During examinations I often note that patients have what is known as a dental cross bite. This is where the width of the upper and lower jaws are not ideal which can lead to frequent inadvertent biting of the cheek and/or tongue.   Because I encounter this often, I want to inform the readers of this situation. My patients will tell me after I explain this that no one has ever explained this to them before.

Ideally, the upper jaw is wider than the lower. The upper teeth actually keep the cheek draped over the biting surface preventing the teeth to pinch. At the same time the lower teeth keep the tongue centered and prevent it from being bit. When this relationship is altered from habits such as thumb sucking, mouth breathing from chronically stuffed noses or enlarged adenoids or improper swallowing habits the palate doesn’t properly form and problems develop.

The width of our maxillae (upper jaw) is formed from birth though 15 years old. The use of pacifiers and thumb sucking can affect the normal development of the palate, tooth position and swallowing patterns. Teeth are positioned in the jaw bone where there is an equalization of forces. The balance of forces from the cheeks, the position of the tongue during swallowing and the closure of the lips during nose breathing are all necessary for proper development.

The high position of the tongue in the palate is needed to shape the palate and airway. If a child uses a pacifier long term or sucks the thumb it prevents the upper front teeth from erupting to contact the lower front teeth.   This cascades into a problem of the tongue needing to be thrust forward to swallow which will prevent the upper front teeth from closing down. When the tongue and teeth are not positioned properly then the width of the upper jaw narrows upper forming the cross bite.

It is therefore necessary to prevent this in young children by using a pacifier until only 2 years old, preventing thumb sucking and monitoring chronic mouth breathing secondary to tonsil and adenoid problems.

Most often in adult patients the only thing we in the dental profession can do is to reshape or crown the existing upper teeth thereby creating enough space to push the cheek out of the way , preventing the cheek biting phenomenon.  If you find yourself irritated by cheek and tongue biting, please give us a call at (586)247-3500 and we can assess your bite to see of something can be done.

With us being in the middle of winter, the spring is just around the corner. I wanted to go over some tips on what to do during the cold months to make life more comfortable. In the winter our furnaces are kicked on high and with that is usually a dry heat. The problem is that furnace humidifiers don’t release enough water into the air to significantly humidify it. I recommend a stand-alone humidifier that is put in the bedroom. There are a couple of reasons why I recommend it.

  1. Humidified air transfers heat much more efficiently and it not only feels better preventing dryness on the skin, but saves energy. Consider the heat in the summer in Michigan compared to Arizona. Michigan is humid and Arizona is dry. 100 degrees feels different in each of these climates because of the humidity difference.
  2. When sleeping, saliva flow decreases which can reduce the moisture in the mouth. Considering that many medications reduce the production of saliva coupled with the fact that the air is very dry leads to a parched mouth. The simple solution is to moisturize the air, making it more comfortable to sleep, especially if one is a mouth breather.

In the winter it is obviously much colder and if one breathes through their mouth outside it is more possible to feel a “zing” in the teeth. These can be signs of a more significant problem. It can be a sign of tooth decay and even nerve involvement. It can also be a sign of just sensitive teeth. Information regarding the intensity and length of pain are helpful in diagnosing the status of the nerve. When visiting the dentist for a toothache, it is common to apply heat or cold to the area. A normal tooth will feel the cold and even if they are sensitive there may be a blast of pain but it disappears immediately. If the nerve is in the process of dying the pain will linger on more than a couple of seconds. The pain will also differ in that it will change from a sharp pain to a dull throbbing pain. If the pain was a dull throbbing pain in the past this is not a good sign. It is a sign that the nerve is in the process of dying and an infection is present. Infections like this can be very serious and even life threatening so getting it treated by either extraction or saving the tooth with a root canal is important and urgent.

I know that I request questions and I actually receive few of them. If you have questions about dentistry Please submit them to “Ask the Gentle Dentist” 15055 22 Mile, Shelby Township, MI 48315.

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