Bad Oral Habits Children Should Avoid
Teaching children to avoid bad oral habits is as important as establishing a good dental hygiene routine for them.
Unhealthy behaviors involving the mouth can alter the balance of facial muscles and impair facial growth. They can also damage teeth, cause cavities and tooth loss, hinder speech development, and result in crooked adult teeth.
Thumb-sucking and nail-biting are two of the most widely recognized bad oral habits that can affect the growth of teeth and jaws.
But there are many others, including:
- Prolonged pacifier use.
- Chewing ice.
- Jaw-clenching and teeth-grinding.
- Sucking the lower lip.
Thumb-sucking (and finger-sucking) is normal in babies and young children but if it persists as they grow older it can lead to protruding front teeth and other irregularities of the mouth, including deformities of the upper and lower oral arches. It can also flatten the appearance of the thumb.
Another problem is that as kids get older, their hands collect more and more germs, which can be transferred into their mouths.
Thumb-sucking becomes a concern if it continues as adult teeth begin to emerge, typically around the age of six.
You can help your child to break the thumb-sucking habit by offering encouragement and positive reinforcement in the form of praise or rewards. Because the habit is a security mechanism, negative actions such as punishment or scolding are unlikely to work.
Your child may be sucking their thumb in response to stress. In these cases, identifying and eliminating the source of their anxiety will help them to break the habit.
If, despite your best efforts, your child persists in thumb-sucking, your dentist can fit a custom-made oral appliance to discourage the habit.
Nail-biting is a bad oral habit that can start at a young age and result in fracture and chipping of front teeth. Kids may bite their nails when bored or stressed, or simply from force of habit.
Nail-biting is the most common of the "nervous habits”, which also include thumb-sucking and teeth-grinding.
Besides damaging teeth and affecting the appearance of the hands, nail-biting can also make teeth shift out of position.
- Using an unpleasant-tasting fingernail application.
- Keeping your child’s hands busy with an object such as a soft stress-ball if they get anxious.
- Reducing or eliminating stressful situations.
- Setting small, realistic goals.
You may also find that if your child is getting orthodontic treatment, from an Orthodontist in Las Vegas, a beneficial side effect is that it helps to break the nail-biting habit. After wearing braces for some time, children often lose the urge to bite their nails. Invisalign treatment can also have the same result.
Tongue-thrusting refers to the habit of pushing the tongue forward between the upper and lower teeth and against the lips when swallowing.
The tongue is a powerful muscle that can push teeth out of position, creating a bite abnormality and impairing speech development.
An orthodontist may be able to suggest special exercises and oral appliances to help your child develop the correct swallowing behavior – with the tip of the tongue pushing against the gum above the back of the upper front teeth.
Correcting tongue-thrust may also require help from a speech-language pathologist to increase the strength of oral muscles.
Continued use of a pacifier
Pacifiers provide a handy comforter, and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) says using a pacifier is better than thumb-sucking. Positive effects of a pacifier include lessening the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
However, the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) says children should stop using a pacifier by the age of two to avoid future problems with development of the mouth, alignment of teeth, changes to the structure of the roof of the mouth, and tooth decay. Pacifier use has also been associated with ear infections.
Methods commonly employed by parents to stop pacifier use include:
- Coating the pacifier with a substance that’s safe but distasteful.
- Piercing the nipple of the pacifier or cutting it shorter to reduce satisfaction from sucking.
- Gradually reducing the occasions they use the pacifier and leaving it behind during trips.
- Offering treats instead of a pacifier.
Chewing ice is a common bad oral habit, and the hardness and coldness of the ice can severely damage your child’s teeth, resulting in costly emergency visits to the dentist or orthodontist.
Chomping on ice can:
- Chip a tooth.
- Crack tooth enamel.
- Damage fillings.
- Break oral appliances like braces and retainers, which play a crucial role in correcting crooked teeth.
If you notice your child chewing ice, explain the problems it can cause and how it can ruin their smile.
Jaw-clenching and teeth-grinding.
Stress can trigger recurring clenching of the jaw and grinding of teeth (bruxism). This puts huge pressure on teeth that can fracture them and damage dental work such as braces.
Many kids develop this bad oral habit but most outgrow it. In other cases, kids grind their teeth because the upper and lower teeth aren't properly aligned. This issue can be fixed by an orthodontist, who may also be able to prescribe a night guard if your youngster grinds their teeth while sleeping.
Lip-sucking is the habit of continually placing the lower lip beneath the upper front teeth. Sucking the lower lip – which can also occur alongside thumb-sucking – results in similar problems caused by thumb-sucking and tongue-thrusting. Breaking the habit involves the same measures as those for stopping thumb-sucking.
Is Mouth-Breathing a Bad Oral Habit That Can Be Avoided?
Another problem that affects kids’ dental health is mouth-breathing, often referred to as a bad oral habit, although it’s actually a medical condition – children don’t breathe through their mouth out of preference.
Persistent mouth-breathing can be caused by a blocked nasal airway due to the shape and size of the nose or jaw. Stress can also produce constant mouth-breathing that’s shallow and rapid.
If your child breathes through their mouth all the time, it can cause crooked teeth and facial deformity.
Mouth-breathing in kids is not always immediately apparent, but tell-tale signs include:
- Tonsil enlargement.
- Dry and cracked lips.
Mouth-breathing typically diagnosed by a dentist or family physician. Treatment depends on the cause. Medications can counter nasal congestion due to allergies or colds. Adhesive strips applied to the bridge of the nose can also lessen nasal airflow resistance.