More than one parent has wakened in the middle of the night to an unnerving sound emanating from their child's bedroom. Although it might seem like something from the latest horror flick is romping around in there, all that racket has a down-to-earth cause: teeth grinding.
Teeth grinding is the involuntary habit of gnashing the teeth together when not engaged in normal functions like eating or speaking. It can occur at any time, but frequently with children while they sleep. Adults may also grind their teeth, but it's more prevalent among children.
While stress seems to be the main reason for adult teeth grinding, many health providers believe the habit in children is most often caused by an overreactive response of the neuromuscular system for chewing, which may be immature. Other conditions like asthma, sleep apnea or drug use may also play a role.
Fortunately, there doesn't appear to be any lasting harm from young children grinding their teeth, although they may encounter problems like headaches, earaches or jaw pain in the short term. Most, though, will outgrow the habit and be no worse for wear.
But if it persists beyond childhood, problems can escalate. Adults run the risk of serious cumulative issues like chronic jaw pain, accelerated tooth wear or tooth fracturing. It's similar to finger sucking, a nearly universal habit among young children that poses no real harm unless it persists later in life.
And as with finger sucking, parents should follow a similar strategy of carefully monitoring their child's teeth grinding. If the habit continues into later childhood or adolescence, or noticeable problems like those mentioned previously begin to appear, it may be time to intervene.
Such intervention may initially include diagnosis and treatment for underlying problems like upper airway obstruction, asthma or stress. For short term protection against dental damage, your dentist can also fashion a custom mouthguard for your child to wear while they sleep. Made of pliable plastic, the guard prevents the teeth from making solid contact with each other during a grinding episode.
Outside of some lost sleep, there's little cause for alarm if your child grinds their teeth. But if it seems to go on longer than it should, you can take action to protect their long-term dental health.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding, 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.”
After months or even years of radiation or chemotherapy, the words "cancer-free" is music to your ears. Your joy and relief, though, may be tempered by the toll these treatments can take on the rest of your body—including your mouth.
Both of these treatments can destroy healthy tissue along with targeted cancer cells. If the focus has been on the head and neck regions, they could damage the salivary glands to the point that they won't produce adequate saliva flow.
A lack of saliva can have a detrimental effect on your oral health. Saliva buffers and helps lower oral acid levels that soften and erode enamel and increase the likelihood of tooth decay. Saliva also supplies antibodies that fight disease-causing bacteria. Otherwise, bacteria—and the risk for disease—can rapidly grow.
If these or other scenarios occur, you may experience dental damage, even tooth loss. Fortunately, we can restore an injured smile in various ways, including dentures, bridges or dental implants. But we should also attempt to limit the potential damage by taking steps to prevent dental disease during cancer treatment.
The most important of these is to brush and floss daily. Everyone should practice these hygiene tasks to remove disease-causing dental plaque, regardless of their health status. But because some natural disease-fighting mechanisms in the mouth may be disrupted during either radiation or chemotherapy, it's even more important if you're a cancer patient.
It's equally important to maintain as much as possible regular dental visits during cancer treatment. Dental cleanings provided during these visits remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque), which further lowers your disease risk.
Your dentist can better monitor your overall dental condition during frequent visits and provide as much treatment as you can tolerate. They can also enhance your protection against disease by prescribing antibacterial mouthrinses, fluoride applications or products to boost saliva production.
Some teeth and gum problems may be unavoidable; in that case, you may need post-treatment dental care to restore your oral health as needed. But caring as much for your dental health as you're able during cancer treatment could help you realize a better outcome.
There are plenty of hilarious videos of groggy patients coming out of wisdom teeth surgery to keep you occupied for hours. While many of these have turned everyday people into viral video stars, every now and then it really is someone famous. Recently, that someone was Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.
The NFL star underwent oral surgery to remove all four of his third molars (aka wisdom teeth). His wife, performer and supermodel, Ciara, caught him on video as he was wheeled to recovery and later uploaded the clip to Instagram. As post-wisdom teeth videos go, Wilson didn't say anything too embarrassing other than, "My lips hurt."
Funny videos aside, though, removing wisdom teeth is a serious matter. Typically, the third molars are the last permanent teeth to erupt, and commonly arrive late onto a jaw already crowded with other teeth. This increases their chances of erupting out of alignment or not erupting at all, remaining completely or partially submerged within the gums.
This latter condition, impaction, can put pressure on the roots of adjacent teeth, can cause abnormal tooth movement resulting in a poor bite, or can increase the risk of dental disease. For that reason, it has been a common practice to remove wisdom teeth preemptively, even if they aren't showing any obvious signs of disease.
In recent years, though, dentists have become increasingly nuanced in making that decision. Many will now leave wisdom teeth be if they have erupted fully and are in proper alignment, and they don't appear to be diseased or causing problems for other teeth.
The best way to make the right decision is to closely monitor the development of wisdom teeth throughout childhood and adolescence. If signs of any problems begin to emerge, it may become prudent to remove them, usually between the ages of 16 and 25. Because of their location and root system, wisdom teeth are usually removed by an oral surgeon through one of the most common surgeries performed each year.
This underscores the need for children to see a dentist regularly, beginning no later than their first birthday. It's also a good idea for a child to undergo an orthodontic evaluation around age 6. Both of these types of exams can prove helpful in deciding on what to do about the wisdom teeth, depending on the individual case.
After careful monitoring throughout childhood and adolescence, the best decision might be to remove them. If so, take it from Russell Wilson: It's worth becoming the star of a funny video to protect both current and future dental health.
Even masterpiece paintings need an appropriate frame. Likewise, our gums help bring out our teeth's beauty.
But gums are more than enhancements for our smile appearance—they're also critical to good oral health. In recognition of National Gum Care Month, there are a couple of reasons why you should look after your gums just like you do your teeth.
For one, the gums are primarily responsible for holding teeth in place. With healthy gums, the teeth won't budge even under chewing stress (although this attachment does allow for micro-movements). Diseased gums, however, are another story: Advancing gum disease weakens gum attachment, causing teeth to loosen and eventually give way.
The gums also protect the root end of teeth from pathogens and oral acid, just as enamel protects the crown. Gum disease can also foul up this protective mechanism as infected gums have a tendency to shrink away from the teeth (also known as gum recession). This exposes the roots to an increased risk for disease.
So, taking care of your gums is an essential part of taking care of your teeth. And, the basic care for them is the same as for your pearly whites: daily brushing and flossing and regular dental cleanings. These habits remove the buildup of dental plaque, a thin film of food and bacteria that cause gum disease.
It's also important to keep a watchful eye for any signs of gum abnormalities. Be on the alert for unusual gum redness, swelling and bleeding. Because these may be indicators of an infection already underway, you should see us for an examination as soon as possible.
If we find gum disease, we can begin immediate treatment in the form of comprehensive plaque removal. If the disease has advanced to the root, we may need to access this area surgically to remove any infection. So, the sooner we're able to diagnose and treat an infection, the less likely that scenario will occur.
Ironically, something meant to protect your gums could also damage them. You can do this with excessive and overly aggressive brushing. Putting too much "elbow grease" into brushing, as well as doing it more than a couple of times a day, could eventually cause the gums to recede. Instead, apply only the same degree of pressure to brushing as you would while writing with a pencil.
As we like to tell our patients, take care of your mouth, and your mouth will take care of you. Something similar could be said about your gums: Take care of these essential soft tissues, and they'll continue to support and protect your teeth.
In addition to the usual tooth and gum problems, dentists also see patients with soft tissue infections in and around the mouth. One of the more common of these is the irritation or "cracking" of the corners of the mouth.
Formally known as angular cheilitis (or perleche, a French word, meaning "to lick"), cracked mouth corners are localized irritations made worse by saliva accumulation or an accompanying yeast infection. They're prominent among children and young adults who drool during sleep or while wearing orthodontic braces.
Older adults can also develop cracked mouth corners because of deep wrinkle lines around the mouth ("marionette lines") or tissue irritation from wearing dentures. Teeth loss, especially in the back of the jaws, can weaken facial support leading to collapse of the bite, which can contribute to angular cheilitis.
The condition can cause anything from minor discomfort at the mouth corners to a yeast infection that spreads throughout the mouth and throat. Whatever the symptoms, treatment usually begins with antifungal medication in the form of a mouthrinse or a topical ointment. The dentist may also prescribe a steroid ointment like zinc oxide paste to control inflammation and serve as a barrier against infection.
If the infection has spread beyond the mouth corners, patients may also need to use an antibacterial mouthrinse (usually chlorhexidine) to clear up the infection and help prevent a relapse. Besides cleaning their appliances with chlorhexidine, denture wearers with angular cheilitis should also take their dentures out at night to reduce the chances of a reoccurrence.
Along the same vein, patients who contend with frequent cracked mouth corners and who have missing teeth should have those teeth replaced by some form of restoration. If that involves dentures, it's important to maintain a good fit with them to reduce the chances of tissue irritation. And patients with deep wrinkle lines around their mouth may be able to lessen them through dermatological treatment.
Even though cracked mouth corners rarely pose a major health problem, the discomfort they cause can be a drag on your daily life and activities. Remember that you don't have to suffer—a visit to your dentist could start you on your journey toward relief from this irritating problem.
If you would like more information on angular cheilitis and similar mouth conditions, 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 “Cracked Corners of the Mouth.”
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