Does your child have bad oral habits, like thumb-sucking or tongue-thrusting? If so, you should know that there are painless ways to help your child to break those bad habits—and have better, stronger teeth as a result. If you’re at your wit’s end in trying to break these habits on your own, maybe it’s time for orthodontic intervention.
What is a “habit appliance?”
A habit appliance is a painless and drama-free way to finally rid your child of behaviors that can adversely affect their oral development. Though these behaviors are common in very young children, but if they continue past the first few years of life, they can cause an improper bite later on down the road. That’s why it’s so important to address (and intervene) as early as possible.
Unlike over-the-counter mouth appliances, which are more commonly made for adult-sized mouths, a habit appliance can be custom-created specifically to address your child’s unique situation, age, mouth size, and growth. Since it’s temporarily secured into your child’s mouth and affixed to their teeth, often during sleep, it typically doesn’t come out and get lost. And though it prevents improper bite, it does not change the shape of your child’s mouth or teeth.
How does it work?
The habit appliance’s job is to make the act of tongue thrusting or thumb sucking slightly uncomfortable and more difficult, which subtly discourages your child from continuing with the behavior. The more challenging the behavior, the less likely it is to continue.
Why thumb-sucking is not good
While your child’s teeth are still developing, anything that consistently puts pressure on the newly emerging teeth and continually growing palate can cause bite issues. This pressure can be caused by both thumb-sucking and pacifier use. Although most children stop using a pacifier between the ages of two and four, many have a harder time breaking the habit – and that’s where the real problems can start, as baby teeth start to become replaced.
The pressure and repeated action can cause several unwanted changes to the skeletal growth of the mouth, potentially causing problems like open bite (top and bottom teeth can’t meet up when mouth is closed); protruding front teeth; crowding; overbite and palate constriction.
What about tongue thrusting?
Tongue thrusting is when a child pushes their tongue through the spaces between their front teeth while speaking, swallowing and sometimes even at rest. Tongue thrusting is common in babies who are breast or bottle feeding, and they usually grow out naturally as they learn to swallow more effectively.
For some children, the habit continues longer, putting continuous pressure on the growing mouth that can lead to many of the same issues as thumb-sucking, but also sleep disturbances.
Does wearing a habit appliance hurt?
Not at all. Though there may be an adjustment period, a habit appliance is completely painless. The only time your child will even feel the appliance is when their tongue, thumb or fingers rub against it.