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More than anything, we want our children to grow up strong, healthy and happy. Your child’s dental health can play a big role in their overall wellbeing, but sometimes, everyday habits can also have a negative effect on children’s teeth.
Here are 10 bad habits that can cause damage and prevent healthy tooth development, and how you can help your child break them.
1. Nail Biting
Kids bite their nails for a number of different reasons — stress, boredom, imitation or just force of habit. Whatever the reason, if your little one has picked up the habit of nail nipping, it could be damaging their teeth.
Nail biting can cause teeth to chip, fracture and move out of place. Not only is this painful, but it can also lead to long-term dental problems. It’s a good idea to put a stop to this habit as soon as possible — you can try using clear nail polish with a bitter taste to put your child off nibbling.
2. Over-Enthusiastic Brushing
If you’ve managed to persuade your little one that brushing their teeth can be fun, this is a true achievement, but one thing to watch out for is over-enthusiastic brushing. They don’t need to brush hard to remove plaque — toothbrushes and toothpaste are abrasive anyway. Over brushing can cause gums to recede and will wear down the enamel, causing tooth sensitivity.
You can try encouraging gentle brushing, or swap your child’s toothbrush for a softer polyester brush.
3. Munching on Ice Cubes
Kids love to munch on ice cubes once they’ve finished their drink; they might even delight in the brain freeze that follows. But ice is rock hard and can cause tooth fractures. Both ice and teeth are technically crystals, and when they’re crunched against each other, one of them is going to break — you don’t want to risk it being your kid’s teeth that take the hit.
Warn your kids of the dangers of chewing ice and suggest that they let the ice melt in their mouths instead.
4. Using Their Teeth to Open Packaging
Teeth shouldn’t be used for anything other than chewing food, so if your little one has the habit of opening packages, bottle caps or plastic wraps using their teeth, they’re at risk of cracking them and injuring their jaw.
If you see them struggling to open a new toy or a snack, give them a hand. Encourage them to ask for help, rather than let them use their teeth.
5. Drinks before Bed
When kids drink anything other than water just before going to bed, sugar in the drink lingers on their teeth overnight. Even a glass of milk before bed isn’t a good idea, as the sugar (lactose) can cause decay. If they do happen to have a sugary drink before bed, make sure they brush their teeth afterwards. If your child is thirsty, opt for water, which won’t do any harm.
6. Thumb Sucking
Thumb sucking can help babies feel secure, and it’s a perfectly natural habit. But as they grow older, it’s a good idea to try to break this habit, as thumb sucking can have negative side effects. Children aged three and over who continue to suck their thumbs risk causing problems with teeth and jaw alignment, which can then interfere with their speech and cause future dental problems.
7. Teeth Grinding
Children often grind their teeth when they get nervous or when they’re in pain to ease their discomfort. Others might do it because their teeth don’t quite align. But teeth grinding (or bruxism) can wear down tooth enamel and increase tooth sensitivity.
If you notice your child is grinding their teeth, there are a few things you can do to break the habit. If it’s stress or pain related, address the cause first. Help them de-stress by practising relaxation exercises. If it’s pain related, treat whatever is causing the pain. Tooth grinding at night is also common. If your child grinds their teeth while they sleep, a dentist can help by supplying a mouth guard that can be worn at night, which protects the teeth.
8. Snacking on Sweets
We all know that sugar is bad for our teeth, but kids will be kids, and we can’t expect them to avoid sugar completely. The occasional sweet treat won’t do too much damage, but if your kids love to snack between meals on sugar-fuelled treats, they’re constantly coating their teeth with sugar. This buildup of sugar will then allow cavity-causing bacteria to thrive.
If your kids fancy a snack between meals, try swapping sweet treats for healthy snacks like carrot, cucumber or celery sticks.
9. Sipping Sugary Drinks All Day
Staying hydrated is a great way to keep teeth strong and healthy, and drinking water regularly washes debris and sugar off of teeth. But often, kids favour sugary drinks over plain old water. Sipping on sweet drinks all day will lead to a sugar buildup in the mouth, causing damaging sugar bugs that eat at tooth enamel and create cavities.
Sugary drinks are especially damaging to new teeth, and decay can happen more quickly than you might think. Try to encourage your children to have water instead of juice, squash or pop.
10. Skipping Dentist Appointments
Dentist appointments are key to your little one’s dental health. Dentists can check for damage and see whether the teeth are well-aligned. They can also advise on brushing technique and tell if your child has had too much sugar. By identifying bad habits, dentists can help your child break them — it might be that you share some of these too! Skipping appointments means any problems could go untreated, which could cause something easily treatable to become more complex and costly.
If your child is worried about going to the dentist, find a friendly dental practice that will make them feel comfortable — this way, you’ll both be less tempted to skip that all-important appointment.