Oral Habits in Children

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oral health in children - family dentistry dublin ohioOften times, children will develop oral habits that are hard to break. The most common ones we see are a pacifier and thumb. Studies show these habits are about as hard to break as an adult who is trying to quit smoking. It takes a lot of encouragement, patience, and consistency to try to get children to break these habits. Of course, the sooner, the better to take them away, but it is not always that easy.

Thumb Habit

The first problem with a thumb-sucking habit is you can’t take the child’s thumb away. This is one of the hardest to break. We have children/teens up to age 15 that are still trying to break their thumb habits. At this point, intervention with an orthodontist is best. We are talking way before the teen years. We start to see teeth move around age 4-5 if a child is an excessive thumb sucker.

The good news is, if the child can stop, the teeth will move back significantly. More of the permanent damage starts when a child begins to lose their teeth. When their permanent teeth come in, they aren’t as forgiving, and the teeth won’t move back as quickly. This occurs typically around age 6. So, the goal is to encourage them to stop sucking the thumb before they start losing teeth. There are different “contraptions” available to help a child stop. The orthodontist can place a retainer with a built-in appliance that goes in the roof of the mouth and behind the top front teeth where the thumb goes. The child is then unable to place the thumb where they want it or usually keep it. You can also place a glove or sock over the child’s hand when they sleep at night. Another great technique to use for a thumb sucker is to tell the child they can only suck their thumb in the corner, or in a room by themselves with no media, no blanket or toys or anything “fun.” When they are done, they can come back out with everyone else. The goal is that eventually, the child will get sick of taking a break to suck their thumb and stop.

Pacifier Habit

A pacifier can be a bit easier to break, but still very challenging. It’s a security item for a child, and they grow very attached to it. There are tips and tricks you can use to get rid of a child’s pacifier. Take the pacifier to build a bear and have them put it in the bear when they make it, and they can use the new stuffed animal as their new security. Another tip is to poke pinholes in the pacifier, so the child does not get the same sucking action they are used to. You can also tell the child a pacifier fairy is going to come and take all their pacifiers to give them to little babies that need them, and they will leave them a small gift. Nighttime, of course, is typically the hardest time to take it away.

Be sure to encourage your child with whatever it is you are trying to eliminate and praise them as they cut back and let them know how proud you are. Remember, this is not easy for them! As we mentioned above, patience is key and will help with the child’s confidence to quit. For family dentistry in Dublin, Ohio, contact Dental Reflections today!

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