You know that thumb-sucking isn’t exactly the best thing for your child’s health, or their socializing. But do you know just how harmful that stubborn thumb in the mouth can really be?
We don’t often consider just how much control we have over the alignment of our teeth. But our enamel, dentin and bone are less stable than we like to imagine. This is especially true for children’s teeth because they’re in the process of developing. Applying consistent pressure will eventually cause crookedness – and that will take concerted orthodontic effort to fix.
Trying to make sure your child’s habits don’t cause gaps between teeth down the line? There are a few problematic tendencies to watch out for. We’ve detailed these below, along with ways to get your kids to break the bad habit.
If you’re curious about whether your child would benefit from braces, there’s no harm in scheduling a consultation. Our consultations are free and offer you the chance to learn more about your options without making a commitment. Schedule today!
Will Cutting Out These Habits Prevent the Need for Braces Entirely?
That’s not the point of encouraging your children to avoid these habits. Crooked teeth are caused by a wide variety of factors, many of them genetic. You typically can’t completely avoid crooked teeth just by skipping thumb sucking. And if the jaws don’t fit together properly, or if teeth are causing aesthetic concerns, braces are going to be necessary to fix those issues.
That said, in many cases, preventing occlusion-disrupting habits in the first place will help reduce what could have been a severe malocclusion. You’ll never know exactly how crooked teeth could have become – so why risk it? Prevention is always the best option.
#1 – Chronic Teeth Grinding (Bruxism)
We all have stress – even children. The ways in which kids deal with that stress differ from person to person. Some lose sleep; some can’t focus at school. And many, just like their parents, grind their teeth while they’re sleeping.
Since we commonly grind our teeth at night, we’re not aware that we have a problem. The grinding can persist for years, with the enamel wearing down and the gums receding. The consistent pressure from chronic grinding can also lead to teeth shifting and the bite changing. This may increase the likelihood of requiring orthodontic treatment.
How to Stop: Discovering means of stress relief can help improve grinding, but more often than not a mouth guard will be the best treatment. This custom guard sits comfortably in the mouth and prevents the jaws from clenching and grinding.
#2 – Thumb-Sucking
Thumb-sucking, sometimes called “the earliest addiction,” can be incredibly hard for the affected person to quit. Thumb-sucking can actually begin in the womb, before the baby is even born. And, initially, thumb-sucking isn’t necessarily a bad practice – at least, before the teeth erupt. Infants can actually soothe their sore gums while teething with thumb-sucking, and it can also stimulate saliva flow to calm an upset stomach. But the time will arrive when the habit turns harmful.
If your child sucks their thumb into toddlerhood, then they’ll begin to have problems. Every time the thumb is sucked, pressure is placed on both the top and bottom teeth. The top teeth are shoved slowly forward, and the bottom teeth pulled backwards. This leads to an overbite gradually forming.
Sucking the thumb is not only disruptive to the bite, but can cause issues with socializing and may lead to bullying.
Adolescents and adults can struggle with thumb-sucking also. It’s a powerful stress reliever for those who are caught in the habit. Many don’t even realize when their thumb is in their mouth.
How to Stop: There are entire books written about quitting thumb-sucking, and we won’t pretend to have an easy answer for how to help your child break the habit. Experts tend to agree that it’s important to block the thumb from entering the mouth to put an obstacle in the way. This may mean wearing protective coverings on the hands while sleeping, or wearing a thumb guard during the day. Toddlers can also sleep with a toy or book, something that will keep their hands otherwise occupied.
#3 – Sleeping on the Stomach
A 1981 study by Dr. Hal A. Huggins found that infants who were stomach-sleepers were more likely to develop facial abnormalities, spinal abnormalities or crooked teeth. This is likely due to the amount of force exerted on the teeth and jaws throughout the night. Long periods of pressure add up, and the teeth and jaws may ultimately shift. This is true for individuals of all ages who regularly sleep on their stomachs.
How to Stop: Like all bad habits, changing this one will take some concerted effort. When your child goes to sleep, ask them to try to sleep on their back or side. Talk about how it can hurt their teeth and jaws if they sleep on their stomachs. Try putting pillows on either side of them to make them feel supported and provide gentle pressure akin to what they experience when sleeping facedown – putting a pillow on the stomach may also help.
Hoping to learn more about ways to support healthy jaw development? Get in touch today to schedule your child’s orthodontic consultation.