Non-Nutritive Habits

Digit Sucking

baby with thumb sucking

It is not uncommon for infants and children to suck their thumbs (or fingers). It is well documented that until 2 to 3 years of age, thumb sucking is a source of emotional comfort for children. Because children often need this habit, it is not critical to curb the habit at any cost. However, by age 4, children generally no longer need to suck their thumbs. Since chronic thumb or finger sucking will cause the teeth to move out of position, it is very important that children stop this habit prior to eruption of the permanent incisors, which occurs at about age 6.

In severe cases of digit sucking, the chronic sucking pressure and placement of finger/thumb in the mouth will cause teeth to tip out of alignment. The most common misalignment in this instance is a cross bite. Cross bites in the back of the mouth can affect how a child functions (chewing food, speaking). In turn, this can cause unbalanced jaw growth. In the front of the mouth digit sucking often leads to an open bite. With an open bite, the upper and lower front teeth do not touch. This constant space between the upper and lower teeth compromises function because the child cannot effectively bite with the front teeth. It also makes sucking and swallowing harder and can contribute to a further chronic habit, tongue thrust.

For more information or to schedule a consultation with Dr. Lam, please call our office in Florham Park, NJ at Florham Park Office Phone Number 973-295-6600.


Based on your childs specific needs, your pediatric dentist will work with you to determine the best method to curb your childs digit sucking habit. This may be as simple as a reward calendar and encouragement, or a more complicated treatment method which involves the use of habit appliances in the mouth.


Some people call it a bo bo. Others call it a binky. No matter what you call it, it is important to note that pacifier use has a time and place. As with thumb sucking, infants and toddlers often need a pacifier for emotional relief. However, soon after age 3, the need for pacifiers is generally lost. If pacifier use is not curbed by this age, chronic use can lead to orthodontic problems such as cross bite and open bite. Both of these conditions have negative effects on the way your childs teeth look, the way they function, and the way your childs permanent teeth will grow in.

Based on your childs specific needs, your pediatric dentist will work with you to determine the best method to curb your childs pacifier habit. At an early age, this is often as simple as throwing away the pacifier. Of course, parents should be aware that immediately following this, children may need other sources of comfort and support to replace the support gained from the pacifier. If your childs habit has led to more severe misalignment of teeth, your pediatric dentist may recommend the use of a habit appliance to help curb the habit and also help bring the teeth back into proper positioning.

Tongue Thrust

The tongue thrust habit is not as obvious as thumb sucking or pacifier use. However, certain children, adolescents, and even adults have tongue thrust habits. When a person swallows normally, the tongue moves to the roof of the mouth. With a tongue thrust habit, a persons tongue literally thrusts forward whenever the person swallows. The pressure placed on the front teeth can cause the teeth to tip forward and spread apart. Gaps between the teeth may form, and an open bite may be created. When this happens, patients are often conscious of their appearance. Unfortunately, even if orthodontics can close the gaps, the underlying habit (tongue thrust) must be stopped. Otherwise, the teeth will eventually be pushed out of alignment again in the future.

Based on your childs specific needs, your pediatric dentist will work with you to determine the best method to curb your childs tongue thrust habit.


Have you noticed that your child grinds his/her teeth at night? Well youre not alone! Bruxism is the term used to describe the involuntary grinding of teeth in patients. In children this often occurs at night while sleeping. The noise can be quite disconcerting to parents. In severe cases, bruxism can cause the premature breakdown of teeth and must be corrected. Parents should, however, keep in mind that not all cases of bruxism require treatment. Often young children develop grinding habits at night at an age when their teeth are coming loose. It is often observed that with time, this grinding habit will resolve on its own.