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?”
You probably already know that using tobacco causes significant health risks: It increases your odds of getting various cancers and coronary diseases, to name just a few. Unfortunately, not everyone is able to kick the habit, even when they know they should. Tooth loss is another issue that can cause trouble for your health, in the form of bone loss, malnutrition, and social or psychological problems. Dental implants are a great way to replace missing teeth — but does smoking complicate the process of getting implants?
The short answer is yes, smoking can make implant placement a bit riskier — but in the big picture, it doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) have this procedure done if it’s needed.
Smoking, as you know, has harmful effects in your mouth (even leaving aside the risk of oral cancer). The hot gases can burn the oral cavity and damage salivary glands. Nicotine in smoke reduces blood flow to the soft tissues, which can affect the immune response and slow the processes of healing. At the same time, smoking promotes the growth of disease-causing oral bacteria.
How does this affect dental implants? Essentially, smoking creates a higher risk that implants may not heal properly after they are placed, and makes them more likely to fail over time. Studies have shown that smokers have an implant failure rate that’s twice as great as non-smokers. Does this mean that if you smoke, you shouldn't consider implants to replace missing or failing teeth?
Not necessarily. On the whole, implants are the most successful method of replacing missing teeth. In fact, the overall long-term survival rate of implants for both smokers and non-smokers is well over 90 percent — meaning that only a small percentage don’t work as they should. This is where it’s important to get the expert opinion of an implant specialist, who can help you decide whether implants are right for your particular situation.
If you do smoke, is there anything you can do to better your odds for having a successful dental implant? Yes: quit now! (Implants are a good excuse to start a smoking-cessation program.) But if you can’t, at least stop smoking for one week before and two weeks after implant placement. And if that is not possible, at least go on a smoking diet: restrict the number of cigarettes you smoke by 50% (we know you can at least do that!) Try to follow good oral hygiene practices at all times, and see your dentist regularly for checkups and cleanings.
When is the best time to floss your teeth: Morning? Bedtime? How about: whenever and wherever the moment feels right?
For Cam Newton, award-winning NFL quarterback for the Carolina Panthers, the answer is clearly the latter. During the third quarter of the 2016 season-opener between his team and the Denver Broncos, TV cameras focused on Newton as he sat on the bench. The 2015 MVP was clearly seen stretching a string of dental floss between his index fingers and taking care of some dental hygiene business… and thereby creating a minor storm on the internet.
Inappropriate? We don't think so. As dentists, we're always happy when someone comes along to remind people how important it is to floss. And when that person has a million-dollar smile like Cam Newton's — so much the better.
Of course, there has been a lot of discussion lately about flossing. News outlets have gleefully reported that there's a lack of hard evidence at present to show that flossing is effective. But we would like to point out that, as the saying goes, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” There are a number of reasons why health care organizations like the American Dental Association (ADA) still firmly recommend daily flossing. Here are a few:
- It's well established that when plaque is allowed to build up on teeth, tooth decay and gum disease are bound to follow.
- A tooth brush does a good job of cleaning most tooth surfaces, but it can't reach into spaces between teeth.
- Cleaning between teeth (interdental cleaning) has been shown to remove plaque and food debris from these hard-to-reach spaces.
- Dental floss isn't the only method for interdental cleaning… but it is recognized by dentists as the best way, and is an excellent method for doing this at home — or anywhere else!
Whether you use dental floss or another type of interdental cleaner is up to you. But the ADA stands by its recommendations for maintaining good oral health: Brush twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste; visit your dentist regularly for professional cleanings and checkups; and clean between teeth once a day with an interdental cleaner like floss. It doesn't matter if you do it in your own home, or on the sidelines of an NFL game… as long as you do it!
When things get unpleasant in your mouth, it’s most often related to some underlying cause. In fact, the discomfort you’re feeling is often a call to action to have it checked and treated.
The American Dental Association recently surveyed approximately 15,000 U.S. adults about their oral problems. If you have any of the top 3 problems found in this survey, it could be a “warning bell” sounding in your mouth right now.
Here, then, are the top 3 dental problems in America, what they mean and what you should do about them.
#3: Tooth Pain. About a third of respondents (more among those younger or from lower-income households) indicated pain as a problem. As a warning sign of something wrong, tooth pain could be telling you that you have a decayed tooth, a gum abscess or something similar. The best thing to do is get a checkup as soon as possible. It’s unlikely that whatever is causing the pain will go away on its own and procrastination could make ultimate treatment more complex and difficult.
#2: Difficulty Biting. A slightly higher number of people named difficulty chewing and biting as their main oral problem. As with tooth pain, chewing difficulty causes could be many: cracked, loose or decayed teeth, ill-fitted dentures, or a jaw joint disorder (TMD). Again, if it hurts to chew or bite, see a dentist. Besides the underlying problem, chewing difficulties could also affect the quality of your nutrition.
#1: Dry Mouth. Chronic dry mouth garnered the highest response in the survey, especially among older adults. This is more serious than the occasional “cotton mouth” feeling we all experience—with chronic dry mouth the salivary glands aren’t producing enough saliva to neutralize mouth acid or fight disease, thus increasing your risk for tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease. It’s most likely caused by medications or systemic conditions, so talk with your dentist or physician about boosting saliva flow.
Office cleanings and other minor procedures are a routine part of regular dental care. For some people, though, a routine visit could put them at slight risk for a serious illness.
The reason for this concern is a condition known as bacteremia. This occurs when bacteria, in this case from the mouth and conceivably during an office cleaning or other routine dental procedure, enters the bloodstream. Although for most people this isn’t a great issue, there’s been concern that bacteremia could further compromise the health of patients with or susceptible to other conditions like endocarditis (heart inflammation), prosthetic joints or compromised immune systems.
This concern grew out of a number of studies in the early 20th Century that seemed to show a link between dental bacteremia and infective endocarditis. At about mid-century it became a common practice to administer antibiotics before dental work (usually 2 grams of amoxicillin or an equivalent about an hour before) to high risk patients as a way of protecting them against infection. The practice later expanded to other health issues, including many heart conditions.
Beginning in 2007, however, guidelines developed jointly by the American Heart Association and the American Dental Association reduced the number of conditions recommended for antibiotic therapy. Based on these guidelines, we now recommend pre-procedure antibiotics if you have a history of infective endocarditis, artificial heart valves, certain repaired congenital heart defects, or heart transplant that develops a subsequent heart valve problem. Patients with prosthetic joints or immune system problems are no longer under the guidelines, but may still undergo antibiotic therapy if believed necessary by their individual physician.
If you have a condition that could qualify for antibiotic therapy, please be sure to discuss it with both your dentist and physician. We’ll work together to ensure any dental work you undergo won’t have an adverse effect on the rest of your health.
If you would like more information on antibiotic therapy and dental care, 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 “Antibiotics for Dental Visits.”
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