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?”
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.”
It's difficult to measure how x-ray imaging has transformed dentistry since its use became prominent a half century ago. As equipment and methods standardized, the technology revolutionized the way we diagnose tooth decay and other mouth-related issues.
One of the more useful of these methods is called the bitewing x-ray. The term comes from the shape of the device a patient holds between their teeth with the film attached on the side toward their tongue. We direct the x-ray beam to the outside of the patient's cheek, where it passes through the teeth to expose on the film. Its particular design provides clearer images since the patient's bite helps keep the film still and distortion-free, making it easier to view signs of early tooth decay.
Bitewing x-rays usually consist of four films, two on either side of the mouth, necessary to capture all of the teeth (children with smaller jaws, however, often only require one film per side). How frequently they're conducted depends on a number of factors, including the patient's age: children or young adolescents are usually filmed more frequently than adults, usually every six to twelve months. Frequency also depends on a patient's particular decay risk — the higher the risk the more frequent the x-ray.
Regardless of how often they're performed, a similar application principle applies with bitewing x-rays as with any other radiological method: As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA). With the ALARA principle in other words, we're looking for that sweet spot where we're able to detect the earliest stages of dental disease with the least amount of radiation exposure.
Bitewings fit this principle well: a patient receives only a fraction of the radiation exposure from a four-film bitewing as they do from a daily dose of environmental radiation. Factor in new digital technology that reduces exposure rates and bitewings pose virtually no health risk to patients, especially if conducted in a prudent manner.
The benefits are well worth it. Thanks to bitewing x-rays we may be able to diagnose decay early and stop it before it causes you or your family member extensive tooth damage.
Autumn begins in the month of September, a season that promises cooler days and longer nights. But more significantly for sports fans, September marks the start of football season. Football remains America’s favorite spectator sport—and it’s also played by countless college and high school athletes, as well as those who enjoy an occasional pickup game in the back yard or on the beach. Yet, like many contact sports, football (even touch football) carries a risk of injury—and one of the areas of the body most vulnerable to injury is the mouth.
Some of the most common dental injuries in contact sports include lacerations (cuts), tooth fractures, displacement (teeth pushed deeper into or out of their sockets), knocked-out teeth, and temporomandibular joint problems. While it’s hard to pin down the exact statistics, researchers estimate that over 5 million teeth are avulsed (completely knocked out) every year in the U.S. alone—a significant number of which are due to sports injuries. It is also estimated that the lifetime cost to treat an avulsed tooth ranges from $5,000 to $20,000!
Given the prevalence of sports-related dental injuries, it’s no wonder that protective devices have been developed to minimize the risk. Properly fitted mouthguards have been shown time and again to be effective at preventing many types of dental injuries. Yet the use of devices isn’t always required by rule-making organizations—and many casual players don’t use them at all. That’s a shame, because so many of the injuries are preventable.
Custom-made mouthguards are available right here at the dental office. Strong and durable, these protective devices are specially fabricated from a model of the player’s own teeth. That means they offer the maximum protection, yet can be comfortably worn during practices, backyard games or championships—an important consideration, since accidents often happen when least expected. (And if you’re a parent of a child who plays sports, that’s probably something you already know.)
It isn’t just football players who can benefit from mouthguards: Those with a passion for soccer, basketball, baseball, martial arts, and dozens of other sports can also get the protection they need from this small (but important) item. So this season, when you’re watching or playing your favorite game, think about the extra safety and peace of mind you could gain from a custom-made mouthguard.
If you have questions about custom-made mouthguards, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “An Introduction to Sports Injuries & Dentistry” and “Athletic Mouthguards.”
The basics for treating tooth decay have changed little since the father of modern dentistry Dr. G.V. Black developed them in the early 20th Century. Even though technical advances have streamlined treatment, our objectives are the same: remove any decayed material, prepare the cavity and then fill it.
This approach has endured because it works—dentists practicing it have preserved billions of teeth. But it has had one principle drawback: we often lose healthy tooth structure while removing decay. Although we preserve the tooth, its overall structure may be weaker.
But thanks to recent diagnostic and treatment advances we’re now preserving more of the tooth structure during treatment than ever before. On the diagnostic front enhanced x-ray technology and new magnification techniques are helping us find decay earlier when there’s less damaged material to remove and less risk to healthy structure.
Treating cavities has likewise improved with the increased use of air abrasion, an alternative to drilling. Emitting a concentrated stream of fine abrasive particles, air abrasion is mostly limited to treating small cavities. Even so, dentists using it say they’re removing less healthy tooth structure than with drilling.
While these current advances have already had a noticeable impact on decay treatment, there’s more to come. One in particular could dwarf every other advance with its impact: a tooth repairing itself through dentin regeneration.
This futuristic idea stems from a discovery by researchers at King’s College, London experimenting with Tideglusib, a medication for treating Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers placed tiny sponges soaked with the drug into holes drilled into mouse teeth. After a few weeks the holes had filled with dentin, produced by the teeth themselves.
Dentin regeneration isn’t new, but methods to date haven’t been able to produce enough dentin to repair a typical cavity. Tideglusib has proven more promising, and it’s already being used in clinical trials. If its development continues to progress, patients’ teeth may one day repair their own cavities without a filling.
Dr. Black’s enduring concepts continue to define tooth decay treatment. But developments now and on the horizon are transforming how we treat this disease in ways the father of modern dentistry couldn’t imagine.
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