How to Prevent Malocclusions in Children

It's important to prevent malocclusions in children to avoid more complex problems in the future. We'll tell you how.
How to Prevent Malocclusions in Children

Last update: 12 June, 2022

Bite problems affect a large part of the world’s population. Therefore, preventing malocclusions in children helps to avoid more complex disorders in the future.

From the moment we’re born, the bones of the face and then the teeth adapt to the conditions of the environment. The way we swallow, chew, and breathe influences the development of these structures. But the presence of habits and diseases of the mouth also influence the way we occlude.

The jaws and teeth develop and position themselves during childhood, so we must be attentive to certain issues to prevent a defective bite from consolidating.

Malocclusions end up altering the functions and appearance of children’s mouths and, if left untreated, worsen throughout life. Keep reading and find out what you can do about them.

Malocclusions in children

Dental malocclusions are the third most common dental disease according to the World Health Organization (WHO). They’re alterations in the way in which the jaws and upper and lower teeth relate to each other.

Inadequate bone growth and incorrect position of the teeth cause a malfunction of the masticatory apparatus. This conditions the way of eating, speaking, and the aesthetics of the smile.

Many times, malocclusions begin to manifest themselves during childhood, while the child’s oral structures are still developing. Heredity and genetics, as well as bad habits installed at early ages, can be the origin of these problems.

Oral breathing, digital suction, atypical swallowing, and tongue thrusting are some of the practices that favor the development of malocclusions. Prolonged and improper use of pacifiers or bottles, premature tooth loss due to cavities or trauma, and bruxism also predispose children to bite problems.

A girl with dental malloclusions at the dentist.
The most common malocclusions are dental malpositions, crowding, and diastemas. Also, crossbites, open bites, and overbites.

Strategies to prevent malocclusions in children

To avoid the functional and esthetic problems caused by malocclusions in children, the best alternative is to avoid a bad bite. Preventive actions vary according to when they’re applied, so five levels can be distinguished:

  • First level: these are the actions applied during gestation and birth of the child. They consist of educating and giving advice to parents for the first stages of the child’s life. Emphasis is placed on proper nutrition during pregnancy and on the promotion of breastfeeding to favor the correct development of the perioral musculature and the jaw.
  • Second level: these are the measures applied in the temporary dentition stage, through diet control, hygiene, and limitation of parafunctional habits. The chewing of solid foods, prevention of cavities, and maintenance of spaces if teeth are lost prematurely are encouraged.
  • Third level: this involves limiting the damage before the situation progresses and worsens. It includes the use of interceptive orthodontics, extractions of supernumeraries to gain space, and selective grinding. These early approaches to the problem avoid the need for more complex treatments in the future.
  • Fourth and fifth levels: this is the treatment of the damage and rehabilitation of lost functions through orthodontic therapeutics or orthognathic surgery.

As you can deduce, the earlier action is taken, the lower the risk of developing bite problems in the future. Taking preventive measures from birth can prevent the development of complex alterations and the need for uncomfortable and costly treatments.

Some tips to prevent malocclusions in children

As we’ve already mentioned, preventing malocclusions in children from early stages of life helps to limit the risk of suffering from complex problems in the mouth. With simple actions, parents can promote the correct development and positioning of the jaws and teeth of their little ones.

Here’s how to do it. Take note!

Opt for breastfeeding whenever possible

Feeding through the mother’s breast stimulates the baby’s oral musculature and promotes the jaw to move forward.

Babies are born with the lower jaw slightly retracted, but the effort of milking the breast, sucking, and swallowing breast milk promotes proper growth of the bones and muscles of the mouth.

Therefore, breastfeeding helps to achieve a good relationship between the upper and lower jaw. And by promoting the correct development of the orofacial musculature, they improve the baby’s sucking, swallowing, and breathing.

However, this doesn’t mean that if the baby is breastfed, they won’t need to use orthodontic appliances in the future, as there are other factors that also influence the development of occlusion.

“Breastfeeding contributes to avoiding dentomaxillofacial anomalies, dental malocclusions, and the need for orthodontics in the future.”
-Sociedad Española de Ortodoncia (SEDO)-.

Promote chewing from the early stages

When starting complementary feeding, many parents prefer classic purees. But prolonging soft diets based on crushed and easy-to-swallow foods can affect the correct development of the jaws and chewing muscles.

If we don’t encourage children to make an effort to chew, they’re likely to get used to eating foods that produce little resistance, such as soft foods.

For this reason, it’s advisable to offer children varied diets in terms of textures, flavors, and food sizes. Instead of making vegetable purees, small pieces of the same steamed vegetables can be offered. This will encourage chewing, without incurring choking risks.

You may be interested in: How to Stimulate Chewing in Babies?

An evolution in the types of food to be offered should be followed: it’s important to start with softer textures, then semi-solid and solid and finally, harder ones. This progression will help muscles to strengthen and chewing movements to promote the correct development of oral structures.

A boy using a pacifier.
Prolonged use of pacifiers, bottles, and thumb-sucking are some of the preventable causes of dental malocclusion.

Remove pacifiers in time

If used correctly, pacifiers can be a great ally when it comes to soothing your baby. It may even reduce the incidence of sudden infant death and bring security, confidence, and comfort to the little one.

Pacifier sucking is considered non-nutritive, as the same sucking and milking movements are performed on the nipple of the pacifier, but no nourishment is obtained through it. This habit can alter the correct oral and dental development and affect the natural positioning of the jaw.

So that this habit doesn’t become harmful, it’s advisable not to prolong its use after 2 years of age, although some pediatricians suggest starting to get rid of it at 12 months of age. In addition, when offering a pacifier to a child, it’s important to make sure it’s the right size for the baby’s mouth.

Avoid thumb sucking

For some children, thumb sucking is an action that relaxes and calms them when they’re nervous, hungry, or tired. And although this habit is quite normal in the first months, it’s harmful if it continues beyond the age of 2 years. This is another type of non-nutritive sucking.

The pressure exerted by the finger on the teeth and palate interferes with the correct development of the jaws. It also affects the positioning of the teeth and tongue and causes problems when biting.

It’s best to look for alternatives that help the child to stop the habit of thumb-sucking. The process can be long and complicated, but with patience, support, and professional help, thumb sucking can be controlled.

Taking care of oral health

Keeping teeth healthy also helps prevent malocclusions. Trying to sanitize the mouth of the little ones from an early age avoids many problems that affect the way they bite.

When children suffer from cavities, the risk of losing teeth prematurely increases and their absence in the mouth interferes with the proper eruption of the definitive teeth and their positioning. In this way, the bite is affected and the damage is perpetuated until adulthood.

That’s why brushing teeth, using dental floss and fluoride toothpaste, healthy diets, and regular dental checkups are essential to take care of children’s mouths.

Go to dental checkups

From the first year of life of babies, it’s important to find a pediatric dentist to help parents take care of their children’s mouths. After that, checkups will be necessary every 6 or 12 months, depending on each case.

With regular visits, the professional can evaluate the state of the mouth, detect any problems in time, and find the most appropriate solution. In addition, they monitor the growth of the jaws, the eruption of teeth, and inquire about habits or customs that may affect the correct oral development.

When the replacement of primary teeth by permanent teeth begins, around the age of 6, it’s advisable to consult an orthodontist. The evaluation by this specialist helps to detect any alteration in the position of the teeth and jaws and to deal with problems early.

A toddler sitting in a dentist chair holding a teddy bear.
A pediatric dentist is responsible for the care and prevention of the oral health of children.

Early actions to prevent malocclusions in children

There’s a famous saying that “prevention is the best medicine” and this phrase also applies to orthodontics.

As we’ll tell you, avoiding damage will be easier and better for the child, since they won’t have problems in their mouth or need uncomfortable and expensive treatments in the future.

It’s true that some oral and dental problems can’t be avoided, especially those related to genetics and heredity. But correcting certain habits and practices early on can help prevent malocclusions in children.

With informed and attentive parents who accompany and take responsible care of the development of their children’s mouths, healthy and harmonious smiles can be achieved.

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