When Young Children Suck Their Lips: Why It Can Be a Problem

7 July 2020
 Categories: Dentist, Blog

It's not a surprise that thumb sucking can damage your child's developing teeth. In fact, the issue has been well-documented. This is just an unfortunate habit that parents must urge their children to avoid, ideally before any damage has occurred. But it's not only sucking on a thumb that can be detrimental to your child's dental development. Does your child suck on their lower lip? Though perhaps not as directly problematic as thumb sucking, lip sucking can hamper the progress of your child's emerging teeth. But what harm can it do?

A Habitual Problem

Lip sucking is generally defined as when a child places the edge of their lower lip between their teeth and sucks on it. If this happens occasionally, it's unlikely to pose a problem. It's when it has become habitual that the very alignment of your child's teeth as they emerge from their gums could be in doubt.

Dental Occlusion

This misalignment of the teeth is categorised under dental occlusion, which is essentially the way in which the upper and lower teeth come into contact with each other. The prolonged presence of a foreign object in the mouth, whether your child is sucking on their thumb or sucking on their lower lip can prevent appropriate dental occlusion. Traditionally such misalignment when a person has their adult teeth is treated by orthodontics (namely dental braces or transparent aligners), but in young children, the trick is to discourage your child from the habit so that the teeth will align of their own accord. But how would you know if your child is even sucking on their lip?

Caught in the Act

Catching your child in the act is the primary means of identifying the problem, but there can be additional clinical signs you should watch out for. The pressure on the tissues of the lower lips as they're clenched in place can result in them becoming red and swollen. The surface of the lips can become very dry and irritated. These clinical symptoms of the issue can be treated topically (with something as simple as a lip balm) but will reoccur, along with the subsequent issue with dental occlusion, if the habit is not broken.

Breaking the Habit

Positive reinforcement is the best means of breaking this unfortunate habit, and if your child is old enough to understand the consequences of their actions, you should simply explain the danger of sucking on their lower lip. Whether or not you want to reward good behaviour (a certain amount of time without any lip sucking) is entirely at your discretion. Should you be concerned that the issue had been ongoing for some time without you being aware of it, you might want to move up your appointment with your preferred children's dentistry clinic. If there has been any damage to the teeth, it's important that this is identified as soon as possible.

Ideally, your child will grow out of any lip sucking, but it's crucial to be aware of the risk to their dental health.

Contact a company like Geelong Dental Group to learn more.