What do young saber tooth tigers, which have been extinct about 10,000 years, have in common with human kids today? At first glance, not a lot. Smilodon fatalis, the big cat of North America, reached adulthood at around age three and weighed up to 600 pounds. But these ice-age mammals are probably best known for their dagger-like canine teeth, which (as shown by many well-preserved skeletons) grew up to 7 inches long. And that’s where the comparison between kids and kitties gets interesting.
The toothy felines had primary (baby) teeth and adult teeth, which developed in a similar way to human dentition. The primary teeth came in first, persisted during the young cat’s development, and shared space in the mouth as the adult teeth were erupting (growing in) — with one big difference. According to a recent study reported in the academic journal PLOS ONE, those colossal canines grew at an astonishing rate: up to 6 millimeters per month! By comparison, human primary teeth emerge from the gums at around 0.7mm per month, while permanent teeth may grow up to 2mm per month.
It’s understandable why those tiger teeth developed so rapidly: Life in the Ice Age was hard, and predators needed every advantage just to stay alive. But while human baby teeth take longer to develop (and to go away), they, too, are vitally important.Â For one thing, the primary teeth let kids bite, chew, speak (and smile) properly, until they are replaced by adult teeth — a process that isn’t usually finished until a child reaches the age of 12-13. So those “baby” teeth allow kids to have good nutrition — and positive social interactions — for a significant part of childhood!
There’s another important thing primary teeth do before they’re gone: They help ensure that the succeeding teeth come in properly, by holding a space in the jaw that will later be filled by a permanent tooth. If baby teeth are lost prematurely, those spaces can close up, resulting in permanent teeth that emerge too close together, or in the wrong places. This condition, called malocclusion (bad bite), can usually be corrected by orthodontics. But it’s better to avoid the inconvenience (and cost) of braces, if possible.
That’s why it’s so important to take care of your child’s baby teeth. Even though they won’t be around forever, they have a vital role to play right now. So be sure proper attention is paid to your child’s oral hygiene: That means avoiding sugar, and remembering to brush and floss every day. And be sure to come in regularly for routine exams, cleanings, and needed care. It’s the best way to keep those little teeth from “going extinct” too soon!
If you have questions or concerns about your child’s baby teeth, please call our office to schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Importance of Baby Teeth” and “Early Loss of Baby Teeth.”
It's no secret that many of Hollywood's brightest stars didn't start out with perfectly aligned, pearly-white teeth. And these days, plenty of celebs are willing to share their stories, showing how dentists help those megawatt smiles shine. In a recent interview with W magazine, Emma Stone, the stunning 28-year-old star of critically-acclaimed films like La La Land and Birdman, explained how orthodontic appliances helped her overcome problems caused by a harmful habit: persistent thumb sucking in childhood.
“I sucked my thumb until I was 11 years old,” she admitted, mischievously adding “It's still so soothing to do it.” Although it may have been comforting, the habit spelled trouble for her bite. “The roof of my mouth is so high-pitched that I had this huge overbite,” she said. “I got this gate when I was in second grade… I had braces, and then they put a gate.”
While her technical terminology isn't quite accurate, Stone is referring to a type of appliance worn in the mouth which dentists call a “tongue crib” or “thumb/finger appliance.” The purpose of these devices is to stop children from engaging in “parafunctional habits” — that is, behaviors like thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, which are unrelated to the normal function of the mouth and can cause serious bite problems. (Other parafunctional habits include nail biting, pencil chewing and teeth grinding.)
When kids develop the habit of regularly pushing the tongue against the front teeth (tongue thrusting) or sucking on an object placed inside the mouth (thumb sucking), the behavior can cause the front teeth to be pushed out of alignment. When the top teeth move forward, the condition is commonly referred to as an overbite. In some cases a more serious situation called an “open bite” may develop, which can be difficult to correct. Here, the top and bottom front teeth do not meet or overlap when the mouth is closed; instead, a vertical gap is left in between.
Orthodontic appliances are often recommended to stop harmful oral habits from causing further misalignment. Most appliances are designed with a block (or gate) that prevents the tongue or finger from pushing on the teeth; this is what the actress mentioned. Normally, when the appliance is worn for a period of months it can be expected to modify the child's behavior. Once the habit has been broken, other appliances like traditional braces or clear aligners can be used to bring the teeth into better alignment.
But in Stone's case, things didn't go so smoothly. “I'd take the gate down and suck my thumb underneath the mouth appliance,” she admitted, “because I was totally ignoring the rule to not suck your thumb while you're trying to straighten out your teeth.” That rule-breaking ended up costing the aspiring star lots of time: she spent a total of 7 years wearing braces.
Fortunately, things worked out for the best for Emma Stone: She now has a brilliant smile and a stellar career — plus a shiny new Golden Globe award! Does your child have a thumb sucking problem or another harmful oral habit? For more information about how to correct it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Like many other families, you may use formula instead of breast milk as a safe and healthy alternative to feed your infant. But, if you use a powdered form that you mix with water your child may be taking in more fluoride than they require.
Fluoride is a natural chemical that can strengthen tooth enamel and help prevent decay. After decades of study it's also been shown to pose no serious health risks. Because of fluoride's benefits and safety, many water utilities add tiny amounts to their drinking water supply.
But it can have one side effect called enamel fluorosis. If a child ingests too much fluoride during early development it can cause discoloring mottled spots or streaking in permanent teeth. Although it doesn't affect their health, the teeth can be unattractive and require cosmetic attention.
That's why it's best to keep fluoride consumption to a healthy minimum for children. That, however, is often easier said than done, since we can encounter hidden fluoride in a variety of places. Besides hygiene products and fluoridated drinking water, you may find fluoride in prepared juices and other beverages, bottled water or in foods processed with fluoridated water. There are no labeling requirements for fluoride, so you'll have to research to find out if a product contains fluoride.
There are, however, some things you can do to control your child's fluoride intake. First, know as much as you can about known sources your child may encounter like your water supply. You can find out if your utility adds fluoride and by how much by contacting them or visiting My Water's Fluoride online at https://nccd.cdc.gov/DOH_MWF/.
If you use fluoride toothpaste apply only a “smear” on the end of the brush for children under two and a pea-sized amount for older children. If you have fluoridated drinking water, consider breastfeeding your infant, use ready-to-feed formula or mix powdered formula with bottled water labeled “de-ionized,” “purified,” “demineralized” or “distilled.”
And, do feel free to discuss your concerns with us during your child's regular checkup. We'll help you adjust their diet, water intake and hygiene habits to be sure they're receiving the right amount they need for developing strong teeth — and no more.
If you would like more information on appropriate fluoride levels for children, 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 “Tooth Development and Infant Formula.”
Regular dental visits are an important part of teeth and gum health at any age, including young children. But the clinical nature of a dental office can be intimidating to children and create in them an anxiety that could carry over into adulthood and disrupt future care.
You can, though, take steps to "de-stress" your child's dental visits. Here are 3 ways to reduce your child's dental anxiety.
Start visits early. Most dentists and pediatricians recommend your child's first visit around age one. By then, many of their primary teeth have already erupted and in need of monitoring and decay prevention measures. Beginning visits early rather than later in childhood also seems to dampen the development of dental visit anxiety.
Take advantage of sedation therapy. Even with the best calming efforts, some children still experience nervousness during dental visits. Your dentist may be able to help by administering a mild sedative before and during a visit to help your child relax. These medications aren't the same as anesthesia, which numbs the body from pain—they simply take the edge off your child's anxiety while leaving them awake and alert. Coupled with positive reinforcement, sedation could help your child have a more pleasant dental visit experience.
Set the example. Children naturally follow the behavior and attitudes of their parents or caregivers. If they see you taking your own hygiene practices seriously, they're more likely to do the same. Similarly, if they notice you're uncomfortable during a dental visit, they'll interpret that as sufficient reason to feel the same way. So, treat going to the dentist as an "adventure," with a reward at the end. And stay calm—if you're calm and unafraid, they can be too.
If you would like more information on effective dental care for kids, 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 “Taking the Stress out of Dentistry for Kids.”
Around ages 6 to 8, a child's primary teeth will begin to loosen to make way for their permanent teeth. If all goes well, the new set will come in straight with the upper teeth slightly overlapping the bottom.
But sometimes it doesn't go that well: a child may instead develop a poor bite (malocclusion) that interferes with normal function. If we can detect the early signs of a developing malocclusion, however, we may be able to intervene and lessen its impact. You as a parent can play a vital role in this early detection.
The first thing you should be watching for is teeth spacing.Â Normal teeth come in straight with a slight gap between them. But there are two abnormal extremes to look for: teeth having no space between them or crowded together in a crooked, haphazard manner; or they seem to have too much space between them, which indicates a possible discrepancy between the teeth and jaw sizes.
You should also notice how the teeth come together or “bite.” If you notice the lower front teeth biting in front of the upper (the opposite of normal) it may be a developing underbite. If you see a space between the upper and lower teeth when they bite down, this is a sign of an open bite. Or, if the upper front teeth seem to come down too far over the lower, this could mean a deep bite: in extreme cases the lower teeth actually bite into the roof of the mouth behind the upper teeth.
You should also look for crossbites, in which the teeth in one part of the mouth bite abnormally in front or behind their counterparts, while teeth in other parts bite normally. For example, you might notice if the back upper teeth bite inside the lower teeth (abnormal), while the front upper teeth bite outside the lower front teeth (normal).
The important thing is to note anything that doesn't look right or seems inconsistent with how your child's teeth look or how they function. Even if you aren't sure it's an issue, contact us anyway for an examination. If it really is a developing bite problem, starting treatment now may lessen the extent and cost of treatment later.
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