Sleep — you'll spend a third of your life in its blissful embrace. But it isn't a luxury: you need it as much as nutrition and exercise. An occasional bad night's sleep leaves you irritable and drowsy; a bad night's sleep every night could endanger your health.
One of the most common causes for chronic poor sleep is obstructive sleep apnea. This occurs when the airway becomes blocked and you stop breathing temporarily. The blockage may be due to an oversized tongue, tonsils or uvula, an abnormal jaw or chin structure, or nasal polyps and congestion. When your brain notices you're not breathing, it rouses you just enough to relieve the blockage. These incidents can occur and end in seconds several times a night without you being aware of it.
This interrupts your normal sleep patterns, including the critical rapid eye movement (REM) of deep sleep that occurs at different times during the night. The results of not getting enough REM sleep are quite unhealthy: besides irritability and reduced concentration, poor REM sleep is linked to depression, headaches, decreased sex drive, acid reflux, high blood pressure or the onset of diabetes. Your night time experience — as well as your sleep partner's — won't be pleasant either as you may experience night time sweating and snoring.
Fortunately, sleep apnea can be treated. Our first considered treatment is a custom-fitted night guard you wear while you sleep that holds the tongue back from the airway. If your apnea is more severe, you may need to consider continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) therapy, which uses a machine to pump pressurized air through a mask you wear while sleeping to force the airway open. You might also benefit from surgery to remove excess soft tissue obstructing the airway.
If you or your family has noticed any of these symptoms mentioned, make an appointment to see us — we're trained to look for oral signs in the mouth that may indicate sleep apnea. The sooner we can implement a treatment strategy, the sooner you'll begin experiencing a good night's sleep and better health.
If you would like more information on sleep apnea and what to do about it, 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 “Sleep Disorders & Dentistry.”
Sometimes it seems that appearances count for everything—especially in Hollywood. But just recently, Lonnie Chaviz, the 10-year-old actor who plays young Randall on the hit TV show This Is Us, delivered a powerful message about accepting differences in body image. And the whole issue was triggered by negative social media comments about his smile.
Lonnie has a noticeable diastema—that is, a gap between his two front teeth; this condition is commonly seen in children, but is less common in adults. There are plenty of celebrities who aren’t bothered by the excess space between their front teeth, such as Michael Strahan, Lauren Hutton and Vanessa Paradis. However, there are also many people who choose to close the gap for cosmetic or functional reasons.
Unfortunately, Lonnie had been on the receiving end of unkind comments about the appearance of his smile. But instead of getting angry, the young actor posted a thoughtful reply via Instagram video, in which he said: “I could get my gap fixed. Braces can fix this, but like, can you fix your heart, though?”
Lonnie is raising an important point: Making fun of how someone looks shows a terrible lack of compassion. Besides, each person’s smile is uniquely their own, and getting it “fixed” is a matter of personal choice. It’s true that in most circumstances, if the gap between the front teeth doesn’t shrink as you age and you decide you want to close it, orthodontic appliances like braces can do the job. Sometimes, a too-big gap can make it more difficult to eat and to pronounce some words. In other situations, it’s simply a question of aesthetics—some like it; others would prefer to live without it.
There’s a flip side to this issue as well. When teeth need to be replaced, many people opt to have their smile restored just the way it was, rather than in some “ideal” manner. That could mean that their dentures are specially fabricated with a space between the front teeth, or the crowns of their dental implants are spaced farther apart than they normally would be. For these folks, the “imperfection” is so much a part of their unique identity that changing it just seems wrong.
So if you’re satisfied with the way your smile looks, all you need to do is keep up with daily brushing and flossing, and come in for regular checkups and cleanings to keep it healthy and bright. If you’re unsatisfied, ask us how we could help make it better. And if you need tooth replacement, be sure to talk to us about all of your options—teeth that are regular and “Hollywood white;” teeth that are natural-looking, with minor variations in color and spacing; and teeth that look just like the smile you’ve always had.
Because when it comes to your smile, we couldn’t agree more with what Lonnie Chaviz said at the end of his video: “Be who you want to be. Do what you want to do. Do you. Be you. Believe in yourself.”
If you have questions about cosmetic dentistry, please contact our office or schedule a consultation. You can read more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Beautiful Smiles by Design” and “The Magic of Orthodontics.”
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?”
October is National Dental Hygiene Month. It comes as no surprise that good dental hygiene habits are best acquired early in life—and with good reason, as tooth decay is the most common disease among children. In fact, a full 43 percent of U.S. children have cavities, according to a 2018 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. So how do you start young children on the path to a lifetime of good oral health? Here are five tips for instilling good dental hygiene habits in your kids:
Set a good example. Good—and bad—habits often start at home. Research shows that when young children notice other family members brushing their teeth, they want to brush, too. So let your child see you brushing and flossing your teeth, and while you’re at it model good nutritional choices for optimal oral health and use positive language when talking about your own dental visits. The example you set is a powerful force in your child’s attitude toward oral care!
Start early. You can start teaching children brushing techniques around age two or three, using a toothbrush just their size with only a pea-sized amount of fluoride toothpaste. If they want to brush by themselves, make sure you brush their teeth again after they have finished. Around age six, children should have the dexterity to brush on their own, but continue to keep an eye on their brushing skill.
Go shopping together. Kids who handpick their own oral hygiene supplies may be more likely to embrace the toothbrushing task. So shop together, and let them choose a toothbrush they can get excited about—one in their favorite color or with their favorite character. Characters also appear on toothpaste tubes, and toothpaste comes in many kid-friendly flavors.
Make dental self-care rewarding. Why should little ones care about good dental hygiene? Young children may not be super motivated by the thought of a long-term payoff like being able to chew steak in their old age. A more tangible reward like a sticker or a star on a chart each time they brush may be more in line with what makes them tick.
Establish a dental home early on. Your child should start getting regular checkups around age one. Early positive experiences will reinforce the idea that the dental office is a friendly, non-threatening place. Children who get in the habit of taking care of their oral health from an early age have a much better chance of having healthy teeth into adulthood.
If you have questions about your child’s dental hygiene routine, call the office or schedule a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Do Babies Get Tooth Decay?” and “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health.”
There are a lot of reasons (including a blow to the mouth) why one of your permanent teeth might become loose. The most common: advanced periodontal (gum) disease that has weakened the gum attachment to the tooth.
There's also another, less common reason: you have a grinding habit that's producing higher than normal biting forces. Besides accelerating tooth wear, the constant jaw movement and teeth clenching can stretch periodontal ligaments and loosen their attachment to a tooth.
If the gums are disease-free, teeth grinding is most likely the main culprit for the damage, what we call primary occlusal trauma. Our treatment goal here is to reduce the effect of the grinding habit and, if necessary, secure the teeth with splinting while the ligaments heal. We can often reduce the grinding effect with a custom bite guard worn while you sleep. We may also prescribe minor muscle relaxants and mild pain medication like aspirin or ibuprofen.
Sometimes we may need to perform other measures like re-shaping your teeth's biting surfaces so they don't generate as much biting force. You may also benefit from counseling or other psychological treatment to help you address and cope with stress, a prime driver for teeth grinding.
Even if you don't have a grinding habit, biting forces may still contribute to tooth looseness if you have advanced gum disease. Advanced disease results in excessive bone loss, which in turn reduces the remaining amount of ligaments attached to the tooth. This type of damage, known as secondary occlusal trauma, and ensuing tooth looseness can occur even when your biting forces are normal.
It's necessary in these cases to treat the gum disease, primarily by manually removing plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), which causes and sustains the infection. Once removed, the gums can begin to heal and strengthen their attachment. We may also need to apply splinting or perform surgical procedures to encourage gum and bone reattachment.
Whatever has caused your loose tooth, our goal is to remove the cause or lessen its effects. With your tooth secure and the gums regaining their healthy attachment, we have a good chance of saving it.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding and other potentially damaging oral habits, 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 “Loose Teeth: Biting Forces can Loosen Teeth.”
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