Dental Problems In Children – Thumb Sucking, Tongue Thrusting And More

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The early years are probably some of the most important when it comes to dental hygiene and overall oral health. The way children’s teeth erupt, grow and are cared for can have a lifelong impact, from determining where their adult teeth will sit in their jaw, to their colour and strength. Unfortunately, there are a number of problems that can affect the oral health of children including tooth decay, thumb sucking and early tooth loss. These conditions can impact the strength of their adult teeth, cause pain and even lead to speech difficulties as they grow up. So even though baby teeth are eventually replaced with permanent adult teeth, it’s still important to keep baby teeth healthy. Today, we wanted to share the 3 most common dental problems that occur in children, and some tips to avoid them.

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay – Baby bottle tooth decay is pretty much what it sounds like – tooth decay in very small children. It’s also known as early childhood caries, nursing caries and nursing bottle syndrome, and happens when a baby’s teeth are in regular contact with sugars. These sugars can come from any number of things, from fruit juices and milk, formula, diluted fruit juice, sugar water or any other sweet drink. It can set in with very young children – even those who are being breastfed. Often a baby will fall asleep with un-swallowed milk in its mouth after feeding, and this provides a breeding ground for the bacteria that feed on sugars in the milk and cause tooth decay. If baby bottle tooth decay is left untreated, it can cause pain and difficulty chewing and swallowing in the short term.

In the long term, it can cause problems for adult teeth growing in. A child’s baby teeth are essentially acting as ‘space savers’ for the adult teeth. But if those baby teeth are damaged or destroyed, then they can’t guide the adult teeth into the right position. Best case scenario this means crooked adult teeth that will cost money to straighten, and at worst it can cause an abscessed tooth, and that infection can spread elsewhere in the body.

Luckily there are a few ways to avoid baby bottle tooth decay. To start with, during the day try to avoid giving your baby milk or sugary drinks to calm it – instead give plain water of a dummy. If you are giving a dummy, make sure you don’t dip it in sugar, honey or any other kind of sugary liquid to make them take it. If your baby is nursing at night, make sure to remove your breast from the baby’s mouth when it falls asleep, and use a wet cloth or gauze to wipe the baby’s teeth and gums after each feeding to reduce the risk of plaque build-up.

When a child no longer requires a night feed, only allow water in a bottle as a pacifier at night.

Thumb Sucking – This one has been plaguing parents for decades, and probably will for decades to come, because there is no easy answer. It’s common and actually healthy for infants to suck their thumbs, dummies and even toys. Sucking on objects is a key part of learning to self-comfort, so it shouldn’t be discouraged altogether. The problems happen when thumb sucking continues past the age of around 5, when the adult teeth are coming in and the sucking can cause real damage. Depending on how often, hard and long your child is sucking their thumb, their teeth could be pushed out of alignment (giving them an overbite), the roof of the mouth could become malformed or the upper and lower jaws could become misaligned, which will lead to pain and speech problems in later life.

If your child is sucking their thumb past the age of around 5, you should try to encourage them away from it. But remember that thumb sucking is a security mechanism, so negative reinforcement like telling off or punishment won’t work. Instead, try giving rewards and praise for successfully avoiding it the habit. For children who need reminders, you can try covering the thumb with a plaster, and make sure you take your child’s thumb out of their mouth once they’ve fallen asleep. If the sucking continues, look into why your child is doing it. Find out what stresses they are facing and try to remove them – the habit will often disappear when the stress does!

Tongue Thrusting – Tongue thrusting is less common and is the habit of sealing the mouth for swallowing by thrusting the top of the tongue forward against the lips. Just like thumb sucking, this puts pressure against the front teeth, pushing them out of alignment and causing an overbite or speech problems. If you see your child doing this, we advise you speak to a dentist (to check there is no dental reason for this), and if that’s all clear, a speech pathologist, who will help develop a treatment plan to strengthen your child’s chewing muscles and develop a new swallowing pattern.

Tongue thrusting is a retained infantile tongue movement. It should be corrected early on with Myobrace otherwise it can affect how the jaw grows.

Good Oral Health – Of course, there are many more dental and oral health problems that can occur in children. Some are basic oral hygiene and healthcare related, while others can be indicators of underlying conditions. The important thing is to ensure you are promoting good oral health to your children from an early age.At Appledore we work with children’s teeth every day, and can give you advice on caring for their teeth, teaching them to brush and floss properly and even spot early signs of dental problems. If you’d like to know more, just book your appointment today.

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