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There are a number of problems that affect the oral health of children, the good news is, most are common, many are not serious, and all have a solution.

Here we discuss a few of those issues.

Sucking Habits

Sucking is a natural reflex and infants and young children may suck on thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects. It may make them feel safe and happy or provide a sense of security at difficult periods. Since thumb sucking is relaxing, it may induce sleep.

Thumb sucking that persists beyond the eruption of the permanent teeth can cause problems with tooth alignment and the proper growth of the mouth. The frequency, duration, and intensity of a habit will determine whether or not dental problems may result. Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to have difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs.

Usually 80% of children with thumb or finger habits stop by the time permanent teeth erupt. Dr. Dunne recommends making a calendar or chart for a 14 day period. If your child can stop the habit for 14 days in a row and can bring Dr. Dunne this chart showing they did it, he will give them a special prize!

Here are some tips to help your child get through thumb sucking:

  • Instead of scolding children for thumb sucking, praise them when they are not.
  • Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure. Focus on correcting the cause of anxiety, instead of the thumb sucking.
  • Children who are sucking for comfort will feel less of a need when their parents provide comfort.
  • Reward children when they refrain from sucking during difficult periods, such as when being separated from their parents.


Malocclusion, or bad bite, is a condition in which the teeth are crowded, crooked or out of alignment, or the jaws don’t meet properly. This condition may become particularly noticeable between the ages of six and 12, when the permanent teeth are erupting. This “bad bite” may be inherited or result from events in the child’s development.

Every child should receive an orthodontic evaluation by age seven. Early examination and treatment may help prevent or reduce the severity of malocclusions in the permanent teeth. An early evaluation allows the orthodontist to determine when any recommended treatment should begin. The developing occlusion should be monitored throughout eruption. Starting treatment or preventative care at the best time may reduce the overall treatment time and result in the best outcome.

Dr. Dunne will work with your orthodontist to try and prevent the development of malocclusions, when possible. Some preventative orthodontic treatment may be started when the primary teeth are still in place. Often effective preventative treatment is done during a child’s growth period. Different types of orthodontic appliances, including some that are removable, are used to prevent and treat malocclusions.

Orthodontic treatment may be divided into distinct stages or it may be continuous over a period of many months or more. The starting age, the duration of treatment, the type of appliances used, the outcome of the treatment, and the cost of treatment depend upon the nature and the severity of the malocclusion being treated. In most cases, the cooperation of the patient-practicing good oral hygiene and maintaining scheduled appointments for cleanings and exams-are major factors in the success of orthodontic treatment.

Obstructive Airways and Sleep Apnea

Our ability to breathe directly affects our health and well-being. Our ability to fight infection is directly influenced by our ability to clean bad cells out of our bodies and provide oxygen to our living cells. The lymph system is the body’s way of removing old, bad cells. Since there is no pump for the lymph system, our bodies must use breathing and muscle movement to clean up our body’s old, dead cells.

An interesting study was done to see the effect of oxygen on cells and it was found that cells that were given oxygen, after 1 year, were normal and cells that were deprived of oxygen had malignant growths after that year. It is a known fact that oxygen affects the quality of life of the body’s cells. Fully oxygenating your system is a top priority. Presently, one in 3 Americans gets cancer, however, only one in 21 athletes gets cancer. Athletes oxygenate better than the average person and athletes stimulate their bodies’ immune system by stimulating the movement of lymph fluid. So we can see that good breathing and exercise are crucial to health and to life.

Obstructive airways and sleep apnea deprive our bodies of oxygen and have significant effects. If the airway is obstructed, it changes the posture of the mouth and face and affects the growth of bone. If a child has difficulty breathing at night, it can cause life-altering changes. Poor and restless sleep, or sleep deprivation, leads to daytime tiredness and sleepiness. There is an overall decrease in oxygen levels to the body of 10-15%. This deprivation affects IQ and school performance. It inhibits effects on growth– resulting in obesity, hypertension, and sometimes right ventricular dysfunction and heart enlargement. A child is so tired that he may not awaken to go to the bathroom and frequently wets the bed. Mouth-breathing causes the mouth to be dry and the child develops halitosis. It can also cause bruxism or grinding of teeth in their sleep.

Airway obstruction is called OSAS by the American Academy of Pediatrics and a great deal of research has been done to help diagnose and treat obstruction of airway and breathing difficulty. An extensive study of research done between the years 1966-2000 of children aged 2-18 showed that the prevalence of habitual snoring was between 3-12%, and estimates of OSAS was from 0.7-10%. In another study of children ages 3 ½ to11 years old, 35 patients had frequent bed-wetting (enuresis) and after diagnosis of upper airway obstruction and surgical intervention 26 children were completely cured of their bed-wetting immediately. Within 6 months, all children were completely cured of their enuresis.

We are not saying that all nighttime bed-wetting is due to upper airway obstruction and the literature suggests otherwise and we agree. We also do not recommend surgery as a cure for this general problem. However, we do suggest that upper airway obstruction is probably a more common cause to nighttime bed-wetting than was previously recognized.

Upper airway obstruction and sleep apnea can be evaluated at the initial and later cleaning appointments with examination by the doctor. Sometimes it may be necessary to have the child be evaluated by their pediatrician or ear-nose-throat specialist to determine the extent of the problem and any surgical intervention.

Sleep apnea and upper airway obstruction is a relatively common problem and can affect everything from facial growth and crowding of teeth, to head/neck and mouth posture and intelligence.

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