Sometimes, trying to solve a problem without addressing the root cause just makes the problem get even worse down the line. In the case of your child’s mouth, treating orthodontic issues without addressing any bad oral habits that could affect your child’s teeth can mean that the orthodontic issues might return later on in their life, undoing their hard-earned progress.
When it comes to your child’s teeth, bad habits are a common cause of poor dental health. Younger children often engage in such destructive habits as thumb sucking and teeth grinding, though teens and adults can often face these same issues. Depending on the severity of the habit, cosmetic and/or structural damage to the teeth and jaws can occur.
Many parents want to help their child break their bad dental habits but aren’t sure where to start. Educating them on how these habits can impact their teeth and working on some minor behavior modification is a good bet, but some cases may necessitate dental or orthodontic treatment. Here at Johnson Orthodontics, we’re all about helping your child achieve a healthy smile that’s beautiful and fully functioning. To learn more about some of the bad habits that can negatively affect your child’s teeth—and how we can help you tackle them!—keep reading below.
Thumb and finger sucking
Thumb- and finger-sucking is incredibly common. In fact, 1 in 5 children still sucks their thumbs by the time they start school! Most kids eventually outgrow this habit, but if it persists for a long enough period, a range of issues can develop. These include:
- open bite of the front teeth
- flared upper incisors
- tipping of the lower incisors
- misalignment of the permanent teeth
- deformities of the roof of the mouth
Problems caused by thumb sucking can range from mild to severe, and treatment may be necessary depending on how serious the habit is, how long it lasts, and the way the child has positioned the thumb or finger in their mouth. The teeth may be affected both cosmetically and structurally if the habit persists or if more serious issues are left untreated.
Lip sucking is a bit rarer than thumb or finger sucking and usually results in nothing more than painfully chapped lips. If it’s done excessively, however, it can cause the upper front teeth to flare out or the lower front teeth to tilt towards the tongue. With enough time, the teeth may no longer touch when the mouth is closed.
Chewing on hard objects
Plenty of children chew on hard objects like ice, pencils, pen tops, and their fingernails. Since this is often a subconscious habit, it can be trickier to deal with, but it’s important to find and address the reason they do it (boredom, nerves, or a need for distraction). Biting down on hard objects can chip away at the enamel of their teeth. It can also crack the tooth and irritate the soft tissue inside.
Luckily, COVID-19 has given us a perfect occasion to break bad habits like nail-biting! Nail-biting gives the bacteria and germs on our fingers an easy access point directly into the mouth, which is exactly why experts recommend keeping our hands away from our face and mouth to help prevent infection.
If you have a child who likes to chew on things or bite their nails, there are several things you can do to help keep their minds off their habit! Older kids may respond well to sugarless gum or candy, while younger children will enjoy healthy snacks that have a satisfying crunch, like carrots and apple slices (which, it turns out, are good for their teeth!).
Grinding the teeth
Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is common in children and preteens. While most outgrow it over time, grinding teeth causes a variety of significant issues even after treatment begins. The constant clenching of the teeth can wear down the enamel, and children who have experienced prolonged teeth grinding have reported more frequent headaches, earaches, and jaw pain.
Oftentimes, bruxism is caused by a combination of emotional and physical complications. Some clinical studies have demonstrated a possible link between teeth grinding and anxiety, stress, or depression in those who suffer from it. There are many probable causes for this bad habit, but teeth grinding is very common in children who have bite and alignment issues in their upper or lower jaw. Correcting these malocclusions with orthodontic treatment can help kids get a straighter smile and a better night’s sleep!
Help your child smile with Johnson Orthodontics
Helping our children develop beneficial oral habits is our responsibility as parents, and helping them stop bad habits is important, too. That’s one reason the American Association of Orthodontists recommends all children visit an orthodontist by the time they are 7 years old. At this age, their back bite is already established, meaning an experienced orthodontist will be able to evaluate the side-to-side and front-to-back tooth relationships. They’ll also have the opportunity to assess the child’s bite.
Please understand that an orthodontic evaluation doesn’t necessarily lead to orthodontic treatment. We recommend immediate orthodontic treatment for only a very small percentage of the younger patients we see, but these early evaluations are still valuable. They give us the chance to monitor a child’s oral development as they grow, so we can catch any issues that may cause problems, whether now or in the future. Beginning treatment at an optimal time will help a child’s smile grow correctly, giving them a headstart on a lifetime of healthy, happy smiles!
Identifying a bad oral habit is an important part of any diagnosis. Our customized treatment plans will take into account any destructive oral habit your child may have and include ways to correct or eliminate it. And our conveniently-located Rehoboth Beach office means that solutions for your child’s smile are just a short drive away. Get in touch with us today to schedule a FREE consultation!