Posts for: October, 2017
It can be alarming to be awakened in the middle of the night by a screeching, gritting sound coming from your child’s bedroom. No, it’s not a scene from a horror movie: it’s your child grinding their teeth as they sleep — a behavior so prevalent in children under eleven it’s considered normal.
That doesn’t mean, however, you should completely ignore it. While it isn’t harmful for most children, a few can encounter tooth wear, pain or trouble sleeping that calls for some form of intervention.
The causes for tooth grinding and similar habits known collectively as bruxism aren’t thoroughly understood, but in children it’s believed linked to the immaturity of the neuromuscular system that controls chewing. Some point to shifts from one stage of sleep to another — more than 80% of grinding episodes occur in lighter stages of sleep and only 5% to 10% during the deeper Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM) stage. It also seems prevalent in children who snore or have other symptoms of sleep apnea.
One primary concern is how the behavior can affect teeth, particularly through abnormal wear. The teeth, of course, make hundreds of contacts with each other every day during eating, speaking or jaw movement. If, however, the forces generated during these contacts chronically exceed normal parameters, as with bruxism, it can cause accelerated tooth wear. This can result in a higher susceptibility to tooth decay and appearance changes later in life.
If your child is exhibiting problems associated with teeth grinding, there are ways to address it. We may recommend a thin, plastic mouthguard they wear while sleeping that prevents the teeth from making solid contact with each other. We may also refer you to an ear, nose and throat specialist if we suspect signs of sleep apnea. And, children under severe psychological stress, which can also trigger teeth grinding, could benefit from behavioral therapy.
The good news is most grinding habits fade as children enter their teens. In the meantime, keep a watchful eye and see us if you notice any indications this common habit is affecting their health and well-being.
If you would like more information on teeth grinding 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 “When Children Grind Their Teeth.”
Over the last century and a half millions of people have had a tooth cavity filled with “silver” amalgam. Perhaps you’re one of them. The use of this effective and durable filling has declined in recent years, but only because of the development of more attractive tooth-colored materials.
At the same time there’s another issue that’s been brewing in recent years about this otherwise dependable metal alloy: the inclusion of mercury in amalgam, about half of its starting mixture. Various studies have shown mercury exposure can have a cumulative toxic effect on humans. As a result, you may already be heeding warnings to limit certain seafood in your diet.
So, should you be equally concerned about amalgam fillings — even going so far as to have any existing ones removed?
Before taking such a drastic step, let’s look at the facts. To begin with, not all forms of mercury are equally toxic. The form causing the most concern is called methylmercury, a compound formed when mercury released in the environment combines with organic molecules. This is the form certain large fish like salmon and tuna ingest, which we then ingest when we eat them. Methylmercury can accumulate in the body’s tissues where at high levels it can damage various organ systems.
Dental amalgam, on the other hand, uses elemental mercury. Dentists take it in liquid form and mix it with a powder of other metals like silver, tin and copper to create a pliable paste. After it’s placed in a prepared cavity, the amalgam hardens into a compound in which the mercury interlaces with the other metals and becomes “trapped.”
Although over time the filling may emit trace amounts of mercury vapor, it’s well below harmful levels. You’re more likely to encounter “un-trapped” mercury in your diet than from a dental filling. And scores of studies over amalgam’s 150-year history have produced no demonstrable ill effects due to mercury.
Although it now competes with more attractive materials, amalgam still fills (no pun intended) a necessary role. Dentists frequently use amalgam in less visible back teeth, which encounter higher chewing pressures than front teeth. So, if you already have an amalgam filling or we recommend one to you, relax — you’re really in no danger of mercury poisoning.