We don’t often think about it, but eating is a multi-staged process. It starts, of course, with food that’s hopefully high in nutritional value. But you also need coordinated jaw action to chew and shred your food that when combined with the enzymes in saliva can then be effectively digested in the stomach.
But what if you’re unable to chew some foods because you suffer from chronic jaw pain and dysfunction? This is the situation for millions of people who suffer from problems associated with the jaw joints—temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD). It’s not just the chronic pain and discomfort TMD can cause that’s a real issue—it may also be preventing you from eating foods that are healthy for you.
Because TMD can make it difficult to open your jaws wide or causes pain when you bite down, you might especially have trouble with certain fruits and vegetables as well as many meats. Many people opt to skip otherwise healthy foods because they’re too difficult to eat. That, however, could lead to lack of proper nutrition in the long run.
But with a few techniques and modifications, you can still include many of these foods in your diet even when TMD discomfort flares up. For one, be sure to cut all your food portions (including toast) into small, bite-sized pieces. These should be small enough to limit the amount of jaw opening required to comfortably place the bite in your mouth and chew. When preparing your food, be sure to peel fruits and vegetables that have skin, which is often hard to chew.
You should also try cooking crisper fruits and vegetables to a soft, moist texture. Choose meat cuts, poultry or seafood that can be cooked to a tender, moist consistency—you can also use gravies and sauces to further moisten them.
And don’t forget to chew slowly. Not only does slower eating aid in digestion, it will help you avoid overworking your jaw joints.
With a few adjustments you can have a normal, nutritious diet and minimize the discomfort of your TMD symptoms. Continual healthy eating is a must for overall health and quality of life.
If you would like more information on reducing the impact of TMD on your life and health, 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 “What to Eat When TMJ Pain Flares Up.”
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.”
If your child begins complaining of tooth pain without an accompanying fever or facial swelling, it’s likely not an emergency. Still, you should have us check it—and the sooner the better if the pain persists or keeps your child up at night. There are a number of possible causes, any of which if untreated could be detrimental to their dental health.
Before coming in, though, you can do a cursory check of your child’s mouth to see if you notice any abnormalities. The most common cause for a toothache is tooth decay, which you might be able to see evidence of in the form of cavities or brown spots on the tooth’s biting surfaces. If you notice swollen or reddened gums around a tooth, this could be a possible sign of a localized area of infection known as an abscess. You should also ask your child if they fell or were hit in the mouth and look for any signs of an injury.
If you don’t see anything unusual, there may be another cause—stuck food like popcorn or candy lodged and exerting painful pressure on the gum tissue or tooth. You may be able to intervene in this case: gently floss around the affected tooth to try to dislodge any food particles. The pain may ease if you’re able to remove any. Even so, if you see abnormalities in the mouth or the pain doesn’t subside, you should definitely plan to come in for an examination.
In the meantime, you can help ease discomfort with a child-appropriate dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen. An ice pack against the outside jaw may also help, but be careful not to apply ice directly to the skin. And under no circumstances rub aspirin or other painkiller directly on the gums—like ice, these products can burn the skin. If these efforts don’t help you should try to see us the same day or first thing the next morning for advanced treatment.
The main thing is not to panic. Knowing what to look for and when to see us will help ensure your child’s tooth pain will be cared for promptly.
If you would like more information on handling dental issues with your child, 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 “A Child’s Toothache.”
While they're resilient, your child's teeth aren't invincible. Daily hygiene and regular dental visits are important, but you should also be alert for problems and take action when they arise.
Here are 4 areas that could cause problems for your child's teeth, and what you should do — or not do — if you encounter them.
Teething. This is a normal experience as your child's first teeth erupt through the gums. The gums become tender and painful, causing constant gnawing, drooling, disturbed sleep and similar symptoms. You can help relieve discomfort by letting them bite on a chilled (not frozen) teething ring or a cold, wet washcloth. Pain relievers like ibuprofen in appropriate dosages can also help — but don't apply ice, alcohol or numbing agents containing Benzocaine directly to the gums.
Toothache. Tooth pain could be a sign of decay, so you should see us for an examination. In the meantime you can help relieve pain with a warm-water rinse, a cold compress to the outside of the face, or appropriately-dosed pain relievers. If the pain is intense or persists overnight, see us no later than the next day if possible.
Swollen or bleeding gums. If you notice your child's gums are red and swollen or easily bleed during brushing, they could have periodontal (gum) disease. This is an infection caused by bacterial plaque, a thin film of food particles that build up on the teeth. You can stop plaque buildup by helping them practice effective, daily brushing and flossing. If they're showing symptoms, though, see us for an exam. In the meantime, be sure they continue to gently brush their teeth, even if their gums are irritated.
Chipped, cracked or knocked out tooth. If your child's teeth are injured, you should see us immediately. If part of the tooth has broken off, try to retrieve the broken pieces and bring them with you. If it's a permanent tooth that was knocked out, pick it up by the crown (not the root), rinse it with clean water and attempt to place it back in the socket. If you can't, bring the tooth with you in a container with clean water or milk. The sooner you see us, the better the chances for saving the tooth — minutes count.
As if the preteen years didn’t give kids and their parents enough to think about, new oral health concerns loom on the horizon. Along with major changes to the body, brain and emotions, additional risk factors for tooth decay and gum disease appear during adolescence — the period of development starting around age 10 and extending through the teen years that marks the transition from childhood to adulthood.
Even with declining rates of tooth decay across the nation, the cavity rate remains high during adolescence. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 1 in every 5 adolescents has untreated tooth decay. What’s more, the onset of puberty — usually beginning around age 10-11 in girls and 11-12 in boys — brings changes in hormone levels that can affect gum health.
We all have millions of microorganisms in our mouth, representing hundreds of different species of mostly helpful, but some harmful, bacteria. Research has shown that total oral bacteria increases between ages 11 and 14, and new types of bacteria are introduced, including some that are not friendly to teeth and gums. Some unfamiliar microbes trigger an exaggerated inflammatory response to dental plaque, so gum bleeding and sensitivity are experienced by many children in this age group. In fact, “puberty gingivitis,” which peaks around age 11-13, is the most common type of gum disease found during childhood.
A combination of hormones, lifestyle changes and poor oral hygiene habits raises the risk of oral health problems among adolescents. A more independent social life may be accompanied by a change in eating habits and easier access to snacks and beverages that are sugary, acidic (like sports drinks and soda) or full of refined carbohydrates — none of which are tooth-healthy choices. And as children move toward greater independence, parents are less likely to micromanage their children’s personal care, including their oral hygiene routines. Good oral hygiene can keep dental plaque at bay, lowering the chance of having gingivitis and cavities. But let’s face it: Adolescents have a lot to think about, and keeping up with their oral health may not be top of mind.
To help your preteen stay on top of their oral health, keep healthy snacks at home for your children and their friends and make sure you are well stocked with supplies such as new toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste. In addition, most preteens (and teens) can benefit from gentle reminders about oral hygiene routines.
For optimal oral health through all stages of life, make sure your preteen keeps up with professional teeth cleanings and exams, and talk with us about whether fluoride treatments or sealants may be appropriate for your child.
For more on your child’s oral health, read “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Dentistry & Oral Health For Children” in Dear Doctor magazine.
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