There's something universal about thumb sucking: nearly all babies do it, and nearly all parents worry about it. While most such worries are unfounded, you should be concerned if your child sucks their thumb past age of 4 — late thumb sucking could skew bite development.
Young children suck their thumb because of the way they swallow. Babies move their tongues forward into the space between the two jaws, allowing them to form a seal around a nipple as they breast or bottle feed. Around age 4, this “infantile swallowing pattern” changes to an adult pattern where the tip of the tongue contacts the front roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. At the same time their future bite is beginning to take shape.
In a normal bite the front teeth slightly overlap the bottom and leave no gap between the jaws when closed. Â But if thumb sucking continues well into school age, the constant pushing of the tongue through the opening in the jaws could alter the front teeth's position as they erupt. As a result they may not fully erupt or erupt too far forward. This could create an open bite, with a gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are closed.
Of course, the best way to avoid this outcome is to encourage your child to stop thumb sucking before they turn four. If, however, they're already developing a poor bite (malocclusion), all is not lost — it can be treated.
It's important, though, not to wait: if you suspect a problem you should see an orthodontist for a full evaluation and accurate diagnosis. There are even some measures that could discourage thumb sucking and lessen the need for braces later. These include a tongue crib, a metal appliance placed behind the upper and lower incisors, or exercises to train the tongue and facial muscles to adopt an adult swallowing pattern. Often, a reward system for not sucking their thumbs helps achieve success as well.
Thumb-sucking shouldn't be a concern if you help your child stop before age 4 and keep an eye on their bite development. Doing those things will help ensure they'll have both healthy and straight teeth.
If you would like more information on thumb sucking, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Even the sweetest children don’t always have sweet-smelling breath. If your child has persistent bad breath, it may be for one of the following reasons:
POOR ORAL HYGIENE HABITS. Bad breath often results from bacteria on the teeth and tongue that is not effectively removed during brushing and flossing.
- Tip: To encourage thorough cleaning as children are developing their oral hygiene habits, try handheld flossers that are colorful and easy to use, sing or play music to make brushing time fun, or try an electric toothbrush with a timer or a tooth-brushing app that keeps kids brushing for a full two minutes.
PLAQUE BUILDUP, TOOTH DECAY AND GUM DISEASE: Plaque, a sticky bacterial biofilm, can build up on tooth surfaces, between the teeth and under the gum line and can lead to tooth decay and gum disease. These conditions may result in bad breath.
- Tip: Stay on top of your child’s oral hygiene at home, and keep up with regular dental visits for professional cleanings and checkups.
POST-NASAL DRIP: This common cause of foul-smelling breath in children results when excessive mucus is produced and drips down the back of the throat.
- Tip: Schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to determine and treat the cause.
MOUTH BREATHING. Breathing through the mouth instead of the nose can cause a dry mouth. This can lead to increased oral bacteria, which can cause bad breath. If children breathe through the mouth all the time, not just because of a temporary cold or allergies, your child is at greater risk for tooth decay and gum disease.
- Tip: If your child is a chronic mouth breather, schedule a dental visit so we can check for any adverse effects on dental health. Note that over time, habitual mouth breathing may lead to poor alignment of the teeth. An ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist can treat problems with tonsils, adenoids and sinuses — common causes of mouth breathing.
FOREIGN OBJECT IN THE NOSE. It wouldn’t be the first time a child has stuck a pea or other small object up their nose â?? or their sibling’s nose — only to find that it won’t come back out. A foreign body in the nasal passage can cause infection and lead to bad breath.
- Tip: Don’t try to remove the object at home, as part of it may remain in the nasal passage. A medical professional will have the right equipment to dislodge the object more comfortably.
MEDICATION. Children who take antibiotics for a long time may develop a fungal infection (thrush) in the mouth. Other medications can cause bad breath due to the way they break down in the body.
- Tip: Call your pharmacist if you have a question about medications and bad breath.
MEDICAL CONDITION. Infections of the throat, sinus or tonsils can cause bad breath, as can more serious health conditions.
- Tip: If your child’s breath is unpleasant for an extended period of time, get it checked out by a health professional.
If you are concerned about your child’s breath, schedule a visit. We are happy to remind your child of proper brushing techniques and check for other problems that need to be addressed.
For more on young children’s oral health, read “How to Help Your Child Develop the Best Habits for Oral Health” and “Why See a Pediatric Dentist?”
It’s true — thumb sucking beyond age 4 can cause bite problems for permanent teeth. But prolonged thumb sucking is just one of a number of possible contributing factors for a bad bite (malocclusion). A dentist must identify all the factors involved when a bad bite is present — their involvement is essential for a successful treatment outcome.
A fairly benign habit for infants and toddlers, thumb sucking is related to an “infantile swallowing pattern” young children use by thrusting their tongues forward between the upper and lower teeth when they swallow. Around age 4, though, they usually transition to an adult swallowing pattern in which the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. Thumb sucking stops for most children around the same time.
Thumb sucking beyond this age, though, can put increased pressure on incoming permanent teeth pushing them forward. This could lead to an “open bite” in which the upper and lower teeth don’t meet when the jaws are closed. The tongue may also continue to thrust forward when swallowing to seal the resulting gap, which further reinforces the open bite.
Before treating the bite with braces, we must first address the thumb sucking and improper tongue placement when swallowing — if either isn’t corrected the teeth could gradually revert to their previous positions after the braces come off. Besides behavioral incentives, we can also employ a thin metal appliance called a “tongue crib” placed behind the upper and lower incisors. A tongue crib discourages thumb sucking and makes it more difficult for the tongue to rest within the open bite gap when swallowing, which helps retrain it to a more normal position.
An open bite can also occur if the jaws develop with too much vertical growth. Like thumb sucking and improper tongue placement, abnormal jaw growth could ultimately cause orthodontic treatment to fail. In this case, though, surgery may be necessary to correct the jaw structure.
With all these possible variables, our first step needs to be a thorough orthodontic exam that identifies all the cause factors for your child’s specific malocclusion. Knowing if and how thumb sucking may have contributed to the poor bite will help us design a treatment strategy that’s successful.
If you would like more information on the causes of poor tooth position, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”
Teething is an important phase in your baby's dental maturity. During the approximate two-year process, they will acquire their first set of teeth.
It can also be an unpleasant two years as each tooth sequentially breaks through the gums. The severity of teething problems differs with each child, but there are common signs: irritability, biting and gnawing, chin rash, drooling or ear rubbing among them. Although for most babies the discomfort isn't that great, the pain can occasionally be a lot for them — and their care-givers — to handle.
Although having a very unhappy infant can be nerve-jangling, there's no real cause for concern health-wise. If, however, they begin to run a fever or experience diarrhea, that could be a sign of something more serious. In those cases, you should see a doctor as soon as possible.
Otherwise, there are some things you can do to make them more comfortable during teething episodes. One thing to remember: cold items for biting or gnawing usually work wonders. So, be sure you have chilled teething rings or pacifiers (but not frozen — the extreme temperature could burn their gums). For older children, an occasional cold food like a popsicle can bring relief.
You can also try massaging the gums with your clean finger, which will help counteract the pressure of an erupting tooth. But avoid rubbing alcohol or aspirin on the gums, and you shouldn't apply numbing agents to children less than two years of age unless advised by your doctor.
If their pain persists, it's permissible to give them a mild pain reliever like the appropriate dosage for their age of baby acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Again, you should give this by mouth and avoid rubbing it on the gums.
By the time they're three, all their primary teeth should be in and teething symptoms should have largely dissipated. In the meantime, make them as comfortable as you can â?? in no time the unpleasantness of teething will pass.
If you would like more information on coping with your child's teething, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Teething Troubles: How to Help Keep your Baby Comfortable.”
It’s a big moment after months of wearing braces to finally get a glimpse of your new smile. The crooked teeth and poor bite are gone — and in their place are beautiful, straight teeth!
If you’re not careful, though, your new look might not last. That’s because the natural mechanism we used to straighten your teeth may try to return them to their previous poor positions.
Contrary to what many people think, teeth aren’t rigidly set within the jaw bone. Instead, an elastic, fibrous tissue known as the periodontal ligament lies between the teeth and the bone and attaches to both with tiny fibers. Though quite secure, the attachment allows the teeth to move in very minute increments in response to growth or other changes in the mouth.
Orthodontic appliances like braces or clear aligners put pressure on the teeth in the direction we wish them to move. The bone dissolves on the side of the teeth where pressure is being applied or facing the direction of movement and then builds up on the other side where tension is occurring.
The ligament, though, has a kind of “muscle memory” for the teeth’s original position. Unless it’s prevented, this “memory” will pull the teeth back to where they used to be. All the time and effort involved with wearing braces will be lost.
That’s why it’s important for you to wear an appliance called a retainer after your braces have been removed. As the name implies, the appliance “retains” the teeth in their new position until it’s more permanently set. For most people, this means wearing it for twenty-four hours in the beginning, then later only a few hours a day or while you sleep.
The majority of younger patients eventually won’t need to wear a retainer once bone and facial growth has solidified their teeth’s new position. Older adults, though, may need to wear one from now on. Even so, it’s a relatively slight inconvenience to protect that beautiful, hard-won smile.
If you would like more information on retainers, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “The Importance of Orthodontic Retainers.”
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