Most children grow out of the habit of sucking thumbs and fingers between two and four years of age.
You can usually reverse the effects of thumb-sucking up to 5-6 years, because children still have their baby teeth. If children keep thumb-sucking after this age, it can affect the growth of their jaws and the way their teeth line up.
If you want to encourage your child to stop thumb-sucking or finger-sucking, it can help to:
- gently remind your child to stop
- find ways to distract your child from thumb-sucking
- praise your child – for example, ‘That’s great. I can hear your words clearly when your thumb isn’t in your mouth’
- talk to your pharmacist about a paint-on solution to make your child’s fingers taste yucky.
If you’re concerned that your child’s sucking habits are causing dental problems, talk to your dentist.
Children are more likely to suck their thumbs or fingers when they’re tired, stressed or hungry.
Teeth-grinding in school-age children is pretty common and doesn’t usually need treatment.
Some children clench their jaws quite firmly, and others grind their teeth so hard that it makes a noise. Some children grind their teeth during sleep. Often, they don’t wake up when they do it – but other people do!
Most of the time, teeth-grinding doesn’t last and doesn’t cause damage to your child’s teeth. But if it does keep going, you might want to talk to a dentist. It could lead to your child experiencing headaches, tooth or jaw pain, or wearing down her teeth. Devices to protect teeth from grinding at night can help. You can get them from dentists.
Injuries to teeth
Injuries to your child’s face and teeth can happen when he’s running, climbing, riding scooters and bikes and so on. It’s a good idea to see a doctor or dentist if your child damages his teeth or face.
Knocking out a baby tooth
If your child knocks out a baby tooth, don’t try to put it back in. This can cause problems later on when the adult tooth starts to come through.
Losing a baby tooth before it’s ready to come out usually isn’t a serious dental problem, but it’s important that you take your child to the dentist immediately. Take the knocked-out tooth too.
Seeing the dentist and knowing that an adult tooth will eventually fill the space, and that pain or tenderness in the area will soon go, might help you and your child to feel better.
Knocking out an adult tooth
Losing an adult tooth is more serious than losing a baby tooth, but there are a few things you and your child can do that might stop her from losing her tooth permanently:
- Find the tooth.
- Hold the tooth by the top (‘crown’), not the roots.
- If the tooth is dirty, rinse it in milk or saline (salt and water) solution for a few seconds. Don’t rinse the tooth with water.
- Don’t let the tooth dry out.
- Put the tooth back in its socket immediately.
- Hold the tooth in place with aluminium foil. If you don’t have any aluminium foil handy, your child can bite down gently on a handkerchief.
- Take your child to the dentist or a hospital emergency department immediately. Time is critical.
If for some reason you can’t replace the tooth in its socket – for example, your child is unconscious or distressed – put the tooth in milk or saline solution or wrap it in plastic cling film. Go to your dentist or a hospital emergency department immediately.
If your child chips or fractures a tooth, keep the piece of tooth and store it in milk. See your dentist immediately.
If your child plays sport, check the sport’s rules and recommendations about mouth guards. In many junior sports with a high risk of face contact or head injury, wearing a mouth guard or other protective equipment is compulsory.
There are three types of mouth guards:
- ‘boil and bite’, which you mould around your child’s teeth and jawbone
- customised, which are made by a dental professional.
Customised mouth guards are the most comfortable and provide the best protection because they’re specially fitted to your child’s teeth and jaws.
Mouth guards should:
- be thick enough (4 mm) to provide protection against impact
- fit snugly and be comfortable
- be odourless and tasteless
- allow normal breathing and swallowing
- allow normal speech.
To help your child’s mouth guard stay clean and in good shape, you can make sure your child:
- rinses it before each use, and brushes it with a non-abrasive toothpaste afterwards
- cleans it every now and then in soapy water, making sure to rinse it thoroughly
- carries it in a container that has vents
- doesn’t leave it in the sun or in hot water.
Take the mouth guard along to your child’s dental visits to make sure it still fits correctly. Your child might need a new mouth guard when changes happen in his mouth – for example, when his adult teeth come through.
Your child should wear the mouth guard during training sessions and match play if there’s a risk of knocks or falls.