Undesirable oral habits are quite common among babies and young children. They are also prevalent among adults. Because such habits can do damage to the teeth or jaws that is unsightly, expensive to repair, or even dangerous, it is important to address such behaviors as early as possible. Sometimes, simple measures can discourage such problematic actions, but sometimes intervention, either in terms of behavior modification or the use of a preventive dental appliances, may be necessary.
Thumb sucking is a very common self-soothing behavior in babies, but can be detrimental to the alignment of the teeth if it continues as children get older. Some parents can help discourage thumb sucking by offering comfort during times of stress and offering the child praise for refraining from the practice. Once the child is a bit older, the dentist may be able to explain the troubles that thumb sucking can cause, thus helping to discourage the behavior. When necessary, behavior modification therapy, such as first substituting a pacifier for the thumb and then weaning from the pacifier, may prove effective. In situations where the child is resistant, preventive appliances can also be helpful.
Tongue thrusting is a habit in which the tongue moves to a forward position in the mouth during swallowing. It can cause an open bite and other orthodontic issues. Sometimes, a night guard or another appliance can correct the problem. In other cases, oral therapy is necessary to train the patient to change the tongue’s posture.