When children use pacifiers, teethers and toys to chew on, or when adults have habits such as chewing on pencil tops, among other things, this can be damaging, cause deformities and compromise oral health.
Medical Advisor Juan López Artehaga
Dentist, specialist in cosmetic dentistry and oral rehabilitation
As medical evidence suggests, what parents often hear about preventing any medical conditions with their palate and occlusion (bite) is true: children should not get used to sucking their thumbs. Evidence also shows that childhood is the most critical period for caretakers to prevent certain habits from causing oral problems that can otherwise be avoided.
“Habits that may damage the palate generally begin in childhood, as in the first years of life, this area is very susceptible to being affected by external agents, agitating other tissues in the mouth,” emphasizes Dr. Juan López Artehaga.
Sucking on devices such as pacifiers, teethers, toys, blankets and pencils -as well as thumbs- are therefore some of the main problems responsible for damages occurring in these areas of the mouth.
“The prolonged use of pacifiers or the habit of thumb sucking, or sucking other things, over several years, changes the shape of the palate, sometimes causing it to deepen and leaving the teeth in different positions. This can cause malocclusion (bad bite) and muscular and skeletal problems that can only be fixed with orthopedics, orthodontics or maxillofacial surgery,” he states.
You might think that after childhood, when the tissues are no longer soft, this risk and goes away. Continuing the habit of placing objects in your mouth as an adult, however, actually exacerbates the problem and reduces the chances of treatment being successful.
Palate deformities and occlusion problems are more than just an issue of esthetics, however. Both in children and adults, this condition can trigger other problems such as phonation problems (pronunciation), difficulties swallowing and breathing problems.
According to our expert, people who have palate deformities often become mouth breathers, as the nasal cavity becomes so compressed that the amount of air that enters is not enough, and the mouth must therefore be used for breathing. This condition increases the risk for respiratory conditions as a result of the poor function of the nasal cavity, which is the cavity responsible for filtering different microorganisms that enter the body.
Palate deformities also change how moist the mouth is, which can lead to changes in the tissues, making them more susceptible to infections and therefore increasing the chances of getting a cavity.
The teeth also are at risk when there are occlusion problems; when you do not chew properly, they can wear down or experience fractures. Having an incorrect bite also complicates oral hygiene and increases the risk of getting cavities, a main cause of tooth loss. “Bite conditions can even cause temporomandibular joint problems, leading to damage or deterioration and muscle discomfort or strong headaches from the affected tissues, especially the muscles,” explains López Artehaga.
While the habits that are unhealthy for the palate and occlusion can compromise the health of children and have lasting effects through adulthood, it is most important to just prevent them from happening. If you think there might be a problem, consult with an expert who can assess how extensive it is and design a treatment plan.
Our expert dentist cautions that it is not about “demonizing” the sucking on pacifiers or fingers, it is about considering that they may not be as necessary after age of two.
- How children treat their mouths when they are little can lead to damaging effects on their facial structure development and to their dentition.
- Children are more susceptible to developing malocclusions as they develop, which is why preventative measures should be taken during this phase.