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Help Your Child Break Bad Oral Habits This New Year

Maybe you’ve come up with your New Year’s resolutions, but has your child? Consider helping him or her break bad oral habits for a stronger, healthier smile in 2020.

Does your child regularly engage in:

  • thumb sucking
  • nail biting
  • drinking milk or juice from a bottle in bed
  • frequent candy eating

He or she might be unwittingly causing oral damage. Read on to learn why these behaviors are harmful and what you can do to help your child break bad oral habits.

Stop Thumb Sucking

Infants have an innate sucking reflex. Babies, even in utero, find their fingers and toes pleasant to suck on and often do so to self-soothe or fall asleep. While many little ones give it up between two and four years old, some hang onto the habit. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends intervening if a child is five and still thumb sucking. Thumb or finger sucking can be problematic once adult teeth come in. Thumb sucking can alter the roof of the mouth and cause tooth misalignment. To help your child break the habit, try anti-thumb sucking gloves, guards, or polishes. Specialty gloves are available that cover up the thumb and are difficult for the child to take off. Thumb guards are stiff plastic covers that go over just the thumb, making thumb sucking impossible. Also effective are bitter-tasting polishes that can be painted right on the fingers. Some polishes even stay on despite regular hand washing.

Nix Nail Biting

Seemingly innocuous, nail biting is another bad oral habit that can cause more damage than meets the eye. Nail biting transfers dirt and bacteria from under the fingernail to the mouth and gums, putting your child at greater risk of disease. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, nail biting also can crack or wear down teeth. Older children with orthodontics who bite their nails risk popping off a bracket, damaging wires, and further stressing teeth that can lead to root damage. A study in the AGD’s journal, General Dentistry, found that nail biters are also more prone to developing bruxism, which is involuntary tooth clenching or grinding that can cause serious tooth and jaw issues.

To help curb this behavior, try a sticker chart for younger children. Encourage them to see how long they can go without biting their nails and offer a reward for good behavior. Older children might be motivated to stop biting their nails with a manicure or new nail polish. Thumb sucking polish can also be used to help curtail nail biting.

Battle Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

If your child is regularly bringing a bottle of sweetened liquid to bed, he or she is at risk of developing baby bottle tooth decay. This occurs when sweetened liquids or those with natural sugars, like milk, formula, and fruit juice, cling to a young child’s teeth for long periods of time. Bacteria in the mouth thrive on this sugar and produce acids that erode tooth enamel. Help your child break this habit by having him or her drink those beverages at mealtimes and keep the bedtime bottle just for water.

Curb Candy and Other Sweets

If your child is hooked on candy, this New Year is a great time to help him or her cut back. Keeping lollipops and other hard candies in the mouth for an extended period can cause significant tooth decay over time. Help your child ease off the habit by trying sugar-free gums and mints or even sugar-free candy containing erythritol and xylitol that is designed to promote oral health by reducing the acidity in the mouth. A fun, new water bottle to drink from when a candy craving hits might also help your child break the habit. Adopting healthy habits now will set your child up for a lifetime of benefits.

We here at Affiliated Dentists wish you and your family a healthy, peaceful New Year! If we can assist you in helping your child break bad oral habits, please contact us. We offer children’s pediatric dentistry in Madison, Wisconsin.

Help Your Child Break Bad Oral Habits This New Year brought to you by:
Mark Gustavson DDS, Madison Dentist

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