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Management of Oral Habits

As we have learned from our previous blog post, oral habits are pretty common especially in young kids. We’ve also discussed how these habits can cause unsightly changes to teeth and/or jaws.

In this second article, we will now focus on treatment.

Thumb Sucking:

Thumb sucking is caused by many different things, and it’s important to determine what the underlying issue is before rendering any treatment or intervention.

First of all, you should know that thumb sucking is actually a self-soothing habit for kids, but it can be detrimental to the alignment of the teeth in the long run.

In most cases, kids simply grow out of it without any intervention, while others just can’t bring themselves to stop it. Extreme cases, meanwhile, can be solved only with the help of a child therapist.

Discontinuation should occur spontaneously and not forced upon the child. Once the habit is completely stopped, only then can definitive treatment be rendered.

The sooner or earlier the habit is stopped, the more likely the changes that occurred will correct itself. One way to do so is by counseling the kid.

The success of counseling depends on the kid’s level of understanding – that is, his or her ability to understand the troubles thumb sucking can cause. Counseling is therefore more appropriate for older kids.

Besides counseling, another approach is the so-called reminder therapy. This is for kids who need additional help in stopping the habit. It involves putting a cue – can be a bandage, a bitter substance, etc. – on the patient’s finger to serve as reminder that they should not put their finger into their mouth. But be sure to emphasize over and over again that the cue is a just reminder and not some sort of punishment.

Also, praising the kid for stopping the habit can help a lot. The reminder therapy may also be combined with a reward system, wherein if the kid is able to discontinue the habit within a specified amount of time, he or she will be given a reward. If either counseling and reminder therapy proves to be ineffective, only then will installation of preventive appliances be necessary.

Tongue Thrusting:

Management of tongue thrusting comes in two methods.

The first one involves the use of an appliance similar to a mouth-guard or it can also be a more permanent appliance adjusted by the dentist on a regular basis.

The other approach is by training the patient to change his or her swallowing pattern. This is achieved through a series of exercises called the orofacial myofunctional therapy. Such method sorts of “re-educate” the muscles into following the right swallowing pattern. The orofacial myofunctional therapy offers high and long-term success rate.

Lip Sucking:

There really isn’t much we can do to stop the lip sucking habit; nonetheless, steroids and antibiotic ointments may be applied to provide relief on irritated areas.

Bruxism:

Intervention is usually not necessary since most kids outgrow bruxism. But for those who don’t, there are a couple of treatments that can help. These include fabrication of mouthguards, performing stress-reducing exercises, removal of interferences on biting surfaces of the teeth, and referral to appropriate specialists to rule out any medical or psychological problems.

The first step is consulting your dentist to determine which of these options would be most appropriate for you or your kid’s case.

Nail Biting

The simplest, most practical solution to this habit is applying nail polish to discourage the practice. Behavioral therapy may also be helpful, but kids would probably prefer nail polish since it can also make their nails look attractive. And since nail biting has been linked to obsessive-compulsive behaviors, severe cases of this habit – which, in some cases could also involve finger biting – may therefore require the use of some anti-depressants.