Although nail biting and thumb sucking are common amongst children and may seem harmless, such habits can actually have harmful consequences when it comes to your child’s teeth. While nail biting and thumb sucking are natural in children, when these habits continue to the age of 4 to 6 years old, dental issues can ensue.

Today, Advanced Indiana will be detailing how these habits can impact your child’s oral health. We’ll also be highlighting a few methods that you can use to encourage your child to move past these habits for the good of their oral health.

What Are the Effects of Thumb Sucking on a Child’s Teeth and Mouth?

It should be noted that not all thumb sucking results in damage to the teeth or mouth, but active thumb sucking with a lot of motion can cause damage to the baby teeth. While this usually corrects itself as the permanent teeth come in, there can be consequences to this behavior. Persistent and vigorous thumb sucking, for example, is known to cause misalignment of your child’s permanent teeth and can even affect the jaw or the shape of the roof of the mouth itself. Additionally, thumb sucking can invite dirt, viruses, and bacteria into your child’s mouth.

When your child sucks their thumb, there is repetitive pressure placed on the teeth, jawbone, and the roof of the mouth. This can cause a series of negative effects in a child’s teeth and mouth including:

  • The front teeth protruding out from the jaw and mouth, resulting in an overbite
  • Other bite issues, such as an open bite or the bottom teeth tipping inward toward the back of the mouth
  • Increased sensitivity to the roof of the mouth
  • Changes to the shape of the jaw. This can also cause misalignment of the teeth.
  • Issues with speech patterns, such as the development of a lisp

It should be noted that if thumb sucking ceases by the time a child’s permanent teeth are in, the issues above are likely not to develop or the issues can be resolved. Children who continue such behavior for a long period of time, however, are at an increased risk of developing these issues. For this reason, it is crucial that you do all that you can to discourage this continued behavior in your child.

What Are the Effects of Nail Biting on a Child’s Teeth and Mouth?

Now that you know how thumb sucking can have negative impacts on the oral health of a child, let’s talk in detail about the effects of nail biting on a child’s teeth and mouth. As kids are exposed to the feeling of stress, many develop the habit of biting their nails. Unfortunately, this habit causes stress on the teeth and can eventually lead to chipping, cracking, and wearing away of the front teeth. If your child wears braces, this behavior can be even more damaging as it puts them at an increased risk of tooth loss, root resorption, and other serious dental issues due to the excess pressure put on the teeth.

Other negative impacts caused by nail biting include gum tissue damage caused by the sharp edges of the fingernails and the exposure of bacteria in your child’s mouth from underneath the fingernails. Finally, nail biting can also cause extreme tooth sensitivity over time caused by the wearing down of tooth enamel.

How to Encourage Your Child to Stop Nail Biting and Thumb Sucking

Now that you know the serious impacts that nail biting and thumb sucking can have on your child’s oral health, you are likely wondering how you can encourage them to stop. While these habits can be difficult to break, there are a few ways you can encourage your child to stop nail biting and thumb sucking, promoting better oral health.

Discouraging Your Child from Thumb Sucking

Let’s start with thumb sucking. When your child reaches preschool age, it can be very tempting to pop their thumb out of their mouth each time they begin to suck. That being said, it is best to resist this urge and employ a different strategy. After all, thumb sucking is a self-soothing activity according to psychologists. Instead, you should do your best to limit the amount of time that your child sucks his or her thumb to the bedroom or in the house and certainly discourage this behavior in public. By explaining to your child that this should be a bedtime activity, you can help to limit thumb sucking without forcing your child to give it up all at once, something that could be unintentionally damaging.

Secondly, you should take care to have a one-on-one conversation with your child about their thumb sucking habit. Help your child understand that when they are ready to stop this behavior, you will be there to assist them. By empowering your child to reach the point where they are ready to stop of their own accord, you will have much more success in helping them break the habit.

Additionally, try to bring self-awareness to the act of thumb sucking in your child. When you notice them sucking their thumb, take care to ask them why. If they don’t know the reason that they’re sucking their thumb, bring this to their awareness and try to help them find another way to soothe themselves if they need it, such as a blanket or their favorite stuffed animal. With time, your child may elect to use other methods to soothe themselves that won’t be damaging to their overall oral health.

Discouraging Your Child from Nail Biting

If your child bites their nails, you should know they’re not alone. In fact, around 50% of children between the ages of 10 and 18 bite their nails at least on occasion. For many, the habit starts even earlier in life. Due to the fact that most kids outgrow biting their nails, some parents have found that the best approach is to simply ignore the behavior. However, if you’re looking for ways to discourage your child from biting their nails, there are a few options at your disposal.

For one, you can get into the habit of cutting your child’s nails on a regular basis. Doing this lessens the surface area under the nails and will mean that less dirt and bacteria can get into their mouth when they bite their nails. Secondly, you can attempt to find a substitute so that your child can put something healthier into their mouth when they’re feeling the need to self-soothe. For an older child, you may want to encourage regular snacking on healthy foods such as celery sticks or carrots. As dentists, however, we must warn you not to use sugary snacks as a substitute for your child’s nail biting. That can do even more harm to your child’s oral health!

Another way to discourage your child from biting their nails is by creating a reward system. You may want to create a sticker chart and mark off every day that your child goes without biting their nails. If your child struggles to make it through an entire day, consider breaking the day down into smaller chunks such as “before breakfast” or “after dinner.” When your child reaches a certain amount of stickers on their chart, reward them with something they’ll enjoy! This is a way to use positive reinforcement to discourage their nail biting behavior.

Keep Your Child Healthy With Advanced Indiana!

Now that you know the negative impact that behaviors such as nail biting and thumb sucking can have on your child’s oral health, it’s time to work proactively to promote better dental care in your child’s life!

At Advanced Indiana, it is our priority to promote the best oral health and oral hygiene for your child. To learn more about how to care for your child’s teeth at home, contact our office today by calling (765) 622-7000 (our Anderson office) or (317) 485-7000 (our Fortville office). You can also request an appointment for your child online. We’re looking forward to working alongside you to keep your child’s mouth happy and healthy!