As an orthodontist for 23 years in Dover, DE, I have counseled many of our patients against oral habits- namely to reduce the risk of impacting the normal development of their teeth and jaws. Those patients with persistent habits- with sufficient frequency and intensity, may see the development of open-bite and/or protruding teeth that usually requires orthodontic treatment to correct.
Well, an absolute such as ‘Never Say Never’ can be challenged with new information. A recent published study offers consolation to parents who struggle with helping their child break his/her habit. The study concluded that children who suck their thumb or bite their nails past preschool age may be less prone to allergic reactions, with these benefits lasting into adulthood.
The researchers accounted for a range of things that can influence a child’s odds of sensitization. After this they said it’s difficult to imagine what other factors would explain the findings. Dr. Mika Kiramatsu, a pediatrician who reviewed the study, offered this is another piece of evidence in support of the “Hygiene Hypothesis.”
“Hygiene Hypothesis”: Exposure to bacteria and other microbes early in life helps steer the immune system toward infection-fighting mode, and away from a tendency toward allergic reactions.
The study is based on 1000 New Zealand children who entered the study at birth, and followed into adulthood.
Based on their parents reports: 31% of the children were either sucking their thumbs or biting their nails “frequently” between the ages of 5-11. These children were one third less likely than their peers to develop allergies by the time they were 13. The same pattern was still apparent at age 32!
So Dr. Steckel offers this new information as a form of a “silver lining” – while Dr. Steckel will encourage your child to phase out the habit for dental development, you can remember the potential future health benefits of the habit.