Orthodontists say that some of what many parents consider “bad habits” in children are not harmful if the child outgrows them over time.
But persistent habits such as mouth breathing, thumb, finger or pacifier sucking and even incorrect swallowing patterns can not only affect the alignment of a child’s teeth, they can also alter the growth pattern of their jaws.
That’s one of the reasons the American Orthodontic Association recommends that children be evaluated by an orthodontist before their 7th birthday. Detection can pave the way for correction before they cause extensive damage.
Breathing through your mouth may seem innocent enough, but it can be an indicator of airway problems, he said. Prolonged mouth breathing can cause the upper and lower jaws to grow improperly due to inadequate tongue, cheek, and lip forces.
Orthodontists have mentioned that if the muscles, teeth, and bone work against each other, the muscles will always win. Fortunately, there are treatment methods that we can apply to make those three work cooperatively with each other.
When parents notice a child chronically mouth breathing, she recommends seeing an otolaryngologist for correction and treatment methods, followed by a consultation with an orthodontist to determine if orthodontic treatment is needed.
According to some studies by osteologists, mouth breathing can also affect the growth of the palate, which can cause it to narrow over time.
Also, it’s common for babies to suck on pacifiers or thumbs and fingers because it’s a natural reflex, according to the American Dental Association (ada.org/public/topics/thumbsucking.asp). It also serves various purposes; including making them feel happy, safe and relaxed. Most children stop sucking on these items by the time they are 4 years old.
It is important that they break the habit by the time their permanent teeth erupt. Depending on how hard a child sucks, prolonged sucking beyond this point can lead to tooth alignment problems, jaw discrepancies and can disrupt the roof of the mouth, she said.
In children who suck their thumb severely, parents should see an orthodontist if they notice that it has altered their child’s baby teeth.
Orthodontists believe that persistent breakouts may need help kicking the habit. If the habit is too hard to break, there are orthodontic treatments, such as the installation of an oral appliance that eliminates the soothing sensation you get from thumb sucking, he said.
Improper swallowing habits
According to some osteology studies, improper swallowing can create problems with the position of the lower jaw, such as open bites and protrusion of the upper jaw and teeth. When a child has trouble swallowing properly, the muscles involved in swallowing tense up, creating jaw tension and other problems. Over time, this can force the lower jaw back to compensate.
Also some orthodontists say that this is another problem that can often be treated with orthodontics. Devices are available that can help correct inappropriate swallowing patterns, and we also recommend speech therapy, which can help children learn where to place their tongue when swallowing and speaking.