Recognizing Bad Habits That Can Affect Your Child’s Teeth

Although they can be annoying or frustrating for parents, most habits a young child picks up aren’t anything to worry about. They’re certainly not something an orthodontist would be concerned with! There are, however, some oral habits that seem harmless but can actually damage a child’s teeth and jaw. In fact, when these habits are allowed to continue for an extended period of time, it may lead to tooth decay, misalignments, and difficulty eating or speaking. Because they can be destructive, it’s best to identify and address these habits as soon as possible. But where to begin? We’re here to help you with recognizing these bad habits that can affect your child’s teeth!

As a parent, you may not be sure which oral habits can cause problems for your child’s smile and what you can do to keep their teeth healthy. That’s where we can help! Here at Moffett & Walley Orthodontics, we want to see your child’s smile succeed and believe prevention is the best course of action when it comes to eliminating harmful habits. Patient education and simple behavior modification are often successful, but sometimes dental or orthodontic work may become necessary. 

To learn more about the bad habits that can affect your child’s oral health and what you can about them, keep reading below! 

Prolonged thumb, finger, or pacifier sucking 

Infants and young children use finger and thumb sucking as a way to self-soothe, while pacifiers are known to provide babies with a sense of security and comfort. While this may benefit them in infancy, it has the potential to cause problems if the habit continues past the time when most permanent teeth have emerged. 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. A serious sucking habit can cause a number of issues, including:  

  • 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

The bottom line? Extended sucking of the thumb and fingers or prolonged pacifier use can negatively affect the cosmetic appearance of a child’s smile and may lead to problems beneath the surface as well. 

Nail-biting or chewing on objects

Many children chew on pencils, ice, their own nails, or other objects to help them concentrate, alleviate anxiety, and relieve boredom. Even though it’s a common habit, the constant biting down action puts unnecessary pressure on the teeth. Over time, this can chip away at the enamel, crack the teeth, and irritate the soft tissue inside a tooth.

Bacteria also thrive under the fingernails. When a child bites their nails, it gives germs an easy entry point into the mouth! It’s more important than ever 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 offering sugarless gum as an alternative. Younger children often respond well to a healthy snack with a satisfying crunch, like carrots, celery, or apple slices. 

Playing sports without using a mouthguard

Protective gear is a must for kids who play sports, but mouthguards are sometimes left out of a conversation that’s dominated by helmets and pads. Many parents don’t realize the importance of protecting the mouth during physical activity, which is unfortunate since more than 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, also known as bruxism, can be a hard habit to break, especially when it mostly occurs while a child is sleeping. Many children outgrow it eventually, but it can still be a cause for concern while it continues. 

For one thing, the grinding action can cause small cracks in the tooth enamel and wear down the molars. The repetitive motion can also lead to headaches, earaches, and jaw pain in children who experience prolonged teeth grinding. Some research has even demonstrated a possible link between bruxism and anxiety, stress, and depression in those who suffer from it.

There are several possible causes for teeth grinding, but it’s very common in children who have bite and alignment issues in their upper or lower jaw. Correcting these malocclusions with orthodontic treatment can help relieve or eliminate many of the symptoms associated with bruxism.

Recognizing Bad Habits That Can Affect Your Child’s Teeth

Early orthodontic evaluations

As important as it is to teach your children good oral habits early on, identifying and stopping bad habits is essential for oral health, too! This is one reason the American Association of Orthodontists recommends all children see an orthodontist by around 7 years of age. By this time, most children will have an established back bite. Experienced orthodontists like Dr. Moffett and Dr. Walley will be able to assess the overall bite, and also evaluate the side-to-side and front-to-back tooth relationships.

Some parents worry that an orthodontic evaluation will lead to a recommendation for treatment right away, but in reality, this happens with only a small number of the young patients we see. Early evaluations are still a valuable tool, however!  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 able 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 healthy teeth! 

Find your child’s best smile with Moffett & Walley Orthodontists

At Moffett & Walley Orthodontics, we have an expert team in place to not only correct misalignments, but identify any underlying habits that need attention, too. Our customized treatment plans are built around each patient’s specific needs and will take into account any destructive oral habits and include ways to correct or eliminate them. If you’re in Jackson, Madison, or the surrounding area, we’d love to help your child break their bad oral habit. Get in touch today to schedule a FREE consultation with one of our doctors!