Kids that suck their thumbs often have buck-teeth. Why?
A girl from Gladstone, Oregon asked me why her front teeth stuck out so far. She was a first grader who found it very hard to stop being a thumb sucker.
Teeth are connected to jaw bones by thousands of tiny fibers that surround the roots and permit slight movements of the teeth during chewing and prevent the teeth from being dissolved away by the bone cells called osteoclasts.
These tiny fibers are called the periodontal ligament and although they are only a fraction of a millimeter long, they are critical for the health of your teeth.
Periodontitis (gum disease) results if the periodontal ligament is damaged by infection, and can lead to tooth loss.
Ankylosis (fusing of tooth to bone) occurs when the periodontal ligament is damaged by trauma and prevents tooth movement and tooth eruption. See my article on ankylosis for more information.
What does all this have to do with braces?
Now most people would laugh at you if you told them that you could move your teeth with your fingers, but they do not think of it in terms of a thumb sucker.
My grandmother used to tell me that I could straighten my crooked front teeth if I frequently rubbed and squeezed them straight, fingers on the outside, thumb inside. After becoming an orthodontist, now I know that she was right! It could have worked (if I did it for more than 6 hours each day).
Well, my thumb sucking first grader from Gladstone had been using her thumb to press on her teeth which in turn stretched the periodontal ligament on one side of her front teeth and squeezed the ligament on the other side.
It happens that when bone is pulled against, it tends to grow and where there is a lack of tension, the bone recedes. You can imagine that her thumb pushed up on the inside of her tooth and so the tooth moved up and out.
We do not know why this happens on a molecular level but we do know that the stresses and strains of life affect our bones and that the parts of bones that get worked hard grow stronger and bone that is not used dissolves away.
Apparently distortions in the structure of the bone send signals to the cells living inside and on the bone, the osteocytes, to activate either osteoblasts that make more bone or osteoclasts that dissolve bone away.
Orthodontists use the method of steady pressure on a tooth from wires or plastic to activate the osteocytes on each side of the tooth and literally grow the tooth from one place to another.
Now you know. You should always listen to your Grandmother!
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