Lip Habits

Learn about lip habits, potential problems caused by prolonged lip manipulation and how you can eliminate the habit.

Habits that involve manipulation of the lips and perioral structures are called lip habits. A number of lip habits exist, and their influence on the teeth varies. Lip licking and lip pulling habits are relatively benign as far as dental effects are concerned. During cold weather, red, inflamed, and chapped lips and perioral tissues are the most apparent signs associated with these habits. Although some have used appliances to interrupt the habits, little can be done to stop these habits effectively. Treatment is usually palliative and limited o moisturizing the lips.
Although most lip habits do not cause dental problems, lip sucking and lip biting certainly can maintain existing jaw and teeth alignment problems if the child engages in them with adequate intensity, duration and frequency. Whether these habits can create a bite alignment problems is a question that is not easily answered. The most common presentation of lip sucking is the lower lip tucked behind the upper incisors. This places a inward force directly towards the tongue on the lower incisors. At the same time it creates an outward force on the upper incisors. These forces cause the upper teeth to be pushed out and the lower teeth to be pushed inward. This problem is most common in mixed dentition (baby and permanent teeth), and permanent teeth. Treatment depends on the skeletal relationship of the child and on the presence or absence of space in the upper and lower jaws. Kids with a lip habit should be evaluated and monitored regularly to determine if treatment is needed and when the clinician should intervene. A dentist usually has more options for correction of the bite in younger kids with a combination of baby teeth and adult teeth, than in teenagers with strictly adult teeth. Jaw growth on average ceases at the age of 12 years. Any skeletal problems should be corrected before that time. If you are unsure whether your child will need any skeletal correction, see a dentist for a professional evaluation.

References:

Pinkham JR: Oral Habits. Pediatric Dentistry- Infancy Through Adolescence 393-401, 1999