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?”
Ever wonder just exactly what causes cavities? Once upon a time, “Toothworms” — miniscule, yet relentless pests — were thought to be responsible for this widespread malady. This belief persisted from ancient times through the 17th Century; William Shakespeare even made reference to the baneful beasts in his play Much Ado about Nothing. (“What, sigh for a toothache? [It] is but a humor or a worm.”) Today, however, we know why no one ever observed an honest-to-goodness toothworm: it’s because they’re much too tiny to see with the naked eye.
Actually, it isn’t worms, but much smaller organisms that cause tooth decay. These harmful plaque bacteria (along with many helpful microorganisms) live in the mouth, and build up on surfaces of the teeth when they aren’t cleaned properly. They feed on sugar in the diet, and release substances that erode tooth enamel, which causes small holes called cavities. Cavities, in turn, are what’s responsible for most toothaches.
While we may scoff at old legends, one fact remains: Even today, according to the National Institutes of Health, tooth decay is the number one chronic disease of both children and adults; and it’s almost entirely preventable. We can’t blame it on toothworms — but what can we do about it?
Glad you asked! The best way to avoid decay is through prevention. That means brushing your teeth twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste, and flossing them every day. It also means eating a balanced diet and avoiding acidic and sugary foods — like soda, some juices, and sweet, sticky snacks. If you do consume these types of foods, limit them to mealtimes; that gives your saliva enough time in between to neutralize the acids naturally. And, of course, make an appointment see us twice a year for a complete check-up and professional cleaning.
If you do begin to notice the symptoms of tooth decay (toothache, for example) it’s important to come in to the dental office right away, so we can treat the problem before it gets worse. Prompt action can often help save a tooth that might otherwise be lost. Besides filling the cavity, we may be also able to recommend ways to help prevent the disease from affecting other teeth. And if you need a more extensive procedure to relieve the problem — such as a root canal — we can make sure you get the appropriate treatment.
We’ve come a long way since the “toothworm” days — but we can still do a lot more to make tooth decay a thing of the past.
If you would like more information about tooth decay and cavity prevention, please contact us or schedule an appointment. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “Tooth Decay — The World’s Oldest & Most Widespread Disease” and “Tooth Decay — How To Assess Your Risk.”
It might seem that supermodels have a fairly easy life — except for the fact that they are expected to look perfect whenever they’re in front of a camera. Sometimes that’s easy — but other times, it can be pretty difficult. Just ask Chrissy Teigen: Recently, she was in Bangkok, Thailand, filming a restaurant scene for the TV travel series The Getaway, when some temporary restorations (bonding) on her teeth ended up in her food.
As she recounted in an interview, “I was… like, ‘Oh my god, is my tooth going to fall out on camera?’ This is going to be horrible.” Yet despite the mishap, Teigen managed to finish the scene — and to keep looking flawless. What caused her dental dilemma? “I had chipped my front tooth so I had temporaries in,” she explained. “I’m a grinder. I grind like crazy at night time. I had temporary teeth in that I actually ground off on the flight to Thailand.”
Like stress, teeth grinding is a problem that can affect anyone, supermodel or not. In fact, the two conditions are often related. Sometimes, the habit of bruxism (teeth clenching and grinding) occurs during the day, when you’re trying to cope with a stressful situation. Other times, it can occur at night — even while you’re asleep, so you retain no memory of it in the morning. Either way, it’s a behavior that can seriously damage your teeth.
When teeth are constantly subjected to the extreme forces produced by clenching and grinding, their hard outer covering (enamel) can quickly start to wear away. In time, teeth can become chipped, worn down — even loose! Any dental work on those teeth, such as fillings, bonded areas and crowns, may also be damaged, start to crumble or fall out. Your teeth may become extremely sensitive to hot and cold because of the lack of sufficient enamel. Bruxism can also result in headaches and jaw pain, due in part to the stress placed on muscles of the jaw and face.
You may not be aware of your own teeth-grinding behavior — but if you notice these symptoms, you might have a grinding problem. Likewise, after your routine dental exam, we may alert you to the possibility that you’re a “bruxer.” So what can you do about teeth clenching and grinding?
We can suggest a number of treatments, ranging from lifestyle changes to dental appliances or procedures. Becoming aware of the behavior is a good first step; in some cases, that may be all that’s needed to start controlling the habit. Finding healthy ways to relieve stress — meditation, relaxation, a warm bath and a soothing environment — may also help. If nighttime grinding keeps occurring, an “occlusal guard” (nightguard) may be recommended. This comfortable device is worn in the mouth at night, to protect teeth from damage. If a minor bite problem exists, it can sometimes be remedied with a simple procedure; in more complex situations, orthodontic work might be recommended.
Teeth grinding at night can damage your smile — but you don’t have to take it lying down! If you have questions about bruxism, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Stress & Tooth Habits” and “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
It’s estimated that between 10 and 40 million adults in the U.S. suffer from chronic jaw pain and disability. Healthcare providers refer to it as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJD), a group of conditions characterized by pain and limited function with the jaw joints, as well as related muscles and tissues.
People with TMJD often experience popping, clicking or grating sounds when they move their lower jaw. The more serious symptoms, however, are severe pain and limited movement of the jaw. The causes of TMJD haven’t been fully substantiated, but it’s believed to be influenced by a person’s genetic background, their gender (most patients are women of childbearing age), their environment and behavioral habits. This uncertainty about the underlying causes has made it difficult to improve treatment strategies for the disorder.
One promising area of research, though, is suspected connections between TMJD and other health problems. In one survey of over 1,500 TMJD patients, nearly two-thirds indicated they had three or more other chronic conditions. Among the most frequently named were fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and sleep disturbances.
We’re not quite sure how or why TMJD might be linked to these other conditions, but further study is underway. Researchers hope any knowledge uncovered could lead to advances in our ability to diagnose, treat and prevent TMJD.
Until then, the more traditional treatment approach remains the best course of action: medication to relax muscles and relieve pain; thermal therapies using hot and cold compresses during flare-ups; and physical therapy. Switching to softer foods temporarily may also give jaw muscles a rest from over-activity. Although jaw surgery is an option, we should consider it a last resort after other therapies have proven altogether ineffective in relieving pain and restoring function.
If you suspect you have TMJD, please visit a medical doctor first. Other conditions could mimic the symptoms of the disorder and would need to be ruled out first. If the diagnosis is TMJD, you’re not alone. You can receive information, support and updates on the latest research by visiting the TMJ Association at www.tmj.org.
If you would like more information on chronic jaw pain, 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 “Chronic Jaw Pain and Associated Conditions.”
Shingles is a painful viral infection that could potentially recur in sufferers for years. It causes painful skin rashes, general nerve pain, fever and fatigue. In extreme cases, it can cause blindness if the eyes become infected. And because it’s highly contagious, it could affect your dental treatment.
Formally known as herpes zoster, shingles is a recurrent form of chicken pox. If you contracted chicken pox in childhood, the shingles virus could lay dormant for several years. In fact, most people who contract shingles are over 50.
Because it acutely affects the nerves around the skin, the disease’s most common symptom is a belted or striped rash pattern that often appears on one side of the body and frequently on the head, neck or face. While the severity of symptoms may vary among patients, shingles can be a significant health threat to certain people, especially pregnant women, cancer patients or individuals with compromised immune systems.
In its early stages, the shingles virus can easily pass from person to person, either by direct contact with the rash or by airborne secretions that others can inhale. Because it’s highly contagious, even a routine teeth cleaning could potentially spread the virus to dental staff or other patients. Because of the significant health threat it potentially poses to some people, your dental provider may decline to treat you if you’re showing symptoms of the disease.
To stay ahead of this, let your dentist know you’re experiencing a shingles episode if you have an upcoming dental appointment, in which case you may need to reschedule. In the meantime, you should seek medical attention from your physician who may prescribe antiviral medication. Starting it within 3 days of a shingles outbreak can significantly reduce your pain and discomfort as well as its contagiousness.
And if you’re over sixty or at risk for shingles, consider getting the shingles vaccine. This readily available vaccine has proven effective in preventing the disease and could help you avoid the pain and disruption this viral infection can bring to your life.
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