August 2017 Newsletter
What Happens When Children Bite Their Lips
It should come as no surprise that the health of the teeth and the lips are closely related. The teeth need to be properly aligned so that they won’t bite down on soft tissue, and certain problems in the lips can lead to misaligned or otherwise damaged teeth. Children are at particular risk for the problems which result from lip biting, which can occur as a bad habit or as a response to anesthetic following an operation.
Habitually biting the lower lip can have the same result as thumb sucking or pacifier sucking with additional damage to the soft tissue of the mouth. It could result in the child developing an overbite, which will lead to difficulty chewing and speaking, as well as jaw, ear, and headaches. Lip biting is often motivated by anxiety or a frequent need for concentration, although it could also be done in response to irritation in the lips from an external cause. It is important to note that simply sucking on the lower lip can have the same effect on the teeth as lip biting and that doing so will also cause the lips to become red and sore. They also often become chapped if they weren’t already, and may sustain nerve or muscle damage which could cause them to become misshapen.
When lip biting is a psychological coping mechanism, it may be countered through deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Children who are old enough to understand the consequences of their habit have to be included in a positive manner in efforts to break it. However, there is an orthodontic device called a lip bumper which separates the lower lip from the teeth. It is designed to move the lower teeth forward but can be used to discourage lip biting and sucking. When lip biting is being done in response to the lips being irritated by an external factor, consultation with a dermatologist may be necessary, but avoiding lip balms with menthol and fragrances can only help.
Lip biting in response to local anesthetic following an operation is a very different matter. Although it usually does not cause serious damage, it does cause the lip to swell enormously and become discolored, which can alarm parents and children who mistake the swelling for an infection. The swelling is also often uncomfortable. It will go away on its own after a few weeks, but the child may benefit from over-the-counter painkillers until then. Of course, it is possible for the swollen tissue to develop a real infection, so a follow-up with a dentist is reasonable if the child is running a fever.