Warning! Your munchkin’s favourite activities could be preventing his teeth and jaw from developing properly.          

Baby sucking thumbThe truth is, not every kid who has crooked teeth was born this way. While junior can inherit certain factors from their parents, such as the angle of their upper and lower jaw, oral habits are also responsible for the position and alignment of your mini-me’s teeth.

Dr Ally Jiyun Ouh, a dental surgeon with T32 Dental Group, which organises a T32 Junior Oral Health Programme for preschoolers, explains that teeth move in response to the forces ― the tongue, cheek, and lip muscles ― put on them. These different forces push the teeth in different directions, so, teeth will end up in the position where they come to a balance.

She asserts, “So, it’s important to get regular dental checks, during which the development of teeth and jaw are assessed and any habits that cause the teeth to become out of alignment can be identified and corrected.”

Here is what you need to know about preventing and correcting crooked teeth in your child.    

Repeated thumb-sucking [results in] a narrow upper jaw, which limits the space for teeth to grow properly, so overcrowding occurs.

Baby teeth are crucial to the development of adult teeth

Dr Ouh notes, “Your child’s first teeth could have appeared around the age of 6 months. By the time he turns 3, he would have developed 20 primary teeth.”

They would have five different types of primary teeth: Central incisors (front and centre teeth), lateral incisors (next to the front and centre teeth), canines, first molars and second molars.

While your child will eventually lose all their baby teeth, they are important for the development of his jaw bones, and also boost their speech, as well as the ability to chew and express emotions, such as smile.

Dr Ouh points out that your kid’s baby teeth hold the space for their permanent teeth, guiding them into specific and proper positions. “If you lose certain baby teeth too early, a dentist will advise a fixed appliance to keep the spaces open, so the adult teeth can erupt at the right place.

“Otherwise, the surrounding teeth start to collapse into the space, such that the pathways for the adult teeth become blocked. When

Crooked teeth culprit #1: Thumb-sucking

What happens: Repeated thumb-sucking not only pushes the tongue away from the roof of the mouth but also causes the upper front teeth to protrude. The result is a narrow upper jaw, which limits the space for teeth to grow properly, so overcrowding occurs. Meanwhile, as the upper and lower teeth do not meet when the mouth closes, teeth towards the back can wear off unevenly, causing pain and even tension headaches. 
What can be done: A child usually stops thumb-sucking between the ages of 2 and 4. But if you’re concerned about this habit, talk to him about curbing it and reassure you will be there to help. Instead of criticising him whenever he does it, why not praise him whenever he isn’t?       


Kid and dentist

Crooked teeth culprit #2: Tongue thrusting

What happens: Babies who have been bottle-fed for an extended period usually experience abnormal movement of the tongue, since it protrudes forward when they swallow, speak and at rest. This can cause bite problems and speech difficulties. 
What can be done: Tongue-training appliances can be used to correct its position to enable proper swallowing and pronunciation, and close the gap in the front teeth caused by the tongue’s abnormal position.

Crooked teeth culprit #3: Mouth breathing

What happens: Some kids with allergies or enlarged tonsils find it easier to breathe through the mouth than the nose. Breathing through the mouth, however, causes the tongue to fall into an incorrect position and overcrowding of teeth occurs when the upper jaw becomes narrower. Studies also show that in addition to abnormal growth of the upper and lower jaws and teeth, kids who breathe through the mouth have a visibly more convex facial profile.
What can be done: Consult a paediatric dentist, who can suggest appropriate treatment.

Your baby’s teeth may become badly aligned if they use the pacifier for an extended period of time…their upper front teeth may…become crooked, so that they’ll struggle with bite difficulties.

5 steps to healthy teeth in kids

So that your little one develops a beautiful smile, teach them how to care properly for their teeth by...  

#1 Introduce them to good oral hygiene habits  
Teach your child to brush their teeth themselves as soon as they can. Encourage them to brush their teeth twice a day using an appropriate toothbrush and toothpaste. Help them by checking that they are brushing their pearlie whites correctly.

#2 Protect them from milk caries
Never let your baby suck on their milk bottle through the night as it can cause milk caries. The sugars in the milk will stick to the surface of his teeth, which draws acid-producing bacteria. When the acid starts to attack the tooth enamel, it leads to tooth decay.

#3 Limit their consumption of sugar
When your child eats too much sugar ― and doesn’t brush their teeth properly after ― it can accumulate and multiply in the mouth. This brings about plaque, then acid, which destroys the tooth enamel, leading to cavities if left untreated.

#4 Wean them off the pacifier
If junior must use a pacifier, clean it regularly. And never dip it in any sweetened liquid as it can accelerate the risk of tooth decay. Incidentally, your baby’s teeth may become badly aligned if they use the pacifier for an extended period of time. This is because their upper front teeth may tip forward and become crooked, so that they’ll struggle with bite difficulties.

#5 Bring them for regular dental check-ups
The Ministry of Health (Singapore) recommends that kids have their first dental check-up around age 1. A dentist can help identify the presence of (any) oral disease early and suggest treatments. 

Photos: iStock

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