Scary Bites

October is “Orthodontic Health Month.” We are reaching out to provide you with valuable information on how to help your children have stunning smiles and the health benefits that come with them.

Many orthodontic problems are a combination of genetics and daily life influences. We can’t control genetics, but we can control some of what happens in our day-to-day experiences – and as parents, we appreciate every little bit of control we can have. So, let’s talk about one thing you can do to proactively help your child have a great bite and smile!

Most parents know that sucking habits can cause misalignment of the teeth and jaws. Some children will suck their thumb, others one or more fingers and some will suck on their lower lip. These habits put pressure on the teeth and jaws and hold the mouth open – actually changing the structure of the child’s jaw.

Did you know that how your child breathes can also have an effect on jaw structure?

The proper facial breathing position is sitting with the lips closed, teeth apart and the tongue tip just behind the upper front teeth. This posture puts equal pressure from the tongue up on the inside of the roof of the mouth and from the lips and cheeks on the outside of the upper jaw to create an ideal shape for the growing jaws and alignment of teeth. If children have habits or conditions that prevent this natural resting state, then the face and teeth will be altered. For example, children with thumb (or finger or soother) sucking habits will often have a narrow upper jaw, upper front teeth that flare forward, and lower teeth that tip back.

Children with breathing issues who tend to mouth breathe are at risk for a similar growth pattern. There are many possible causes of mouth breathing such as allergies, large adenoids or tonsils, or a deviated septum. Regardless of the cause of the mouth breathing, as the child sits with the mouth open their tongue is sitting low in the lower jaw to allow breathing and the cheeks are pushing in on the upper jaw. Without the balance of the tongue on the inside, the roof of the mouth becomes narrowed, while the lower jaw widens and tips backward. This can crowd the upper teeth, create a crossbite (upper teeth biting inside the lower teeth), and cause the lower jaw to tip back or be pushed forward.

Knowing that proper breathing habits are as important to the development of your child’s facial structure as kicking that thumb sucking habit, lets be proactive in providing the correct environment for the teeth to erupt and for the face to grow proportionately and symmetrically.

The face grows a tremendous amount in young children so watching for and correcting these habits and conditions in children younger than 6 years old has the best effect. We recommend screening children for problems by the age of 7, but if you suspect that habits or breathing patterns are creating problems, these conditions can be addressed earlier. Your local Orthodontist would be happy to have a screening appointment to check your child. Breathing issues are often best addressed by Family Physicians or Ear Nose and Throat specialists and Orthodontists have lots of suggestions for methods to control oral sucking habits.

colleen_newDr. Colleen Adams is a certified specialist in Orthodontics, practicing on the Westside of Vancouver.

She can be contacted at or phone 604-736-5705.

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