childhood. Long-term teeth grinding could eventually damage the teeth and gums.
Teeth grinding (or clenching) is the involuntary movement of the jaws when not engaged in normal functions like chewing, speaking or swallowing. The action often produces higher than normal chewing forces, which over time can accelerate tooth wear, cause fractures, or contribute to loose teeth, all of which could increase the risk of dental disease. While it can occur at any time it’s most common among children during nighttime sleep.
While stress is the usual trigger for teeth grinding in adults, with young children the causes for the habit are more complex and less understood. Most doctors hold to the theory that most pediatric teeth grinding arises during shifts from lighter to heavier, rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. The child’s immature neuromuscular chewing control may engage involuntarily during this shift. Teeth grinding is also prevalent among children who snore or mouth-breathe, or who take anti-depressant medication.
But as mentioned before, there’s usually no cause for concern unless the habit persists beyond about age 11. If the habit isn’t fading, you should speak to your dentist about ways to reduce it or its effects. One way is with a custom-made night guard worn during sleep. The smooth, plastic surface of the appliance prevents teeth from making solid contact with each other during a grinding episode.
You might also seek treatment from an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist if your child is having issues with airway obstruction, which could also relieve teeth grinding. And children experiencing stressful situations or events may find relief both emotionally and physically from psychological therapy.
At younger ages, you can safely regard your child’s grinding habit as normal. But if it persists, it’s worth looking for ways to reduce it.
If you would like more information on your child’s teeth grinding 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 “When Children Grind Their Teeth: Is the Habit of ‘Bruxism’ Harmful?”
On the big screen, Australian-born actress Margot Robbie may be best known for playing devil-may-care anti-heroes—like Suicide Squad member Harley Quinn and notorious figure skater Tonya Harding. But recently, a discussion of her role in Peter Rabbit proved that in real life, she’s making healthier choices. When asked whether it was hard to voice a character with a speech impediment, she revealed that she wears retainers in her mouth at night, which gives her a noticeable lisp.
“I actually have two retainers,” she explained, “one for my bottom teeth which is for grinding my teeth, and one for my top teeth which is just so my teeth don't move.”
Clearly Robbie is serious about protecting her dazzling smile. And she has good reasons for wearing both of those retainers. So first, let’s talk about retainers for teeth grinding.
Also called bruxism, teeth grinding affects around 10 percent of adults at one time or another, and is often associated with stress. If you wake up with headaches, sore teeth or irritated gums, or your sleeping partner complains of grinding noises at night, you may be suffering from nighttime teeth grinding without even being aware of it.
A type of retainer called an occlusal guard is frequently recommended to alleviate the symptoms of bruxism. Typically made of plastic, this appliance fits comfortably over your teeth and prevents them from being damaged when they rub against each other. In combination with stress reduction techniques and other conservative treatments, it’s often the best way to manage teeth grinding.
Orthodontic retainers are also well-established treatment devices. While appliances like braces or aligners cause teeth to move into better positions, retainers are designed to keep teeth from moving—helping them to stay in those positions. After active orthodontic treatment, a period of retention is needed to allow the bite to stabilize. Otherwise, the teeth can drift right back to their old locations, undoing the time and effort of orthodontic treatment.
So Robbie has the right idea there too. However, for those who don’t relish the idea of wearing a plastic appliance, it’s often possible to bond a wire retainer to the back surfaces of the teeth, where it’s invisible. No matter which kind you choose, wearing a retainer can help keep your smile looking great for many years to come.
If you have questions about teeth grinding or orthodontic retainers, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Teeth Grinding” and “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
At any given time some 4 million teens and pre-teens are wearing braces or other orthodontic appliances to correct a malocclusion (poor bite). While most cases are straightforward, some have difficulties that increase treatment time and cost.
But what if you could reduce some of these difficulties before they fully develop? We often can through interceptive orthodontics.
This growing concept involves early orthodontic treatment around 6 to 10 years of age with the goal of guiding the development of a child’s jaws and other mouth structures in the right direction. These early years are often the only time of life when many of these treatments will work.
For example, widening the roof of the mouth (the palate) in an abnormally narrow upper jaw takes advantage of a gap in the bone in the center of the palate that doesn’t fuse until later in adolescence. A device called a palatal expander exerts outward pressure on the back teeth to influence the jawbone to grow out. New bone fills in the gap to permanently expand the jaw.
In cases with a developing overbite (the upper front teeth extending too far over the lower teeth when closed), we can install a hinged device called a Herbst appliance to the jaws in the back of the mouth. The hinge mechanism coaxes the lower jaw to develop further forward, which may help avoid more extensive and expensive jaw surgery later.
Interceptive treatments can also be fairly simple in design like a space retainer, but still have a tremendous impact on bite development. A space maintainer is often used when a primary (“baby”) tooth is lost prematurely, which allows other teeth to drift into the empty space and crowd out the incoming permanent tooth. The wire loop device is placed within the open space to prevent drift and preserve the space for the permanent tooth.
To take advantage of these treatments, it’s best to have your child’s bite evaluated early. Professional organizations like the American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommend a screening by age 7. While it may reveal no abnormalities at all, it could also provide the first signs of an emerging problem. With interceptive orthodontics we may be able to correct them now or make them less of a problem for the future.
If you would like more information on orthodontic treatments, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor article “Interceptive Orthodontics.”
Dental crowns are an essential means for restoring damaged or unattractive teeth. A well-crafted crown not only functions well, it looks and blends seamlessly with the rest of the natural teeth.
Crowns are artificial caps that cover an entire visible tooth, often used for heavily decayed or damaged teeth or as added protection after a root canal treatment. Most crowns are produced by a dental lab, but some dentists are now creating them in-office with computer-based milling equipment. On the whole, the various crowns now available function adequately as teeth—but they can vary in their appearance quality.
In the early to mid 20th Century the all-metal crown was the standard; but while durable, it could be less than eye-pleasing. Although more life-like dental porcelain existed at the time, it tended to be brittle and could easily shatter under chewing stress.
Dentists then developed a crown that combined the strength of metal with the attractiveness of porcelain: the porcelain fused to metal or PFM crown. The PFM crown had a hollow, metal substructure that was cemented over the tooth. To this metal base was fused an outer shell of porcelain that gave the crown an attractive finish.
The PFM reigned as the most widely used crown until the mid 2000s. By then improved forms of porcelain reinforced with stronger materials like Lucite had made possible an all-ceramic crown. They’re now the most common crown used today, beautifully life-like yet durable without the need for a metal base.
All-ceramics may be the most common type of crown installed today, but past favorites’ metal and PFM are still available and sometimes used. So depending on the type and location of the tooth and your own expectations, there’s a right crown for you.
However, not all crowns even among all-ceramic have the same level of aesthetic quality or cost—the more life-like, the more expensive. If you have dental insurance, your plan’s benefits might be based on a utilitarian but less attractive crown. You may have to pay more out of pocket for the crown you and your dentist believe is best for you.
Whatever you choose, though, your modern dental crown will do an admirable, functional job. And it can certainly improve your natural tooth’s appearance.
While tooth decay seems to get most of the “media attention,” there’s another oral infection just as common and destructive: periodontal (gum) disease. In fact, nearly half of adults over 30 have some form of it.
And like tooth decay, it begins with bacteria: while most are benign or even beneficial, a few strains of these micro-organisms can cause gum disease. They thrive and multiply in a thin, sticky film of food particles on tooth surfaces called plaque. Though not always apparent early on, you may notice symptoms like swollen, reddened or bleeding gums.
The real threat, though, is that untreated gum disease will advance deeper below the gum line, infecting the connective gum tissues, tooth roots and supporting bone. If it’s not stopped, affected teeth can lose support from these structures and become loose or out of position. Ultimately, you could lose them.
We can stop this disease by removing accumulated plaque and calculus (calcified plaque, also known as tartar) from the teeth, which continues to feed the infection. To reach plaque deposits deep below the gum line, we may need to surgically access them through the gums. Even without surgery, it may still take several cleaning sessions to remove all of the plaque and calculus found.
These treatments are effective for stopping gum disease and allowing the gums to heal. But there’s a better way: preventing gum disease before it begins through daily oral hygiene. In most cases, plaque builds up due to a lack of brushing and flossing. It takes only a few days without practicing these important hygiene tasks for early gingivitis to set in.
You should also visit the dentist at least twice a year for professional cleanings and checkups. A dental cleaning removes plaque and calculus from difficult to reach places. Your dentist also uses the visit to evaluate how well you’re doing with your hygiene efforts, and offer advice on how you can improve.
Like tooth decay, gum disease can rob you of your dental health. But it can be stopped—both you and your dentist can keep this infection from ruining your smile.
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