There are more dental no-no’s than you may think when it comes to your children’s oral health. Here are five habits to break for better teeth.
#1 Putting baby to sleep with a milk bottle
“Many parents have the misconception that their baby’s teeth are not important because they will be replaced by adult teeth,” says Dr Chang Yu Ling, Dental Surgeon at Raffles Dental. “However, what they don’t realise is that baby teeth are important in helping children eat and speak, not to mention in helping set up adult teeth to grow in the correct position.”
According to Dr Chang, milk bottle decay is a common dental problem among babies and children that typically occurs on the upper front teeth, though it can affect any of the other teeth, too.
“When parents put their babies and toddlers to sleep with milk bottles, they also expose the teeth to sweetened liquids in the bottle, such as milk or fruit juices. The cavity-causing bacteria in the baby’s mouth will feed on the sugars and produce acid, which wears down the teeth, slowly causing decay over time.”
Dr Chang adds that cavity-causing bacteria can be transmitted from parent to baby when a parent puts baby’s feeding spoon in his or her mouth before feeding. So, try not to do that!
#2 Thumb sucking
Of course, thumb sucking is a natural habit for babies and young children. However, aggressive thumb sucking can damage a child’s permanent teeth alignment and change the roof of the mouth if the habit continues past the age of six, according to Dr Chang.
She says a child may also develop an anterior open bite (where upper front teeth do not come into contact with lower front teeth when biting), or overjet (when front teeth are more protruded than normal) due to the constant positioning of the thumb in between the upper and lower front teeth.
“The good news is, children gradually stop sucking their thumbs between the age of two and four years old, as during this age, they tend to be more interested in exploring their surroundings,” says Dr Chang. “Also, peer pressure will stop many school-aged children from placing their fingers in their mouths. However, if parents find that their children continue the habit after the age of four, actions have to be taken to stop the habit.”
Dr Chang suggests stopping the habit by wrapping a child’s thumbs with bandages or placing socks over the child’s hands at night. “Should the habit persist, visit a dentist or paediatrician, as he or she can prescribe mouth appliances or medication to be applied onto the child’s finger to break the habit.”
#3 Nail biting
According to Dr Chang, while nail biting is frequently linked to behavioural problems and anxiety, recent studies show that some people bite their nails as a result of boredom or when they are working on difficult problems. She adds that the habit of nail biting has been found to begin as early as the age of three, and studies have shown that the prevalence increases from childhood to adolescence, but tends to decrease in adulthood.
“Children or adults who bite their nails can risk cracking, chipping or wearing down their teeth due to the stress placed on the teeth by biting,” says Dr Chang. “If the nails are sharp and jagged, biting them can cause the gums to tear and bleed as well. Children who bite their fingernails may also develop a gap between their front teeth.” Like thumb sucking, parents should talk to a dentist or paediatrician about finding a suitable solution breaking the habit.
#4 Teeth grinding
“Many people are unaware of the negative impact stress and anxiety can have on our teeth,” says Dr Chang. “Bruxism, or the grinding and clenching of your teeth, has a very strong co-relationship with stress and anxiety. Studies show that 70 percent of those who grind their teeth at night are affected by stress.” She explains that both kids and adults who grind and clench their teeth may experience headaches, and pain in the lower jaw and facial muscles when waking up.
Dr Chang suggests getting a mouth guard to protect one’s teeth, as prolonged grinding can lead to temporomandibular joint disorder (pain and dysfunction of jaw muscles), tooth wear and breakage.
#5 Frequent consumption of carbonated and sports drinks, and citrus juice
“Soft drinks are slightly acidic to maintain their fizziness and prevent bacteria growth. Citric juices, such as lemon or orange juice, are even more acidic,” says Dr Chang. “Constantly exposing our mouths and teeth to acidic mediums can erode our enamel and strip our teeth of protection. In severe cases, the second layer, dentin, can wear away.” She says that the consequences of eroded enamel and dentin can range from mild teeth sensitivity while eating and drinking cold foods, to loss of mouth function and stained-looking teeth.
“If you find you and your children have some of these bad habits, start breaking them today,” urges Dr Chang. “With time and dedication, you will get one step closer to protecting your teeth and your smile!”
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