Kids’ Habits: what every parent needs to know

Over the next few blogs, I will be covering habits such as thumbsucking, pen chewing/nail biting, mouth breathing and dietary habits that can cause problems in the mouth. As a parent, you want to prevent your kids from developing dental problems. A good place to start is to make sure kids don’t pick up the wrong habits


Any parent can tell you that this can be the hardest habit to break! Kids often suck their thumb as a form of comfort-seeking behaviour. Thumbsucking is almost like having a pacifier/dummy attached to your arm. The nature of this means it’s very easy for it to become a habit. You may see this most when your child is feeling sad, stressed or right before going to sleep.

  • PROBLEM: thumbsucking creates an open bitesee image. This is where the front teeth don’t meet anymore. It not only moves the teeth, it also affects the child’s jaw development. Chewing, speech, smiling and self-esteem are all affected by these changes.
  • SOLUTION: we may need to use appliances or braces to correct these problems if other tactics do not work. Here are some tips:
    • Identify the trigger – stress, boredom and tiredness are the most common triggers. If you know these triggers, you may be able to tackle them before your child has the urge to suck their thumb.
    • Play, Show, Tell – protrude your front teeth and playfully demonstrate in front of a mirror how your child’s teeth may look if they thumbsuck. Make a game out of it and try to show to show them the difference between straight teeth and teeth that stick out due to thumbsucking.
    • Distract and Substitute –  anytime your child’s thumb starts to head towards their mouth, quickly distract them. For example, start an activity such as reading, colouring, cooking or playing with a toy.
    • Replace the harmful habit with a harmless alternative – instead of sucking the thumb, squeeze the thumb or wrap it under the other fingers. Thumbsucking is very common at night, so perhaps get your child to hold a toy or teddy at bedtime to keep their hands occupied.
    • Reward System – tracking this habit using a calender and rewarding with toys, stickers, prizes can offer your child with an incentive to cease this habit.
    • Barrier Treatments – nail paint, mittens, band-aids, Thumbs Out, TGuard have been described by some of my patients as being useful.

Pen chewing & Nail biting

Boredom or stress are related to pen chewing or nail biting at all ages. For example, if your child is feeling bored during class or stressed after an argument – they may use these habits to help manage the stress. Other times, they may do these things without even realising it – this is how we know it is a habit.

  • PROBLEM: chipping, cracking and wearing down of teeth. Teeth become weaker, appear shorter and feel more sensitive.
  • SOLUTION: see this video – How to stop nail biting. We may need to fix these teeth with fillings or other materials and regularly review this condition.


Next week I will cover more Kids’ Habits. In the meantime, you may find this video interesting: how to break a bad habit in children


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