Diagnosing Oral Habits

Harmful Oral Habits

Children can develop a variety of oral habits that can affect the normal development of their teeth and jaws. 

These habits can include—

  • sucking a thumb or finger,
  • Sucking a pacifier,
  • Tongue thrusting and
  • Grinding teeth, which is called bruxism.


Oral habits: their effects and treatments

It is natural for babies and toddlers to suck their thumbs, fingers, or pacifiers. Most children stop on their own by age three or four.

If the child is still sucking after the permanent teeth start to come in, the sucking motion could distort the normal growth of the jaw; the upper teeth can protrude; it can cause an open bite and can force the developing teeth out of alignment. If sucking continues for many years, it is likely that orthodontia will be necessary.

Helping your child to stop sucking should not be a struggle. Becoming frustrated can make the problem worse. Many children respond to a reward system.

Encouraging your child to stop sucking could be as easy as having an authority figure who is not the parent, talk to the child about it.

If it is proving to be very difficult, your child might be willing to wear a thumb guard to help break the habit. This works best if the child is not forced to wear it.

Another option is to temporarily cement a device in their mouth that will make it difficult to suck.

Bruxism is another oral habit that could require intervention. A child can grind their teeth together while awake or asleep. This can cause the teeth to wear down.

If we diagnose this as a problem, we may make a special mouthguard for your child to wear.

Tongue thrusting, also called a reverse swallow, is the improper placement of the tongue during swallowing. It can result in speech difficulties that may require further professional evaluation. We can temporarily affix a device to the backs of the teeth to help break the habit.

For any of these devices to work well, your child must want to break the habit. None of these methods should be forced upon your child or used as a punishment.

Children and adults should remember teeth are for chewing food, not for holding pens, pencils, keys, glasses, opening packages or chewing fingernails or ice.

Correct harmful oral habits when your children are young, and they can have a lifetime of healthy smiles.

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