Can lip sucking cause dental problems?

I have noticed that my daughter has begun sucking on her lower lip. Will this cause orthodontic problems? If so, what can I do to stop it?

Question:

This question does not have an easy answer. Lip habits, such as lip sucking and biting, do not appear to cause dental problems, but they can maintain an existing orthodontic condition. The extent of this condition will depend upon the intensity, frequency and duration of the habit.

Most commonly, this habit occurs in children who already have an overbite. An overbite occurs when the upper teeth significantly overlap lower teeth. Typically, the lower lip is sucked between the upper and lower front teeth. This places a force on the lower teeth, causing them to tip back toward the tongue. It may also cause the upper teeth to tip forward toward the lip. This exaggerates the overbite and may also cause a deep bite.

The best way to treat this habit is to correct the malocclusion. Orthodontic treatment will vary according to the skeletal structure and relationships of upper and lower teeth. If the relationship of upper and lower teeth is otherwise normal, the teeth can be tipped back to their original or more "normal" position with fixed or removable orthodontic appliances. If the occlusion involves a significant overlap of all upper and lower teeth, more involved orthodontic treatment using growth modification may be necessary.

The soft lip tissue may appear red and chap easily. The traumatized area may also be subject to infections such as impetigo. Impetigo is a contagious infection characterized by blisters and yellowish crusts. If necessary, the lips and surrounding area should be moisturized. Overlying infections may require further medical treatment.

If your daughter's next regular dental visit is within two to three months, you may wish to wait and discuss this condition with your dentist at that time. Otherwise, you should make an appointment with your dentist to evaluate the situation. Your dentist may be able to treat the malocclusion or he/she may refer your daughter to an orthodontist.

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