The mouth is the first “instrument” small children use to explore and connect with the surrounding world. In the so-called “oral stage” (Freud), the baby’s oral needs are satisfied by breastfeeding and non-nutritive sucking. These self-soothing behaviors, albeit natural, can cause problems if they turn into a habit once a child’s teeth start to come in.

In a recent DentaVox survey devoted exclusively to “Baby Habits & Teeth”, more than 5200 respondents around the world shared their general perceptions and personal experience as parents. According to the results accumulated within the first month, 53% of participants believe that babies’ bad oral habits do not depend on their feeding method. Significantly more people (42%), however, consider that bottle feeding bears a higher risk of leading to bad oral habits in babies and toddlers than breastfeeding (5%).

Now, let’s see which are the most common dental problems people associate with adverse baby habits, which bad oral habits in babies are perceived as the most surely leading to dental issues in adulthood, and how parents try to eliminate these habits.


Top 5 Adult Problems That May Result From Baby’s Bad Oral Habits

In view of the prevalence of DentaVox respondents (54%) who admit knowing just “a little” about adverse baby habits, and only 23% who are very well grounded in the topic, it’s interesting to see how they rank the dental issues that may arise from those habits.

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As the statistics show, 38% of people who have taken the survey think that teeth misalignment is the most common negative effect of bad baby oral habits. Improper growth of permanent teeth comes next with 21%. Frequent tooth decay (18%) and early tooth loss (11%) are also pointed out at the top places, reflecting the alarmingly high rate of such cases among small children in many parts of the world.

Asked such “cause and effect” questions, respondents usually answer from their personal perspective – either by using their general knowledge and / or referring to first-hand experiences. This logically makes any ranking very subjective. The significantly high percentage of ignorance on the survey topic, however, especially among young parents, is a red flag since it can be detrimental to their children’s oral health.


Top 5 Baby Oral Habits That May Lead to Adult Dental Issues

#1 Thumb Sucking

Given a multiple choice of potentially harmful baby oral habits, respondents (both parents and non-parents) have ranked thumb / fingers sucking (70%) as the top factor that can lead to teeth problems in adulthood. Beside that, a child’s hands harbor germs that can easily find their way into the mouth and cause other health conditions. The constant presence of a thumb between a child’s upper and lower jaws can affect the position of the bite and impose the need for orthodontic appliances such as braces in the future.

#2 The Paci

Second comes the use of a pacifier (64%) – a habit whose elimination usually leads not only babies / toddlers, but also all family members to nervous breakdowns and a series of sleepless nights. Many parents, feeling helpless after a 20-minute long severe tantrum, use the soother as a secret weapon to mute their anxious child. And in most cases it works. This, however, makes it even harder for both sides to drop the bad habit.

The American pediatricians suggest that “pacifier weaning” should happen between the ages of 2 and 4. Dentists, on the other hand, believe that throwing out that paci before age 3 reduces the risk of dental malocclusions (misaligned teeth). It’s worth noting that if the pacifier is taken away at a stage when the urge to suck for comfort is still strong, the baby may switch to sucking on something else – like their thumb.

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#3 Teeth Grinding

The third most commonly selected answer (52%) among all bad oral habits in small children is teeth grinding (bruxism). According to experts, babies may grind their teeth due to pain from teething. Bruxism is relatively common in younger children, too, and typically fades away by the teen years. The good news is that most babies and children outgrow teeth grinding naturally, without any treatment. Complications at this age are rather rare. Older kids with bruxism, however, should be watched more closely to prevent any potential damages to their adult teeth.

#4 Falling Asleep With a Baby Bottle

As the survey results show, the next adverse baby habit that can lead to dental problems is dozing off with the milk bottle (36%). And this is a valid concern. According to sleep experts, parents should avoid giving their baby the bottle until s/he falls asleep or putting her/him in the crib with the bottle. By doing so they unwittingly create a “bottle habit”. The bottle is becoming a sleep prop to help the baby sleep and s/he doesn’t know how to sleep without one.

Parents can still keep the milk bottle in the bed time routine but move it a step earlier – before the good night story or song. So, having a lot of bottles throughout the night can not only be damaging to little baby teeth, but also lead to sleep problems.

#5 Tongue Thrusting

Ranking fifth with 28% among all other answers, tongue thrusting in babies – both breastfed and bottle-fed, is actually considered normal by pediatricians. While growing up, the child’s swallowing and speaking patterns naturally evolve. Some types of bottle nipples and pacifiers, however — as well as the prolonged use of a bottle — can lead to an abnormal tongue thrust that lasts past the infant stage and into early childhood.


Parents’ Methods For Helping Kids Overcome Their Bad Oral Habits

If a child has picked up bad oral habits, fixing these problems as soon as possible is crucial for ensuring their healthy smiles for the years ahead. But what’s the right strategy, especially when the kid is not old enough to understand the grown-ups’ reasoning?

According to the statistics from the DentaVox survey “Baby Habits & Teeth”, nearly 60% of respondents say they have reminded their kids not to do the respective bad habit. Giving rewards and praise has been practiced by 41% of all interviewed parents. By contrast, 12% have chosen the hard way – punishing and scolding their kids. Other respondents have consulted their family dentist (24%).

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Breaking a bad habit is not easy even for adults. Children’s psychologists say parents have to be very patient and compassionate with their babies / toddlers. Praise is always the wiser approach. The psychologists recommend trying to help kids feel secure and safe in other ways so that they don’t have to resort to thumb-sucking, for example. Giving the child some freedom to choose how they give up the unwanted behavior can also pay off – such as determining which healthier behaviors they can turn to instead.

In a nutshell, replacing the adverse oral habits by good ones requires a holistic approach. It consists of patient-parent counselling, behaviour modification techniques, use of case-specific habit breaking appliances, physical exercise, and continuous support.

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The research results are presented in the infographic below. Feel free to re-publish in full or parts of the article, images or infographic with attribution to the source:

Survey: Baby Habits & Teeth

bad baby habits infographic dentavox