As parents, nothing lights up our lives as much as seeing a smile on our children’s faces. Even small imperfections like crooked or missing teeth are charmingly youthful and impish. However, as orthodontists, we are unfortunately aware of how much those little imperfections can negatively affect everything from how a child eats to how clearly they’re able to speak. In some cases, dental issues can even impact how a child functions at home and school. But recognizing bad habits that will affect your child’s teeth can be difficult, and which should you seek treatment for?
When it comes to your child’s teeth, bad habits are a common cause of poor dental health. Destructive habits like thumb sucking and teeth grinding are often seen in babies and young children, although teens and adults can struggle with them, too. Depending on the severity of the habit, leaving it unaddressed can lead to cosmetic or structural damage to the teeth and jaws.
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 severe cases may require dental or orthodontic treatment. Here at Central Massachusetts Orthodontic Associates, we’re all about helping your child achieve a healthy smile that is both beautiful and functional. To learn more about recognizing bad habits that will 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 are still sucking their thumb by the time they start school! Most kids outgrow this eventually, 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
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 isn’t broken 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 develop the habit of chewing on hard objects like ice, pencils, pen tops, and their own fingernails. Since this is often subconscious, it can be trickier to deal with! It’s important to find and address the root cause of this habit, be it boredom, nerves, or a need for distraction. Biting down on objects like these can chip away at the enamel of the teeth. It can also crack the tooth itself and irritate the soft tissue inside.
The COVID-19 pandemic has given us the perfect reason to break bad habits like nail-biting! Biting your nails gives the bacteria and germs that thrive under our fingernails an easy access point right into your 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. These are good for their teeth, too!
Grinding the teeth
Teeth grinding, also known as bruxism, is common in children and preteens. While most outgrow it over time, it can cause serious issues as long as it persists. 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 even after cessation.
Many effects of bruxism are emotional instead of physical. Some clinical studies have demonstrated a possible link between teeth grinding and anxiety, stress, and depression in those who suffer from it. There are many possible 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!
Give your child’s smile the best start with Central Massachusetts Orthodontic Associates
Developing good oral habits in our children is part of our job as parents, and stopping bad habits can be just as important. That’s one reason that the American Association of Orthodontists recommends all children see an orthodontist by the time they’re 7 years old! At this age, the 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.
An orthodontic evaluation doesn’t always lead to orthodontic treatment. We recommend immediate orthodontic treatment for only a 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 and catch any issues that may cause problems, whether now or in the future. recognizing bad habits that will affect your child’s teeth and beginning treatment at the most opportune time will help a child’s smile develop correctly, giving them the best start 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. With offices in Worcester, Auburn, and Spencer, convenient solutions for your child’s smile are just a short drive away. Get in touch with us today to schedule a consultation!