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Could my child's sloppy eating be related to orthodontic problems?

Posted in Children, General, Phase 1 Treatment, Related Conditions, Tips & Advice

Have you noticed your child has an issue with sloppy eating? This and other issues with eating may not be exclusively behavioural - airway or orthodontic problems can be at least partly to blame. Today, our orthodontists in BC and Alberta explain how sloppy eating may point to an underlying condition.

Sloppy Eating in Children

Sometimes, young patients come to us with habits or symptoms their parents didn't think were related to underlying conditions or orthodontic problems. Sloppy eating can be one of these and is often a tricky one to pin down as the issue may at first appear to be behavioural in nature. 

If you've spent a lot of time pleading with your child to be more careful eating, actively encouraged and showed them how to slow down during meal times or paused to wipe their mouth or clothes with a napkin at a restaurant, you've likely felt at least some frustration and maybe thought about asking your child's pediatrician if you should be concerned.

But there's no need to feel guilty or panicked over what the problem might be. In fact, with early orthodontic intervention may be able to help assess and identify a treatment plan for your child's habit.

How Sloppy Eating Can Be Related to Airway or Orthodontic Issues

Habits such as sloppy eating, noisy breathing and speech problems may be related to a condition referred to as tongue thrust (retained infant swallow). Babies are born with the ability to breastfeed as a reflex action. This reflex triggers the tongue to move forward to protect the airway, preventing the baby from breathing in milk and choking. 

Unfortunately, this reflex can persist past the breastfeeding phase and develops into an entrenched habit that can impede proper development. The forward movement of the tongue doesn't support the development of the plate (roof of the mouth) to its maximum width. If there is not enough room for teeth to emerge and properly develop, erupting adult teeth can become crowded. Your child may also find it difficult to get the tongue back to the correct position, since their jaw is too narrow.

These development problems in the jaw can sometimes lead to habits such as sloppy eating, improper chewing and airway issues and breathing problems. They may also cause subsequent issues with digestion if your child's food isn't being chewed properly. This can have a significant negative impact on their oral and general health if left untreated. 

How Early Orthodontic Treatment Can Help

We now know that the appearance of these issues can indicate the need for early orthodontic intervention. That's why we recommend scheduling an orthodontic assessment for your child by age 7, or earlier if you're noticing problems with chewing, speech, learning, sleep or others.

In the last few decades, the field of orthodontics has evolved. Orthodontists have gradually learned more about airway and orthodontic issues in children and how preventive, non-invasive early intervention orthodontic treatment can address airway issues and problems with jaw development, in addition to potentially improving oral and physical health outcomes for your child long-term. Depending on your child's case, circumstances and needs, palatal expansion, Invisalign First, braces or a combination of treatments and exercises may be recommended. 

A palatal expander can be used to create more space in the mouth by widening the upper jaw, while a young child's jaws are still developing (and therefore malleable). Detecting and treating a narrow palate while your child is young can positively effect the development of the upper jaw and reduce issues with teeth crowding, crossbite and more later. This positive impact may extend to physical health by preventing issues such as sleep apnea and obesity.

With Invisalign First or braces, we may be able to improve the width of dental arches and address other conditions related to swallowing or chewing issues, in addition to correcting unhealthy habits such as thumbsucking. We might also be able to do this by giving your child specific exercises to train their tongue to move and sit correctly.

Plus, this early intervention might mean we'll be able to shorten overall orthodontic treatment time your child will need with braces or Invisalign once they enter their teenage years. If Phase 2 treatment is necessary, early intervention (Phase 1 treatment) can make that time easier - on both you and your child.

Learn More About Airway Issues & Related Conditions 

Every parent will have unique concerns when it comes to their child. Our orthodontists can determine which habits or issues need correcting, with not just the teeth but potentially in the face, neck, nose, throat, tongue muscles and the rest of the body. Please feel free to bring any questions or concerns you may have to our team, and we can address them during an initial assessment. During that visit, we can also examine your child's jaw and teeth before developing a customized treatment plan to map out Phase 1 and 2 treatment.

Have you seen signs of sloppy eating and chewing, swallowing and speech issues in your child? Early orthodontic intervention may help. Contact our orthodontists in BC and Alberta to book an assessment appointment today.

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