boy sucking his thumb

There are certain habits that will have a negative effect on oral health. However, many of these habits are extremely common, and some are even considered cute. It’s best to avoid them though so that you can maintain a healthy smile now and in the future.

Thumb Sucking and Pacifier Use

It’s common for babies and children to suck on their thumbs, other fingers, pacifiers or other objects as a means to self soothe. Most children stop these habits between the ages of 2-4 years of age. However, prolonged thumb sucking may lead to serious damage to the proper growth of the mouth. These damages including abnormal positioning of the front teeth and damage to the roof of the mouth.

These issues are not only bad for the teeth, but they can also cause speech problems in developing children. That’s why the habit should be stopped when the child is as young as possible. If the child has not stopped on his or her own, a parent should discourage the habit after the age of 4 years.


You probably already know the damage that smoking can do to your health, but you may not know what it does to your mouth. Tobacco use in any form, such as cigarettes, cigars, pipes and smokeless tobacco (chew) increases your risk for multiple oral health conditions. These conditions include:

  • Periodontal disease – Tobacco use is one of the most significant factors leading to the development and progression of gum disease.
  • Cavities, bad breath and stained teeth – Smokers are more likely to get cavities due to the decreased saliva flow and the increased plaque and tartar build up.
  • Tooth loss – Some studies have shown that smokers are 2x as likely to lose their teeth compared to non-smokers. Smoking restricts blood flow to the gum tissues preventing healthy blood cells and nutrients to be delivered to the bone and gum that support the teeth.
  • Oral cancer – People who use tobacco products have a higher risk for oral cancer. Those who use tobacco products and consume excessive alcohol have an even higher risk.

Nail Biting and chewing objects in mouth

Nail biting and chewing on objects (for example an pen) is an unhealthy habit when it comes to the health of your teeth. Your teeth were designed for eating food, not chewing on hard materials. Biting fingernails or chewing on hard objects can lead to breakage and stress fractures of your teeth as well as cause damage to your mouth and jaw muscles. Nail biting is a particularly nasty habit because there are bacteria and parasites under the nail beds that can transfer into the mouth and lead to an infection.

While all of these habits may be common, that doesn’t mean they are not going to damage your teeth, gums, and mouth. They can cause problems as simple as chipped teeth and as serious as cancer. That’s why they should be avoided for your oral health.