As kids grow, they may begin developing habits that are not favorable for their dental health. Sometimes, kids grow out of these bad habits but other times they just continue into their teenage years and worsen. If these bad habits are not corrected early, they can cause permanent damage that can be costly and painful in the long run. In order to promote healthy kids’ dental habits and discourage bad dental habits, it is important to educate yourself first as a parent on what kinds of methods are effective at changing behavior.

5 of the Worst Kids Dental Habits

These are some of the worst and most common dental habits that kids may have (in no particular order):

  1. Skipping dental visits: Delaying dental visits will only worsen any existing dental pain that your child may have and increase the risk for developing cavities and/or gingivitis (the first stage of gum disease).
  2. Thumb-Sucking: Kids that have this habit may end up with a severe overbite amongst other orthodontic issues, and unwanted germs may get introduced into the mouth from their fingers.
  3. Sipping on juice all day: Casual sipping on a drink other than water is the opposite of beneficial, because it often leaves a constant film of cavity-causing plaque on the teeth.
  4. Nail-Biting: Similar to thumb-sucking, kids that bite their nails allow germs into the mouth and risk damaging their teeth and nails!
  5. Biting pencils and/or pens: Chewing on pens and pencils poses a risk for choking and, like nail-biting and thumb-sucking, it introduces germs and bacteria into the mouth that can make kids get sick.

Ways to Combat Poor Dental Habits

In order to help break kids’ dental habits that are bad for their teeth, two things are required: time and patience. While some kids may be able to kick the habit right away, others may need some more guidance. In either case, there are certain techniques that have been used by many parents with great success. Some of the following actions may help.

  • Afraid to go to the dentist: This a very common fear among kids of all ages. Sometimes, it helps to show kids pictures of the people working in the office as well as what the office looks like before they go there. This will help to reduce the fear and anxiety of the unknown. Another way to reduce fear is by showing and telling kids what to expect during their dental visit. Remember to avoid using negative words such as “pain” and “scary”—instead, replace them with “fun” and “educational.”
  • Thumb-sucking: Try to reward kids when they notice they are sucking their thumb and choose to take it out right away. This is also referred to as positive reinforcement and can include giving kids a new toy or more play time when they remember to take the thumb out of their mouth.
  • Sipping on juice all day: Replace the juice with water. Sometimes, it may even help to add a natural sugar-free flavoring to the water to make it more appealing to the child.
  • Nail-Biting: Similar to thumb-sucking, positive reinforcements tend to help curb the habit. Beyond that, some parents have resorted to painting kids’ nails with a non-toxic, bitter polish to discourage them from biting their nails and putting their fingers in their mouths.
  • Chewing on pens and pencils: This is yet another instance where rewards are your best friend. Reward kids for NOT chewing pens and pencils at intervals. For example, if a child has not chewed their pencil while doing their homework for 15 minutes, they get a reward. If they can go a full 30 minutes, they get an even better reward, and so on and so forth.

When all else fails and you feel like you are at your wits’ end with helping kids break their bad habits, consult their pediatric dentist for advice. In order to become a pediatric dentist, specialized training and an additional two years of school is required, allowing for a better understanding of children’s behavioral management. This makes a pediatric dentist an excellent source of information when it comes to ending poor dental habits! Advanced Children’s Dentistry offers a kid-friendly, fun, and educational dental experience for both kids and parents. Schedule your child’s pediatric dental appointment at 516-758-KIDS.

Infographic with facts about the worst dental habits that kids have

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