How Thumb-Sucking Can Affect Your Child’s Teeth

During infancy it is common for babies to explore the world using their mouths, this is a natural instinct that babies are born with, and all parents know how stressful this can be! Sucking on a pacifier, thumb or fingers is perfectly normal for the first few years of life, as children use this to help themselves feel calm and reassured.

However, if this continues beyond 5 years of age, it could be a sign of a problem with a child’s emotional or social development. Helping your child break the habit at the right time is important, otherwise this could have some unwanted side effects.

Possible side effects

One of the main benefits to both child and parents of this habit is that it helps them both fall and stay asleep much more easily. However, starting to break the habit before your child’s teeth begin to develop is really important, as if they are allowed to continue, this could cause problems with their teeth alignment which could give rise to the need for dental work in the future.

If a child is still sucking on their thumb or pacifier after they have developed all their milk teeth, then this has the potential to lead to middle ear infections which could in some cases end up in needing surgery.

Other long-term effects of excessive thumb sucking include:

  • The development of an underbite or overbite
  • Malformation or sensitivity of the roof of the mouth
  • An adverse effect on jaw positioning which could lead to a speech impediment
  • An increased chance of picking up harmful bacteria or pathogens
  • Skin problems such as a thumb callous or warped thumb nail
  • Social issues such as being bullied by their peers

How to break the habit  

About 30% of children in pre-school still suck their thumbs, however the following advice could help you ensure that your child breaks the habit at a healthy time. The most important thing is to show support and positive encouragement to your child while they are in the process of stopping, this will help build their self-esteem which will in turn reduce the need or desire to suck their thumbs for comfort.

Educate them on the reasons to stop

Taking the punishment route or continually nagging them could cause them stress which will in turn make them want to suck their thumbs more. Eliminating any stressors in their environment will also help encourage them to stop. Educating your child on the risks and potential long-term effects of continuing the habit will make clear to them the reasons why they should stop and hopefully help put them off.

If the situation still isn’t improving there are other less pleasant routes that you can go down such as putting socks on your child’s hands while they sleep and using tape to keep them in place, or asking your dentist to prescribe a bitter-tasting medication to put on the end of their pacifier or thumb which will make it very unpleasant for them.

How to wean your child off their pacifier

If your child is still sucking a pacifier at 5 years of age then another method is to cut the pacifier shorter or pierce a whole through it, this will make the pacifier much less satisfying to suck which will reduce their desire for it. For some parents, simply just going cold turkey or leaving the pacifier at home when going on a trip is enough.

In summary, there are a range of interventions that you can try, and the idea is to start with the softer less invasive methods first. But be reassured that you will be able to find at least one solution that will work, and even though it may be unpleasant in the process, it will be worth it in the long run.

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Exercise and Oral Health: Are They Related?

Exercise has so many documented benefits, including its ability to lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer – but research indicates it can also boost oral health. One study published in the Journal of Dentistry showed that regular physical activity can boost periodontal health. To be more precise, people who exercised regularly had a 54% lower likelihood of developing periodontitis compared to those who led sedentary lives. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey additionally revealed that people who exercised three times a week or less could also reap benefits, which means they have a 33% lower likelihood of developing periodontitis.

BMI and Oral Health

There is a vital link between people’s Body Mass Index (BMI) and their dental health. One study published in the Journal of Periodontology found that people who maintain a normal weight and get the recommended amount of exercise had a 40% lower likelihood of having periodontitis. Other health-enhancing behaviors include consuming a healthy, Mediterranean-style diet, which is low in refined sugars and high in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats.

Getting Started

The recommended amount of exercise to boost oral health varies according to age. For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends around 150 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous cardiovascular exercise. Strength training is also key at least twice a week for major muscle groups. People who are starting should do so slowly, increasing workout times and intensities as they progress. Those who lift weights should do so using a trainer-approved workout, using a massaging foam roller to soothe pain. A little pain is to be expected when a person commences weights training in particular, owing to the build-up of lactic acid. Personal pain relief rollers can help, as can stretching and warming up well prior to workouts.

It Works the Other Way Around Too

We know that exercise can benefit oral health but it works the other way around too. That is, taking care of your teeth can help protect your heart and, therefore, your ability to stay fit and active. A recent study by the European Society of Cardiology found that brushing teeth frequently is linked to a lower risk of atrial fibrillation and heart failure. One possible reason, scientists postulated, is that frequent brushing reduces the amount of bacteria living in the pockets between teeth and gums, thereby keeping the bacteria away from the bloodstream.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Despite the benefits that exercise can have for oral health, those who train intensively (such as pro or semi-pro athletes) should take note of a Scandinavian study showing that heavy training can contribute to oral health issues, including cavities owing to exercise-induced enamel erosion. Some of the main causes of enamel weakness are drinking acidy sports drinks and breathing with the mouth open during exercise. Athletes can counteract these effects by opting for a water-electrolyte solution, and by aiming to breathe with their mouth closed.

Exercise as a whole is conducive to better oral health – particularly gum health. However, when carried out intensively, it can erode enamel. Rather than give up on exercise, athletes simply need to take care to avoid acidic drinks and to breathe through their nose. Breathing with an open mouth can dry out saliva, thereby leaving the enamel exposed to harmful bacteria.

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