As a parent, you get used to your children picking up bad habits from time to time, especially when they’re very young. These can range from funny to frustrating, and most of them tend to be pretty harmless. Not all of them are, however! There are actually several bad oral habits that can affect the way a child’s smile looks, functions, and feels. If left unaddressed over time, these habits may result in a variety of issues, including:
- tooth decay
- difficulty eating
- interrupted sleep
- speech problems
Here at Daniel & Jones Orthodontics, we work with many families in our Little Rock, Benton, and Bryant offices. We’ve seen the damage that bad oral habits can cause in our younger patients, and want to help parents prevent this by addressing these habits as soon as possible! With that in mind, let’s take a look at the most common oral habits and discuss how we can help you get them under control. Keep reading below to learn more!
Thumb and finger sucking
Many infants and toddlers suck their thumb or fingers. This exercise in self-soothing only becomes a problem if it’s allowed to continue for too long. Some of our patients have continued this habit into adolescence and even adulthood! Persistent thumb and finger sucking over an extended period can lead to issues like:
- open bite of the front teeth
- flared upper incisors
- tipping of the lower incisors
- misalignment of the future permanent teeth
- deformities of the roof of the mouth
Depending on the severity of the habit and the way a child positions the thumb or finger in their mouth, symptoms can range from mild to severe. Without treatment, the cosmetic appearance of the teeth may suffer as well. Damage can also occur beneath the gums.
While not as common as thumb or finger sucking, lip sucking is a related habit that usually results in nothing more than chapped or inflamed lips. However, a more serious habit could cause the upper front teeth to flare out or the lower front teeth to tilt towards the tongue. These teeth may eventually lose the ability to touch when the mouth is closed.
Crunching, sipping, or chewing on the wrong things
Have you ever noticed your child crunching on the leftover ice after they’ve finished their favorite drink? This may seem like a harmless habit, but the texture and cold temperature of the cubes can actually cause quite a bit of damage! When a child chews on ice frequently, it can cause microscopic cracks in the surface of the enamel, which may lead to bigger dental problems over time.
Sipping on sweet drinks like soda and fruit juice throughout the day is another bad habit to break. Constant exposure to sugar can increase the chances of developing tooth decay, while the acids can wear down the enamel. This may result in tooth sensitivity and increase the chance of cavities and tooth decay.
It’s easier to help kids break these particular habits once you’re aware of them! Try switching to crushed ice over cubes, and if they must have soft drinks or fruit drinks, have them drink them through a straw to minimize the exposure to their teeth. For the most benefit, show them how to position the straw towards the back of their mouth instead of resting it against their teeth.
Is your child a nail biter? Kids who gnaw on their fingernails may experience chipped enamel, cracked teeth, or irritation of the soft tissue inside the teeth. This particular bad habit can also transfer bacteria from a child’s hands to their mouth! The last eighteen months have taught us that it’s more important than ever to curb any practice that can increase the risk of infection, and that certainly includes nail-biting.
If you have an older child prone to chewing on things or biting their nails, try offering sugarless gum to help them focus on something less damaging for their mouth. Children that are too young for gum may respond well to a healthy snack that has a satisfying crunch, like carrots, celery, or apple slices.
The good news is, these are great for their oral health, too!
The technical term for teeth grinding is bruxism. This habit is fairly common, especially in younger children. While most kids outgrow bruxism by their teen years, it can cause several problems while it continues. The grinding action itself wears down the enamel of the teeth, which can damage the tooth and also disrupt sleep. This can lead to other physical symptoms such as headaches, earaches, and jaw pain. While there are many possible causes for bruxism, we see it often in children who have bite and alignment issues. In these cases, orthodontic treatment can be incredibly beneficial!
How early orthodontic evaluations help
As a parent, you should be helping your child develop good oral habits like regular brushing and flossing. Identifying and addressing bad oral habits is part of that, too! One easy way to do this is by scheduling an early orthodontic evaluation for them, something the American Association of Orthodontists recommends for all children around the age of 7 years old.
At this point, a child’s mouth has enough dental landmarks that experienced orthodontists like Dr. Daniel and Dr. Jones will be able to assess their bite. They’ll also look at how the front-to-back and side-to-side relationships are developing. Sometimes parents worry that this evaluation will automatically lead to immediate orthodontic treatment, but we only recommend this in a small percentage of the younger patients we see.
These early evaluations are still incredibly valuable, though! They give us the chance to monitor a child’s oral development as they grow and catch any potential issues before they become more serious. This allows us to treat our younger patients proactively, rather than reactively. Beginning treatment at the most opportune time will give your child the best chance at a lifetime of healthy smiles!
Break your child’s bad oral habits with help from Daniel & Jones Orthodontics
When you schedule a complimentary evaluation for your child in one of our three offices, one of our doctors will perform a thorough examination of their mouth. They’ll also go over their medical and dental history and discuss any concerns you have about their smile. If a customized treatment plan is necessary, our doctors will take into account any destructive oral habits they have and include our suggestions for correcting or eliminating them. If you believe your child needs help breaking free from a bad oral habit, get in touch with us today and schedule a FREE consultation with our expert team!