Top 4 Problem Dental Habits in Children and Why You Should Break Them

Caring for your child’s teeth is more important than you may think, even if they are “just baby teeth.” As we discussed in Your Child’s First Teeth: What to Expect, baby teeth are actually quite integral to your child’s overall health and the development of their permanent teeth. There are plenty of oral health habits that can help make your child’s dental development easier, smoother, and healthier. But, there are also a few habits that can damage your child’s teeth and development, and even lead to problems with overall health– and they’re more common than you may think!

Let’s talk about the top four dental habits that cause problems in children, and how to protect young smiles by breaking them.

1. Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is a common habit in children. It’s not limited to thumbs– because sucking is a natural instinct for infants and young children, they often use fingers, thumbs, pacifiers and other objects to self-soothe and promote feelings of happiness and security.

If these behaviors persist once permanent tooth eruption occurs, they can cause lasting damage. Thumb sucking, pacifier use, and other oral fixation behaviors can damage the development and alignment of adult teeth, leading to long-term oral issues.

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. If you have concerns about thumb sucking or use of a pacifier, consult your pediatric dentist.

A few suggestions to help your child get through thumb sucking:

      • Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of the 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.
      • Your pediatric dentist can encourage children to stop sucking and explain what could happen if they continue.
      • If these approaches don’t work, remind the children of their habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock on the hand at night. Your pediatric dentist may recommend the use of a mouth appliance.

2. Tooth Grinding / Bruxism

Tooth grinding, or bruxism, is the nocturnal grinding of teeth. It’s a common concern for parents, who often notice this behavior due to noises made in a child’s sleep or the wearing/shortening of their teeth.

Stress, such as experiencing divorce, moving, or changes at school are thought to have potential to trigger bruxism. Another theory involves easing inner-ear pressure, reminiscent of chewing gum to relieve the feeling of a plane taking off or landing.

In most cases, a child’s bruxism will not require treatment. Mouthguards are an option for stopping excessive wear in pediatric bruxism, but they do present a choking risk. The good news is that most pediatric bruxism wanes by ages 6-9, and will typically stop altogether by age 12.

3. Baby bottle tooth decay, or “bottle rot”

Baby bottle tooth decay, sometimes called “bottle rot,” is a serious cause of tooth decay in young children. Milk (including breast milk), fruit juice, and other sugary liquids can contribute to tooth decay in children through prolonged exposure to the teeth, such as in cases of unattended bottle use during naps or at bedtime.

Sweet liquid pools around the child’s teeth giving plaque bacteria an opportunity to produce acids that attack tooth enamel. If you need to offer your child a bottle as a comforter during naps or at night, the bottle should be filled only with water. Other liquids can cause rapid tooth decay.

Be sure to wipe your child’s gums and teeth with a damp washcloth or gauze pad after feedings to help ensure proper oral cleanliness after every feeding.

4. Sippy Cups

Though sippy cups can be a convenient alternative to spill-prone cups without lids, they can also cause serious dental issues if used improperly. Sippy cups should only be used as a training tool from bottles to normal cups, and should be discontinued by the first birthday.

If using a sippy cup, fill the cup with only water other than at mealtimes. Prolonged exposure to sugary liquids can promote cavity-causing bacteria.

Your child’s oral health care starts at home. Breaking these bad habits and creating an oral care routine that includes proper assisted brushing, ADA approved child’s toothpaste, and proper cleaning after mealtime can help reduce your child’s future risk for dental issues and promote proper oral development.

Kennedy Dental Care is your dental home, a comfortable and friendly place to receive comprehensive dental care for children of all ages. We welcome you to be a part of our practice, where our expert dentists and staff can support you through all of your child’s dental developmental stages.

Learn more about Kennedy Dental Care, your dental home, here.


Get the latest KDC Insights delivered directly to your inbox, including dental care tips, community and events, and an occasional message from Scout or Twinkle!