It’s not unusual for children to pick up bad habits from time to time. While these can certainly be annoying for parents, they’re not usually anything an orthodontist would be concerned with. However, many seemingly harmless habits can have a big effect on a small child’s smile! If these are allowed to continue, they can lead to tooth decay, misalignments, and difficulty eating, speaking, or sleeping. Since some of these bad habits can damage the teeth and jaws, they must be addressed as soon as possible. We are here to assist you in recognizing bad habits that affect your child’s teeth!
Here at Hemphill Orthodontics, we believe prevention is the best course of action in most things. We want to help you understand which oral habits can cause problems for your child’s smile and what you can do about them! Sometimes nothing more than patient education and simple behavior modification is needed, but occasionally, dental or orthodontic work may become necessary. Since the teeth and jaws can be damaged, it’s important to identify and address these issues as soon as possible.
Keep reading below to learn more about the bad habits that can affect your child’s oral health, as well as what you can do to keep their smile healthy and happy!
Extended thumb, finger, or pacifier sucking
Many infants and young children use finger and thumb sucking as a way to self-soothe. Pacifiers are also popular and can provide babies with a sense of security and comfort. While this can be beneficial in infancy, it has the potential to become problematic if it extends past the time when most of the permanent teeth have erupted. Most kids tend to outgrow this particular habit by the time they start school, but if it persists for a long period of time, it can cause problems 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
- crossbite and narrow palate
Lip sucking can also be an issue for some children. This usually results in nothing more than chapped or inflamed lips, but a more serious habit can cause the upper front teeth to flare out or the lower front teeth to tilt towards the tongue. Over a long enough period of time, these teeth may lose the ability to touch when the mouth is closed. The bottom line? Extended sucking of the thumb, fingers, lips, or a pacifier can have a detrimental effect on the cosmetic appearance of a child’s smile, and may lead to problems beneath the surface as well.
Nail biting or chewing on objects
This is another common habit that we often see, as many children chew on pencils, pen caps, ice, or their own nails to help them concentrate, alleviate anxiety, and relieve boredom. Unfortunately, this puts unnecessary pressure on the teeth, which can chip away at the enamel, crack the teeth, and irritate the soft tissue inside a tooth.
There are also bacteria that thrive under the fingernails. Nail biting gives them an easy entry point into the mouth! Now more than ever, it’s important to keep our hands away from the face and mouth to help prevent all kinds of infection, including COVID-19.
If you have an older child who is prone to chewing on things or biting their nails, try using sugarless gum to break the habit. Younger children may respond well to a healthy snack with a satisfying crunch, like carrots, celery, or apple slices. As a bonus, these are also excellent for their teeth and oral health!
Playing sports without using a mouthguard
When it comes to our kids playing sports, protective gear is a must. This may include helmets, pads, and maybe goggles, but what’s protecting their smile? Many parents don’t realize the importance of wearing a mouthguard during physical activity, but did you know that over 3 million teeth are knocked out every year during youth sporting events?
Mouthguards don’t just protect a child’s teeth. They also cushion the lips and tongue and help prevent teeth from being chipped, broken, or knocked out. In fact, the American Dental Association reports that more than 200,000 oral injuries are prevented each year by wearing a mouthguard! While a mouthguard won’t prevent a concussion, it can reduce the chances of a severe injury to the face or mouth.
Grinding the teeth
Teeth grinding, or bruxism, can be a hard habit to break, especially when it mostly occurs while a child is sleeping. It’s fairly common in children and adolescents, and although research has shown most outgrow it eventually, it can still cause some problems while it continues.
For example, the grinding action can cause small cracks in the tooth enamel and wear down the molars. It can also lead to headaches, earaches, and jaw pain in children who experience prolonged teeth grinding. Some clinical studies have even demonstrated a link between bruxism and anxiety, stress, and depression in those who suffer from it.
There are several possible causes for this bad habit, but teeth grinding is very common in children dealing with bite and alignment issues in their upper or lower jaw. Correcting these malocclusions with orthodontic treatment can help!
Early orthodontic evaluations
As a parent, it’s important to teach your children good oral habits early on, such as proper brushing and flossing. Identifying and stopping bad habits is important, too! This is one reason the American Association of Orthodontists recommends all children see an orthodontist for their first screening around 7 years old. By this age, the back bite is already established so an experienced orthodontist like Dr. Hemphill can evaluate the side-to-side and front-to-back tooth relationships.
Some parents worry that an orthodontic evaluation will lead to treatment right away, but this happens with only a small percentage of the younger patients we see. Even so, these early evaluations are a valuable tool! They allow us to monitor a child’s oral development as they grow and catch any issues that may cause problems, whether now or in the future. When we’re allowed to begin treatment at the most opportune time, we can help a child’s smile grow correctly. This gives them the best chance for a lifetime of good oral health and beautiful smiles!
Help your child’s smile succeed with Hemphill Orthodontists
As a trained orthodontic specialist, Dr. Hemphill can not only correct misaligned teeth and other issues, but identify any underlying habits that need attention. The customized treatment plans we create for every patient will take into account any destructive oral habits and include ways to correct or eliminate them. If you live in Celina or the surrounding community and have a child who might need some help breaking a bad oral habit, get in touch with us today and schedule a FREE consultation with Dr. Hemphill!