When it comes to your child’s health, especially their dental health, one of the top things you should be concerned about as a parent, is prevention. Preventive dentistry is not just visiting our Carmichael dental office every 6 months for a checkup; it’s also the habits that form at home and bad habits that are stopped. As a parent, you are solely responsible for your child’s dental health. Educating yourself about the harmful effects of pacifiers, thumb sucking and sippy cups can save your child from painful dental procedures down the line and save you from a large bill. Do everything in your power to give your child the healthy mouth they deserve. Redford Dental Care is proud to offer both children’s dentistry procedures for our patients as well as education that parents need to keep their children’s teeth healthy for life. Keep reading to find out more about the dangers behind these common parts of childhood.

Why Do Babies and Children Thumb Suck?

Babies are born with the natural instinct to suck on their fingers, thumbs or a pacifier. It brings comfort to them and they also associate it with breastfeeding. Although this is a natural instinct if it causes long-term damage to mouths and teeth if it continues for too long. Typically, the urge to thumb suck begins to decrease at 6 months old. There are some children, however, that continue to suck their thumb or fingers to help themselves fall asleep. When children grow older, they suck their thumbs when they are feeling tired, restless, scared or even hungry. It’s relatively normal for children to halt this behavior by age 3. If the sucking continues past age 5, this is usually a sign of emotional problem or disorder. Your physician should be aware of the problem in order to find a solution at this point. Once your baby’s teeth grow in, if they continue to thumb suck, this can cause damage to the teeth.

What are the Health Effects of Thumbsucking?

Although thumb sucking can help your child calm themselves to fall asleep, it is not a healthy habit. Once teeth begin to develop and this habit continues, the alignment of the teeth can be disturbed, causing the need for expensive dental work in the future like braces or other orthodontic treatments. In some cases, children may develop speech problems or calluses on their thumbs in addition to alignment issues. In this case, your child needs to break the habit.

When thumbsucking continues past the ages of 5 to 6, long-term effects begin to become present. Teeth can begin to push around which may cause an underbite or overbite to form. It’s also common for children to develop a lisp from the jaw bone positioning. Other raises for concern include germs constantly being put into the mouth from the thumb. Whatever your child touches with their thumb will be put in their mouth, so expect plenty of germy colds. Lastly, the roof of the mouth may become more sensitive or altered. About 30% of school children currently suck their thumbs.

How Do You Help Your Child Stop Thumbsucking?

If your child sucks their thumb, there is a series of steps you can take to try and halt this behavior. First, we recommend that you talk to your child about the long-term effects of continuous thumb sucking. Try to help them understand that their oral health is in danger if they do not stop. Next, make sure you are not nagging your child or punishing them for sucking their thumbs. This may cause them to suck them more because they are stressed out. Try to find any sources of stress in your child’s life or what triggers their thumb sucking and find a way to eliminate that area of stress. Lastly, if you notice your child is sucking their thumb, try to distract them by playing a game, singing a song or giving them a toy.

If none of the above steps help, you can try some of these other methods. We understand that thumb sucking is a habit that your child uses to relax themselves, so it’s wise to find other ways for your child to relax. You can put gloves or socks over your child’s hands at night before they fall asleep. This will help them stop nightly thumb sucking. You can also use tape to keep the socks in place throughout the night. If you don’t like that method, try to implement a reward program for your child. Create a chart that your child can see that keeps them accountable. Start with small goals and give your child a reward when they reach them. This positive attitude can be more effective than negative reinforcement or punishment for bad habits.

If those methods don’t work, talk to your doctor about prescribing a bitter tasting medication to place on their thumbs at night. This will create a bad taste in their mouth when they try to suck their thumb. Make sure to ask your doctor about what is safe to use for this option.

Pacifier Use

Like thumb sucking, pacifier use is a habit that is usually broken early on; however, some children tend to use it longer which can result in dental problems. It’s up to the parents to take away the pacifier from their child by the time they are six months old. Dental effects begin to be seen by two years old and the most severe effects take place after 4 years old. Stopping the use of pacifiers in children as soon as possible is the best way to avoid the harmful effects of long-term use.

What are the Effects of Pacifiers?

Although pacifiers can cause dental effects, they are actually beneficial in children under six months old. It’s been found that children who use pacifiers between one and six months old have a reduced risk for sudden infant death syndrome. Once your child continues the use of pacifiers after 6 months old, it can actually increase the risk for ear infections. With long-term use, pacifiers can influence tooth alignment and the shape of the mouth. With constant use, the jaw will begin to grow around the pacifier. Continued pacifier use will affect the teeth in similar ways as thumb sucking. The upper front teeth might tip forward, become crooked or have bite problems. The tooth may shift positions and experience jaw alignment issues. Pacifier teeth typically do not meet together when the mouth is closed. Changes to the mouth’s roof may also occur.

How to Avoid Pacifier Teeth

Although your child may still develop problems under the age of two, parents can still reduce the risk for their child developing pacifier teeth if they break the habit by age two. To break this habit, we recommend positive reinforcement. For example, praise or encourage your child when they don’t use their pacifier. You can also start a rewards chart or give them a prize after they go so many days without a pacifier. If you notice that your child wants or needs their pacifier when they are anxious or stressed, try to eliminate these situations and provide them with other forms of stress relief like a hug or cuddles. Make sure you are not scolding or punishing your child for using a pacifier, this will stress them out more.

Breaking the Pacifier Habit in Your Child

If you are ready to break your child’s pacifier habit, you should first try to explain to them why they need to stop using it. Tell them that they are too old for it. If your child is old enough to understand, tell them that in three days they will need to say goodbye to their pacifier. This will allow them to emotionally prepare so it’s not like ripping a band-aid off. The next day, remind your child that the pacifier is going away tomorrow. On day three, you will take all of the pacifiers away. If they are scattered around the house, ask your child to help you collect them like a scavenger hunt. Within 48 hours, most children have gotten over it.

Whatever approach you decide to take with your child, you can expect up to a week of crying through the night. Whatever you do, don’t cave. Your child will learn that crying gets them what they want. Stick it out and your child won’t have to experience the harmful effects of pacifier teeth.

When Should My Child Use a Sippy Cup?

Sippy cups are typically used in young children when they are learning to transition from bottles to normal cups. Sippy cups are appealing because they don’t spill and teach children how to use a cup. Unfortunately, with long-term use, they are not good for teeth. We recommend that parents only use these as transition cups, not to be used long-term. If necessary, switch to a cup with a reusable straw. We recommend that these cups are only used for about a month for the transition between bottles and regular cups. You might be cleaning up more spills, however, you will be saving your child’s teeth from destruction and even speech problems.

What are the Effects of Long-Term Sippy Cup Use?

With sippy-cups, it’s common for parents to fill them up with juice or other sugary drinks. This is the first problem. Your child will sip on sugar all day long, which is the leading cause of cavities. If you do give your child a sippy cup, make sure that you only put water in it. If you do give them juice or something with more sugar, only give them sippy cups with meals because this is when saliva production is at its peak. Another problem with sippy cups is that children try to drink out of it like a bottle. They tilt their head backward and suck. This can cause a mishappened roof of their mouth in addition to other alignment problems. This can disrupt chewing, swallowing and even cause speech problems. Unless you want your child to experience tooth decay and alignment issues, sippy cups should never be used for more than a month.

If you don’t want your child to become attached to the sippy cup, make sure to introduce regular cups at the same time. Also, opt for the sippy cups with handles on both sides so that your child gets used to holding a cup with both hands. When your child uses the sippy cup, make sure they are not tilting their head back and sucking like with a bottle. You can also introduce cups with straws into the mix so they break their bottle habits. Properly disinfect sippy cups after each use. Try to avoid giving your child a sippy cup at naptime or bedtime, this reinforces bottle habits. The sooner your child is introduced to normal cups, the healthier their teeth will be long-term.

What Else Should I Be Concerned About with My Child’s Dental Health?

When it comes to your child’s teeth, there are a few more things you should watch out for. Number one, don’t let them use their teeth on tools or let them chew on hard things like ice or hard candies. Teaching these habits young will save their teeth from potential destruction in their future. You should also pay attention to your child sleeping. If you notice they clench their teeth or grind their teeth, you need to bring this up to Dr. Redford at our Carmichael office so he can find a treatment for this problem. Your child might be suffering from an airway obstruction. Finding a treatment for bruxism is important for maintaining the health of teeth.

Also be aware of how many sugary drinks and foods your child is consuming. This includes soda and energy drinks, cookies, and other high carb items. Get your child into the habit of drinking water as often as possible and snacking on low sugar snacks. If your child is a nail-biter, they run the risk of chipping or breaking their teeth. Lastly, watch out for your child running around with things in their mouth. This can easily cause oral injuries. With good habits, your child can have healthy teeth for life!

Schedule a Children’s Dentistry Appointment in Carmichael Today

Now that you know about the dangers of sippy cups, thumb sucking and pacifiers, you can break the habits in your child before they experience any dental damage. If you notice that your child has been drinking from sippy cups or sucking on a pacifier or their thumb for too long, schedule a children’s dentistry appointment at our Carmichael dental office for a checkup today.