Pediatric Dentist in Ontario

What Is the Purpose of the Tongue-Thrust Reflex in Infants? | Ontario Children's Dentist

Newborns are at a huge disadvantage. They can move their arms and legs and wave hands and feet in the air. They can cry. They can pee and poop. But only with the assistance of adults can they eat. They are totally dependent on their parents for continued life.

Nature has, however, provided them with a few tricks up their non-existent sleeves. They have reflexes, automatic reactions to certain types of stimulus. These reflexes, such as the tongue-thrust reflex, are all they have to help them survive.

Newborn Reflexes

  • Rooting reflex - If the cheek, or especially the corner of the mouth, is touched gently, the child will turn its head in that direction. This is the reproduction of the reflex that occurs when the baby's mouth touches the nipple or the skin of the breast. The baby will 'root' in that direction, making it easier to find the nipple. The infant will make sucking motions with its mouth to encourage the mother to feed it. The reflex develops in the fetus at about 28 weeks gestational age. It is an involuntary motion that will last for the first four to six months of the infant's life. Then the brain has developed enough that the movement becomes voluntary. Persistence of the involuntary movement beyond six months can indicate brain abnormalities.
  • Sucking reflex - This reflex is triggered when the roof of the mouth is touched, as by a nipple. The baby takes the nipple, whether human or bottle, and squeezes it between the tongue and the roof of the mouth. There is another component to this reflex - breathing. Coordinating the maintenance of suction, the withdrawal of liquid from the breast, while keeping a clear airway, generally goes together well. However, some babies may have problems. Your pediatrician will be able to help. The sucking reflex doesn't develop in the fetus until about 32 weeks and it isn't fully developed until 36 weeks. Premature babies may have difficulty sucking for the first few weeks.
  • Tonic neck reflex - When you turn a baby's head to one side, you will see the arm on that side stretch out and the arm on the other side curl up. It looks like a fencer's pose and is sometimes termed 'the fencer's reflex'. This reflex lasts until about 6 months of age and then disappears.
  • Grasp reflex - If you place your finger in a baby's palm, those tiny fingers will close tight around it. When the palm is touched, the fingers curl in and hold on tight. This reflex disappears at about 5 to 6 months.
  • Babinski reflex - This is basically the same as the grasp reflex, except that it's in the foot.
  • Stepping reflex - while holding the baby in the air, if the foot is touched to a firm surface, the baby will begin 'stepping'. It will place one foot in front of another. The baby cannot stand, however, at this age, let alone walk. This is a reflex to help it reach the mother's breast. It disappears at about 2 months.
  • Moro reflex - This is the 'startle' reflex, a reaction to a sudden noise or movement that startles the infant. The head will be thrown back, arms and legs will be spread wide, and the child will begin to cry. Then it will draw the arms and legs in to its body as it relaxes. The reflex is generally present at 30 weeks gestational age. It disappears normally at 3 to 4 months. A weak Moro response or an asymmetrical response is cause for concern.
  • Tongue-thrust reflex - Some researchers feel that this is part of the sucking reflex. Others consider an independent involuntary act. When something solid is placed on the baby's tongue before 4 to 6 months of age, the tongue will push the object out. This is also called the 'extrusion' reflex and prevents the baby from choking. The baby simply doesn't have sufficient control of the throat muscles to swallow anything more than liquids until age 5 or 6 months. When the tongue-thrust reflex disappears, your baby may be ready to handle soft foods.

When any of these involuntary reflexes persist in a baby, there is reason for concern. Sometimes babies will persist with the tongue-thrust reflex into early childhood. This may be evidence of a congenital abnormality, but it is usually due to habit. This habit, however, can cause significant problems with the development of the mouth and with teething. It can also interfere with the acquisition of language skills, causing a lisp.

Early Infant Oral Care

If the tongue thrust continues past 6 months, the child needs to be evaluated. Starting with your pediatrician is always a good idea. The pediatrician may recommend that you take the baby to a children's dentist or orthodontist for infant oral care. The earlier treatment is started, the less damage is done. If not treated, tongue thrust can cause malformations of the teeth.

Persistence of the tongue-thrust reflex may indicate an underlying problem.

  • Allergies, especially associated with swelling of the tonsils and adenoids, can force the tongue forward.
  • Thumb sucking for a long time can cause abnormal patterns in the movement of the tongue.
  • Reverse swallow or orofacial muscular imbalance is a condition in which the tongue protrudes between the teeth at rest and when swallowing.
  • Tongue-tie, where there is a short band of tissue beneath the tongue, is also thought to contribute.

If you're concerned about your child's tooth development, seeing a children's dentist is wise. A children's dentist is the best kids' dentist. They are the experts in pain-free dentistry and the best cosmetic dentists for kids. In Ontario, Canada, the Ontario children's dentist to go to is at the Kids Dental Specialty, where they start with infant oral care and follow their patients through the years and growth. Call and make an appointment for your child today.


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Teething Toddler? Safely Soothe Your Baby’s Pain | Ontario Children's Dentist

Baby Teeth Growth


While an adult will have around 32 teeth, babies are born with 20 teeth beneath their gums. The period when they start growing above the gum line is known as teething.

Baby teeth generally begin coming in around 4 to 7 months but sometimes not until the 12-month mark. All 20 baby teeth should be in place by the time a child is 3 years old.

There is a general order teeth come in. Normally, the two front bottom teeth come in first, followed by the two opposite top teeth, known as the central incisors. Next, the lateral incisors on the top come in, followed by the incisors on the bottom. The frontmost top and bottom molars come in next, followed by the canines. Finally, the molars furthest to the back of the mouth come in.


Surefire Signs of a Teething Baby


While not all babies display signs of teething other than teeth poking through their gum line, there are normally a couple of signs you should begin monitoring their tooth growth.

These include:

  • gums that are red, swollen and tender
  • chewing or gnawing on non-food items
  • irritability
  • excessive drooling
  • a rash from drooling

A rash from drooling will appear most commonly in the face. It is caused by the bacteria and food particles in your toddler's saliva, since this isn't a time when they're able to keep their mouth clean with toothpaste yet.

Irritability is caused by gum pain as the teeth surface above the gums.

Toddlers will normally try to gnaw on either your arm or their own if they're teething.


Rarer Teething Symptoms


Some toddlers display more or different symptoms of teething than others. Here are a few other symptoms:

  • a fever under 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • a decreased appetite
  • cheek rubbing
  • changes in sleeping patterns

Cheek rubbing is a child's way of massaging pain or irritation out of the gum area.

Like any other growing pain, teething pain will keep a child awake at night until it subsides or until the child is just too tired to stay awake. Similarly, a decreased appetite means that their gums are more sensitive than before teething.


Signs Unrelated to Teething


Some websites llist cold symptoms and diarrhea as symptoms of teething. However, trusted organizations like the American Dental Association, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the American Academy of Pediatrics identify these as false symptoms.

If your child displays any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with a pediatrician:

  • diaper rash
  • a fever over 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • congestion
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • coughing


Remedies To Ease Teething Pain


Cold water is known to reduce swelling. Wet a cloth with cold water and gently rub your child's gums with it. You can also use your finger to massage the gum line if you clean it and apply cold water to it. 

Another idea is to rub your toddler's gums with a chilled spoon. Never leave a teething baby unsupervised with a hard metal or frozen spoon, as they could hurt their gums with it. An even safer idea is to give them hard rubber teething rings to gnaw on. Refrigerate them first.

If your child is in pain from teething, ask your pediatrician what over-the-counter medicines and dosages your child can consume. Certain children's oral health care products containing the anesthetic benzocaine should be avoided. If you think your baby might need ibuprofen and acetaminophen for pain relief, consult your doctor.


Remedies To Avoid


While the teething phase will likely irritate your toddler, it would be better to avoid remedies and pain relief altogether than to resort to some commonly-marketed remedies.

One such remedy is teething necklaces. The beads on these can break off and your baby could choke. In addition, if they wear the necklace on their neck, they could suffocate. Any metal beads or other hard material like wood, amber, silicone and marble could also cut their mouth. The same applies to bracelets.

Don't give your child teething toys made of gel, liquid or plastic. Generally, these are designed to freeze like ice packs. For this reason, they could easily break if frozen and then chewed on. Another reason they're a bad investment is because if they do break, they could infect any open wounds in the gums. Anything too cold or hard may do more harm than good.

Always be wary of homeopathic or alternative medicine. It is not FDA approved. Avoid teething tablets. These contain traces of belladonna, a toxic plant substance. Additionally, avoid gels or creams that you rub on your toddler's gums. Your child's saliva will wash these away quickly. Many of these gels contain benzocaine, which is not safe for anyone under two years of age to consume. If too much of this gets in your toddler's bloodstream, it will deprive their red blood cells of oxygen.


Professional Help During The Teething Period


After your child's first tooth appears, consider taking them to their first dental visit. Their first tooth should appear by the time they hit their first birthday.

If they have a few teeth already, you want to ensure that they don't get cavities. You don't want your kid to lose their first few primary teeth so soon. Primary teeth are important because they allow your toddler to move beyond eating baby food to hard foods, and they help them develop their speaking skills.

It is typical to schedule dental checkups every six months. However, your circumstances may vary depending on your child's oral hygiene. Visit our Ontario children's dentist website to see if we're the best kids' dentist for your child in the area.