Habit Therapy

There are many benefits that can come out of the continuing relationship your dentist develops with your children. One of the most important services your dentist provides as he gets to know your child over time is stopping bad oral habits that can cause serious complications down the road. And that’s in addition to promoting general good tooth health habits.

Your JC kids dentist is trained to notice the habits and changes in your kids’ teeth early on. It’s important to stop the behavior either by:

  • Bringing it to your attention to help correct as needed

  • Applying a device that discourages the negative behavior

Habit-Forming Issues

The two biggest habits dentists correct are thumb or finger sucking and tongue thrusting. Tongue thrusting is when your child pushes forward on his teeth with his tongue. Most kids outgrow these habits around the age of four, but if they don’t, they can cause serious misalignment of the teeth. Misalignments can cause side effects so serious that they can affect the appearance of your child’s face. It’s up to you and your kids dentist to correct these habits because your child’s too young to understand the consequences.

While thumb sucking and tongue thrusting are the two most common habits Dr. Mila in Jersey City can address, there are other bad oral habits that everyone, including adults, should avoid to maintain good tooth health, such as:

  • Chewing hard foods, especially ice

  • Sipping sugary drinks over long periods of times

  • Using your teeth as a tool

  • Teeth grinding

  • Nail biting

  • Swallowing toothpaste

Thumb or Finger Sucking and Dental Problems

Thumb sucking is a habit that usually occurs in children before the age of four after their pacifiers have been taken away. It’s happens when children suck on their fingers as a way to cope or because of its pleasant association with nursing.

Thumb sucking can be a hard habit to break especially because it’s a subconscious habit that often goes on and on throughout the day, sometimes lasting for years. If you don’t help your child overcome this habit, he could suffer from serious dental problems down the road. Some of these complications include:

  • Swallowing habits that cause serious health problems

  • Speech issues

  • Teeth misalignment

  • Unwanted face appearance that can look sluggish, causing pursed cheeks or an inability to close the mouth completely

Ways to Discourage Thumb Sucking

There are a number of ways to help your child stop his thumb sucking habits. But first, it helps if you observe when he typically engages in thumb sucking. Have an answer when your JC kids dentist asks if he sucks his thumb when he’s anxious, when he’s watching TV or when he’s falling asleep.

After keeping track of when your child sucks his thumb, you’ll start to notice patterns that may explain why he still sucks his thumb, which can help you encourage him to stop. A couple of good ways to discourage him from sucking his thumb that your dentist may suggest include:

  • Always use positive reinforcement instead of punishing your child, because this encourages him to try and change the behavior positively.

  • Use reminders if he sucks his thumb when going to sleep by placing socks over the hands, but be sure he knows it’s not a punishment.

  • If you’ve noticed him sucking his thumb when he’s nervous, try to help him cope with the anxiety or distract him.

  • Use a reward chart with small prizes for extended periods of time he goes without sucking his thumb.

  • Explain carefully and with pictures of what can happen to his teeth if he continues to suck his thumb.

  • Schedule an appointment with your dentist to discuss thumb sucking with your child. Sometimes, hearing recommendations from someone other than parents can help get through to him even better.

Tongue Thrusting and Why You Need to Stop It

Similar to thumb sucking, children typically outgrow tongue thrusting. It usually isn’t until they’re older though — around eight to nine years old. Tongue thrusting occurs when your child pushes his tongue against his teeth while he is swallowing. This constant pressure pushes the teeth outward and can prevent them from coming together during a bite, which is known as an open bite.

Open bites and other mouth deformations caused by tongue thrusting can affect the proper develop of the teeth and other conditions such as:

  • Improper alignment

  • Malocclusion

  • Difficultly eating and swallowing

  • Trouble talking

  • Mouth breathing

Ways to Stop Tongue Thrusting

Tongue thrusting is more difficult to stop because it can be harder for you to see. Many of the same correcting behaviors that are recommended for discouraging thumb sucking can be used for tongue thrusting:

  • Always remain positive

  • Explain what could happen to your child’s teeth from tongue thrusting

  • Give rewards for periods of time without tongue thrusting

  • Allow your dentist to explain to your child the importance of breaking this habit

Your Jersey City kids dentist can help you spot this habit early and use preventative corrections to stop the need for serious interventions. There are two different kinds of bites caused by tongue thrusting:

  1. Simple, which is when the teeth can be held together during a swallow

  2. Complex, where the teeth are apart during a swallow. Complex is more serious as it can cause infection, breathing difficulties, and requires more orthodontic work.

Devices Your Dentist May Recommend

There are two main appliances that Dr. Mila uses to stop bad oral habits like thumb sucking and tooth thrusting from happening:

  1. Spiked Tongue Thrust Appliance. This spiked tongue thrust appliance is typically attached to the top of the mouth by the molars. It consists of a wire that runs along the teeth with a smooth spiked gate that sits behind the back of the teeth and prevents the tongue from pressing up against them.

  2. Palatal Rake for Thumb Sucking. Thumb sucking prevention devices may also be similar to the spiked tongue thrust appliance or may resemble a small gate that’s attached to the molars, runs along the teeth, with the gate portion resting up against the back of the teeth on the bottom of the mouth.

These devices are simple and relatively cheap, and they can save you and your child thousands of dollars down the road in corrective dental work caused by bad dental habits. Talk to your dentist for what may work best for your child.