The Dentist From a Child' Point of View

Three "Innocent" Habits That Damage Your Child's Teeth

Some infants develop self-soothing habits that damage their dental health. While many kids outgrow these habits before they can cause real damage, others continue indulging in them for far too long. Here are three examples of these habits:

Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is normal and harmless, but only for infants. If your child is about to get their permanent teeth (around the age of six), then sucking their thumb may interfere with their bite. If the child sucks the thumb frequently, especially for extended periods and with high intensity, they can have their teeth pushed out to create an overbite.

This creates several problems, such as:

  • Cosmetic issues (few people consider an overbite attractive).
  • Changes in the shape of the mouth.
  • Difficulty in pronouncing certain words.

Help your child avoid such issues by:

  • Using positive reinforcement – Rewarding or praising the child when they abstain from the habit for a specified period.
  • Using gloves to cover the child's hands, especially at night.
  • Comforting the child's worries since anxiety and stress induce the urge to suck the thumb.
  • Talking to the child about the dangers of thumb sucking.

Lip Sucking

Some children suck on their lower lip by holding them between the front teeth, just under the upper ones. It may go hand-in-hand with thumb sucking or as an independent pastime. The possible result is an overbite and its consequences. Also, the child may also experience swelling and redness on the lips due to the constant irritation of the lip tissues.

Many children suck their lips as a way of dealing with stress, for example when introduced to a new environment or dealing with a mentally demanding task. Unfortunately, the habit may continue even if the stressful situation is removed. Apart from dental intervention to deal with the consequences, the child may also need psychological intervention to stop the habit.

Tongue Thrusting

Some kids have a habit of pushing their tongues forward against their lips. The action exerts pressure against the front teeth, which can result in an overbite and create the same problems as thumb sucking. It is also normal in infancy, but should wane as the child grows.

If your child isn't outgrowing the habit, they may be dealing with an orofacial myofunctional disorder (OMD), which means their tongue may be lying too far forward than is normal. The diagnosis and treatment are best handled by a professional or a team of professionals, such as a dentist, orthodontist, and a speech-language pathologist.