Oral Habits

What are oral habits?

Oral habits are abnormal, frequently repeated, developed actions that are related to your child’s mouth. Habits are difficult to stop and can be associated with dental problems. Oral habits include but are not limited to:

1. Prolonged pacifier use / thumb sucking:

Sucking is a natural reflex and infants and young children may use thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects on which to suck. It may make them feel secure and happy, or provide a sense of security at difficult periods. Since thumb sucking is relaxing, it may induce sleep. Thumb sucking that persists beyond the eruption of the permanent teeth can cause problems with the proper growth of the mouth and tooth alignment. How intensely a child sucks on fingers or thumbs will determine whether or not dental problems may result. Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs. Children should cease thumb sucking by the time their permanent front teeth are ready to erupt. Usually, children stop between the ages of two and four. Peer pressure causes many school-aged children to stop. Pacifiers are no substitute for thumb sucking. They can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs. However, use of the pacifier can be controlled and modified more easily than the thumb or finger habit. Here are a few suggestions to help your child overcome thumb sucking:

  • Children who are sucking for comfort will feel less of a need when their parents provide comfort.
  • Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods, such as when being separated from their parents.
  • If these approaches don’t work, remind your child of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. Also visit our photo gallery for our “No Thumb Sucking For Me” chart that we have devised to help.
  • Habit appliances are available for older children who are willing but unable to quit the habit.

2. Tongue thrusting / abnormal swallowing:

Irregular swallowing patterns can cause shifting in the position of your child’s teeth. Some children continue to use their tongues the same way they needed to when they were infants and didn’t have their teeth yet. The tongue played an important role in closing the gaps between the baby’s gum pads. However, when teeth erupt, swallowing patterns mature. Some children are unable to make this shift and cause changes to their front teeth by applying too much tongue pressure. Certain dental appliances and coaching can correct these conditions.

3. Bruxing or teeth grinding

Bruxism or night-time grinding of teeth is noticed by the noise created when a child grinds on their teeth during sleep. This grinding wears the child’s teeth which eventually get shorter. The cause is not really known. One theory involves a psychological component. Stress due to a new environment, changes at home or school can influence a child to grind their teeth. Another theory relates to pressure in the inner ear at night. If there are pressure changes, (like in an airplane during take-off and landing) the child will grind by moving the jaw to relieve this pressure. The majority of cases do not require any treatment and most children outgrow the condition. If excessive wear of the teeth is present, a mouth guard may be indicated in specific cases.