Dr. Brett L. Johnson

General & Cosmetic Dentistry

Common Oral Health Problems Every Parent Should Know

Parents must constantly stay on the alert when it comes to protecting their children’s health. While a scraped knee, cough, or fever have fairly noticeable symptoms, children can develop a number of oral health problems that can go unnoticed until it’s too late.

A variety of problems can affect a child’s oral health, including, premature tooth loss, lip sucking, tongue thrusting, thumb sucking, and tooth decay. While a child’s baby teeth are eventually replaced with permanent teeth, keeping baby teeth healthy serves a vitally important role in your child’s overall health and development.

At your Oregon City family dentist of choice, Dr. Johnson and our professional staff of dental hygienists want to help protect the oral health of every patient, especially the littlest among us. To help parents stay on top of their child’s oral development, here are a few common condition that can impact kids teeth and gums.

Baby Bottle Tooth Decay

A condition also known as nursing bottle syndrome, nursing caries, and early childhood caries, baby bottle tooth decay occurs as a result of frequent contact between a baby’s teeth and sugar from liquid carbohydrates such as formula, milk, fruit juice, sugar water, or any other type of sweetened beverage. Breast milk can also cause tooth decay as well. As the sugars in these liquids breakdown as they sit in the mouth, oral bacteria begins feeding off these sugars to produce substance that cause tooth decay.

When left untreated, decayed teeth can cause a child discomfort and make it difficult for him to chew and eat. Baby teeth also serve the role as placeholder for adult teeth. If a child’s baby teeth become damaged or destroyed, they can no longer help to guide permanent teeth into the correct position, which can result in the development of crooked or crowded permanent teeth. Severely decayed baby teeth can even lead to the development of tooth abscesses, and the possibility of an infection spreading to other parts of the body.

Parents can help their child avoid baby bottle tooth decay by taking a few precautions. First, never lay your child down to sleep with a bottle that contains any liquid other than plain water. Giving your child a bottle during naptime allows sugary liquids to pool around the gums and teeth as she sleeps, providing bacteria with plenty of time to cause damage. Parents should also take the time to wipe clean their child’s gums and teeth using a soft cloth following each feeding.

Thumb Sucking

While thumb sucking is a perfectly normal habit for infants and toddlers, the habit can become problematic should your child continue to thumb suck after the age of four. Persistent of intense thumb sucking at this age can push still developing teeth out of alignment, causing them to protrude and creating an overbite. Kids may also start developing trouble pronouncing certain words sounds and the upper and lower jaws can become misaligned.

Fortunately, most kids will stop sucking their thumb by the age of two or three. However, if your child continues to thumb suck past this age, you can try applying bandages or Band-Aids to his thumb as a reminder to quit. Make sure to offer your child plenty of encouragement during the quitting process, as thumb sucking often occurs whenever a child feel frightened or anxious.

Tongue Thrusting

Tongue thrusting occurs when a child seals the mouth when swallowing by thrusting the top of her tongue against the lips. As with thumb sucking, tongue thrusting applies force against the front of a child’s teeth, nudging them out of alignment, and causing them to stick out. This can cause a child to develop an overbite and potentially interfere with his speech development.

If your child has developed a tongue thrusting habit, talk with Dr. Johnson about potential treatment options.

Lip Sucking

The process of repeatedly holding the lower lip beneath the front teeth, lip sucking may occur separately or in conjuncture with thumb sucking. This habit can cause an overbite to develop, along with the same problems caused by both tongue thrusting and sucking. As with thumb sucking, most children will stop lip sucking when older. However, parents should monitor their child’s habit and provide gentle encouragement to stop should it continue past the age of three.

If you have any other questions about problems that could affect your child’s oral health, feel free to mention them to Dr. Johnson during your next appointment.

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