Habits often seen in children
Why do babies suck their thumbs?
Babies have a natural urge to suck. This urge usually decreases after the age of 6 months. But many babies continue to suck their thumbs to soothe themselves. Thumb-sucking can become a habit in babies and young children who use it to comfort themselves when they feel hungry, afraid, restless, quiet, sleepy, or bored.
In rare cases, thumb-sucking after age 5 is in response to an emotional problem or other disorder, such as anxiety.
Does thumb-sucking cause any problems?
Thumb-sucking in children younger than 4 is usually not a problem. Children who suck their thumbs often or with great intensity around age 4 or 5, or those who are still sucking their thumbs at age 6, are at risk for dental or speech problems.
Prolonged thumb-sucking may cause the teeth to become improperly aligned (malocclusion) or push the teeth outward. This usually corrects itself when the child stops thumb-sucking. But the longer thumb-sucking continues, the more likely it is that orthodontic treatment will be needed.
Speech problems caused by thumb-sucking can include not being able to say Ts and Ds, lisping, and thrusting out the tongue when talking.
When does a child need treatment for thumb-sucking?
Many experts recommend ignoring thumb-sucking in a child who is preschool age or younger.
Children who suck their thumbs may need treatment when they:
- Continue to suck a thumb often or with great intensity around age 4 or older. (A callus on the thumb is one sign of intense sucking.)
- Ask for help to stop.
- Develop dental or speech problems as a result of sucking their thumbs.
- Feel embarrassed or are teased or shamed by other people.
How is problem thumb-sucking treated?
Simple home treatment measures stop most children from sucking their thumbs. But if your child has a sucking habit around age 4 or older, schedule a visit with your child’s doctor or dentist.
At home, treatment includes parents setting rules and providing distractions. It may help to limit the times and places that your child is allowed to suck his or her thumb and to put away blankets or other items your child associates with thumb-sucking. Putting gloves on your child’s hands or wrapping the thumb with an adhesive bandage or a cloth may help remind your child not to suck the thumb.
Offering praise, positive attention, and rewards for not thumb-sucking may also help your child break the habit. For example, put stickers on a calendar each day that your child doesn’t suck his or her thumb. After an agreed-upon number of days, have a celebration for your child.
Don’t shame or punish your child for thumb-sucking. This will only lower your child’s self-esteem.
If home treatment doesn’t work and you are concerned or feel frustrated about your child’s thumb-sucking, talk with your child’s doctor. There may be other treatment options, such as behavioral therapy, thumb devices, or devices for the mouth. But remember that thumb-sucking usually isn’t a problem in children at preschool age or younger. Most children will stop on their own if you give them time.
Tongue thrusting is the habit of pushing the tongue forward between the upper and lower front teeth when swallowing. The proper position for the tip of the tongue is to push against the gum above the back of the upper front teeth, rather than between the upper and lower teeth.
Here’s why tongue thrust can occur, who can be affected, what complications tongue thrusting can cause and how certain treatment regimens can be used to lessen or eliminate the condition.
A variety of causes are responsible for the compulsion to continually push one’s tongue forward; discerning which it is in any one case depends on the person. If a young child sucks his or her thumb at an early age – and does not stop the habit by the age of four, warns the American Dental Association (ADA) – the upper and lower teeth can become altered in a way that creates a dental condition called “open bite.”
Appliances for Toddlers
Open bite can sometimes require an oral appliance placed in the upper arch and palate to discourage thumb-sucking, so that normal lip movement can realign the teeth and close the space. If this appliance is used, however, it is important that the teeth are cleaned in and around the item with a daily fluoride rinse used to prevent cavities, such as Colgate® Phos-Flur® Rinse.
How It Affects Adults
Adults are just as susceptible to this condition as kids, especially if the person develops a narrow facial structure with a large tongue as they get older. With proper speech and language therapy, you can learn how to control tongue thrust even if it stems from a younger habit, and avoid any oral conditions that would open the bite. Babies may be learning to pronounce words correctly, but older versions of the condition can cause difficulty eating, which needs to be taken care of quickly.
What Treatment Is Available?
Treatment for tongue thrust may consist in a combination of therapy and exercise, and/or appliances to guide the tongue into a better position. The diagnosis of tongue thrusting can be done by a pediatrician or associated physician, a general dentist, pediatric dentist, orthodontist or speech language pathologist, according to the American Speech Language Hearing Association.
Tongue thrusting is a very treatable condition, but it involves the insight of dentists, physicians and speech specialists to ensure the condition is treated well. When identified early, this guidance will prove beneficial to the patient and lead to a lifetime of good oral health.
Though mouth breathing happens for different reasons in adults and children, the culprit is usually a nasal obstruction. When we breathe normally through the nose, the air we take in is warmed and moistened before it gets to our lungs. If a person has difficulty breathing through the nose, however, he or she is forced to take in cold, dry air through the mouth.
What causes it?
Essentially an incorrect form of respiration, mouth breathing can happen for a number of reasons. Some kids do it out of habit, their bite may be off, or the position of the jaw and teeth may be such that when they sleep, their lips don’t quite close. A child may also suffer from abnormally large tonsils, which can obstruct breathing.
Mouth breathing may also occur as a result of a birth defect, like a deviated septum, that may make it more difficult to breathe through the nose. It could even be a skeletal deformity that has never been picked up on, but that makes it easier for someone to breathe if they lean forward and breathe through their mouth.
Dr. Hoediono also says that some people, especially older people, can end up mouth breathing as a result of taking medication, a condition called xerostomia. ‘In these cases, the dryness can be painful. It can feel like the mouth is burning,’ he says. Mouth breathing can also develop after glands are damaged during chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Why is it a problem?
One of the most common side effects of mouth breathing is an excessively dry mouth. Under normal conditions, saliva continuously washes bacteria from the mouth. If your mouth is dry, however, that bacteria can more readily take hold and cause problems like cavities. That’s because dry membranes are easier to invade.
In children, mouth breathing can also lead to permanent skeletal deformities. That’s because it promotes the growth of the upper jaw, rather than the lower jaw. The result is a large overbite and a gummy smile.
Dr. Hoediono says that mouth breathing can also cause sleep difficulties, causing people to wake in the night if they aren’t getting enough oxygen. In children, lack of sleep may reduce their ability to pay attention and concentrate at school, which may be mistaken for attention deficit disorder. In adults, mouth breathing can be related to sleep apnea, which causes people to wake frequently at night. Most can end up feeling exhausted the next day.
Signs of mouth breathing
While a natural mouth breather may be able to stave off dryness by remoistening the mouth throughout the day, it will get dry overnight because they are breathing through their mouth all night, and they dry out the soft tissues. Mouth breathers often have chronically red and inflamed gums, even if their oral health is otherwise good. Adults may also find they have bleeding gums, or may get frequent cavities.
Another sign is if the back of your throat feels dry and itchy when you wake up, or there’s a burning sensation. When you wake up, put a finger over one nostril and try to breathe in while keeping your mouth closed, and then try it on the other side. Any difficulty inhaling could indicate a problem with blocked nasal passageways.
Because it is so drying, mouth breathing can also cause chronic bad breath. Patients may brush their teeth constantly or they chew gum, but the bad breath is still there.
What to do
It is important to determine why the mouth breathing is happening before you can correct it. If the cause is huge tonsils, then removing them might be an option, if the problem is structural a child can’t, for example, close his lips over flared front teeth then the solution may be orthodontic treatment.
Using a humidifier while sleeping can help ease mouth dryness, as can replenishing with lots of fluids. Sometimes we suggest patients rub a small amount of vitamin E oil on their gums before bedtime to keep them from drying out overnight.
Thorough dental exams will help determine whether mouth breathing is a problem. It’s also important for parents to look for signs of mouth breathing in children, so the problem can be corrected before it worsens.
Here are some Adult Habits!
The habit: This nervous habit can chip teeth and impact your jaw. “Placing your jaw for long periods of time in a protruding position can place pressure on it, which is associated with jaw dysfunction,” says some orthodontists.
The solution: Bitter-tasting nail polishes, stress reduction and setting small, realistic goals can help. If certain situations are triggers, hold something to keep your fingers busy.
Brushing Too Hard
The habit: Brushing for two minutes twice a day is one of the best habits you can get into. Just make sure you’re not trying too hard. “Brushing with a hard toothbrush, or brushing too hard, can damage teeth and irritate gums,” say most dentists.
The solution: Use a soft or medium toothbrush with the BDA or ADA Seal of Acceptance at the proper pressure. “Don’t think ‘scrub.’ Think ‘massage,’” we say. “Save the hard toothbrush for cleaning the grout in the bathroom tile.”
Grinding and Clenching
The habit: “This can cause chipping or cracking of the teeth, as well as muscle tenderness or joint pain,” Dr Raj says. “You might also feel like you can’t open your mouth wide or chew with pain.”
The solution: “Relaxation exercises and staying aware makes a difference,” he says. A night-time mouthguard can also help prevent damage. “You’ll have less tooth damage, less pain and muscle soreness and better sleep.”
Chewing Ice Cubes
The habit: “Tooth enamel is a crystal. Ice is a crystal. When you push two crystals against each other, one will break,” all dentists say. “Most of the time it’s the ice, but sometimes the tooth or a filling will break.”
The solution: Drink chilled beverages without ice, or use a straw so you’re not tempted. “The risk of chewing ice is greater than any pleasure that comes from chewing it,” we say. “Besides, ice is really cold!”
The habit: Grazing all day, especially on sugary foods and drinks, puts you at a higher risk for cavities. When you eat, cavity-causing bacteria feast leftover food, producing an acid that attacks the outer shell of your teeth.
The solution: Eat balanced meals to feel fuller, longer. If you need a snack, make sure it’s low in fat and sugar. If you indulge in the occasional sugary treat, follow it with a big glass of water to wash away leftover food.
Using Your Teeth As Tools
The habit: Your teeth were made for eating, not to stand in as a pair of scissors or hold things when your hands are full. When you do this, you put yourself at a higher risk of cracking your teeth, injuring your jaw or accidentally swallowing something you shouldn’t.
The solution: Stop and find something or someone to give you a hand. Your mouth will thank you.