Why Thumb Sucking, Tongue Thrusting and Mouth Breathing Are Your Child’s Worst Enemy

Written by Eve Bandusena | Parents Avenue’s Editorial Assistant

“Mouth breathing, tongue thrusting is very commonly seen in Sabahan children,” says Dr. Sylvia, of Phi Dental at Suria Sabah, “yet, most parents failed to recognize the symptoms and manifestation of these habits and lead to late treatment with poor results.” Learn more as we go in-depth about battling these debilitating oral habits. 

As a group, why are these oral habits bad for children? 

“The mouth is the primary and permanent location for expression of emotions and is a source of relief in passion and anxiety in both children and adults.” Dr. Sylvia says.

“With this, various oral habits such as thumb sucking, finger biting, or finger sucking, tongue thrusting, lip biting, or lip sucking, bruxism, mouth breathing can produce destructive effects on the dentoalveolar structures.” She adds.

“These trident of factors, like duration of the habit per day, degree, and intensity of habit, are responsible for any habit to produce detrimental and lasting effects.”

Is this commonly seen in Sabahan children?

“Mouth Breathing, Tongue thrusting is very commonly seen in Sabahan children.” Dr. Sylvia affirms.

 “Yet, most parents failed to recognize the symptoms and manifestation of these habits and lead to late treatment with poor results.” she said.

Most of the time, parents think that when their children breath through their mouth as a common phenomenon. Especially when children are having flu or just recovered from a flu.

She also explains that parents think that their children breathing through their mouth as a common phenomenon, especially when children are having flu or just recovered from it.

However, this is dead wrong.

“Here, I would like to highlight that breathing through the mouth after children recover from flu or nasal congestion is not normal, and this habit could be corrected through muscle training, with or without assistance of myofunctional device.”

Do the side effects of these habits worsen in adulthood?

“Yes, the function determines form. All these habits will affect muscle and skeletal growth and lead to permanent deformity in adulthood if we are not able to detect and arrest the habit before the completion of our facial growth and development typically between 13 to 15 years old.” Dr. Sylvia shares.

What is thumb sucking?

“Thumb sucking begins at infancy. Babies have natural rooting and sucking reflexes, which can cause them to put their thumbs or fingers into their mouths — sometimes even before birth. Because thumb sucking makes babies feel secure, some babies might eventually develop a habit of thumb sucking when they’re in need of soothing or going to sleep.” Dr. Sylvia conveys.

She adds on, “Many children stop sucking their thumbs on their own, often by age 6 or 7 months or between ages 2 and 4. But even a child who’s stopped sucking his or her thumb might go back to the behavior during times of stress.”

How to fix it?

“Talk to your child about thumb sucking. You’re more likely to be successful in stopping the habit if your child wants to stop and helps choose the method involved.” Dr. Sylvia advices.

“At times, paying no attention to thumb sucking is enough to stop the behavior — especially if your child uses thumb sucking to get attention. “


If ignoring it isn’t effective, try one of these techniques:


·         Use positive reinforcement.


Praise your child or provide small rewards — such as an extra bedtime story or a trip to the park — when he or she isn’t thumb sucking. Set attainable goals, such as no thumb sucking an hour before bed. Place stickers on a calendar to record the days when your child successfully avoids thumb sucking.


·         Identify triggers.


If your child sucks his or her thumb in response to stress, identify the real issue and provide comfort in other ways — such as with a hug or reassuring words. You might also give your child a pillow or stuffed animal to squeeze.


·         Offer gentle reminders.


 If your child sucks his or her thumb without thought — rather than as a way to get attention — gently remind him or her to stop. Don’t scold, criticize or ridicule your child.


Image Source: Smile Reef
What is tongue thrusting? 
“Tongue thrusting is the habit of pushing your tongue forward between the upper and lower teeth when you swallow. The proper positioning for the tongue is for the tip to push against the gum above the back of your upper front teeth.” Dr. Sylvia elucidates.
Why is it bad?
“The tongue is a very powerful muscle – one that’s strong enough to push teeth out of their natural position.” Dr. Sylvia concernedly says. 
This bad swallowing habit is even more apparent when you realize that the average human swallows about 2,000 times a day! 
“Over time, tongue thrusting can cause an open bite. This is when only the back teeth will come together during a bite – the front teeth won’t actually touch.” She expands.
“As a trusted dentist, we recommend treating this problem as soon as possible.”
How to fix it?
First, place a small orthodontic rubber band on the tip of your tongue.
–           Press the tip of your tongue against the gum in the roof of your mouth that’s right  behind your upper front teeth.
–           Bite your teeth together in your regular bite; don’t bite forward.
–           Keep your lips apart.
–          Swallow. Make sure not to let your lips close or your teeth come apart. Also, please don’t panic if you accidentally swallow a rubber band – it will pass through your system without any problems.
Image Source: Healthy Start Child
What is mouth breathing?
“The underlying cause of most cases of mouth breathing is an obstructed (completely blocked or partially blocked) nasal airway.” Dr. Sylvia opens up.
In other words, there’s something preventing the smooth passage of air into the nose. If your nose is blocked, the body automatically resorts to the only other source that can provide oxygen — your mouth.
There are many causes of a blocked nose. These include:
·         Nasal congestion caused by allergies, a cold, or a sinus infection
·         Enlarged tonsils
·         Deviated septum
·         Nasal polyps, or benign growths of tissue in the lining of your nose
·         The shape of the nose
·         The shape and size of the jaw
·         Tumors, although rare
“Some people develop a habit of breathing through their mouth instead of their nose even after the nasal obstruction clears. For some people with sleep apnea, it may become a habit to sleep with their mouth open to accommodate their need for oxygen.” Dr. Sylvia says.
“Stress and anxiety can also cause a person to breathe through their mouth instead of their nose. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system leading to shallow, rapid, and abnormal breathing.”
Why is it bad?
“Mouth breathing is very drying. A dry mouth means that saliva cannot wash bacteria from the mouth.”
 This can lead to:
·         Bad breath (halitosis)
·         Periodontal disease, such as gingivitis and tooth cavities
·         Throat and ear infections
“Mouth breathing may also result in low oxygen concentration in the blood. This is associated with high blood pressure and heart failure.” She remarks.
Indeed,  studies show mouth breathing may also decrease lung function, and worsen symptoms and exacerbations in people with asthma.
In children, mouth breathing can lead to physical abnormalities and cognitive challenges. Children who aren’t treated for mouth breathing can develop:
·         Long, narrow faces
·         Narrow mouths
·         Gummy smiles
·         Dental malocclusion, including a large overbite and crowded teeth
·         Poor posture
How to fix it?
“If you find that your nose is frequently congested due to allergies or respiratory infections, there are actions you can take to prevent making mouth breathing a habit. It’s a good idea to address nasal congestion or dryness right away.” 
Tips for preventing mouth breathing include:
·         Using a saline mist during long flights or cruises
·         Using saline nasal mists and sprays and nasal decongestants or allergy reliever medications at the first sign of allergy or cold symptoms
·         Sleeping on your back with your head elevated to open up the airways and promote nasal breathing
·         Keeping your house clean and free of allergens
·         Installing air filters in your heat and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to prevent the spread of allergens in your house
·         Consciously practicing breathing through your nose during the day to help force yourself into a habit of nose breathing
Image Source: proactivptcenter
Any last messages for the readers of Parents Avenue?
“Bad oral habits are highly treatable with orofacial myotherapy in a young age without complicated device or surgery.”
It is important for parents to recognize the symptoms in their children abnormal behaviors and seek professional help as early as possible.
She lastly adds,
“Missing the golden age of treatment (maxilla and mandible fully grown at age of 13-15) might lead to permanent deformity of facial structures and adult patients might require more complicated treatment, for example, surgery or orthodontic treatment to restore their facial form and function.”
For more information, you may contact Dr Sylvia at Phi Dental at 013-410 3103 or find them on Facebook via Phi Dental.


Disclaimer: This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any diseases. At Parents Avenue, we strongly recommend all our readers to seek medical advise from your local hospital or clinic. Thank you. 
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