Thumb Sucking

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Children often suck their thumbs, fingers, dummies, blankets or toys, as this provides comfort and security. Most children will stop sucking their thumb or fingers naturally between the ages of 2 to 4 years old.  As children start to interact with others in a social environment, this habit may also stop due to peer pressure.  Some children however, develop a habit that they are unable to break, as it is often a source of comfort during periods of stress, anxiety and worry. If the child continues to suck their thumb or fingers when the adult teeth erupt into the mouth (at around the age of 6 or 7), growth of the jaws can be affected and this can result in significant misalignment of the teeth.  Orthodontic treatment will then be required to correct the problems caused by their sucking habit.

Common orthodontic problems caused by prolonged thumb sucking

Open bite: the teeth do not meet together at the front.

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Protrusive bite: the upper front teeth are positioned forward relative to the lower front teeth. These teeth are then at risk of trauma.

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Crossbite: the upper jaw is narrow compared to the lower jaw due to contraction of the cheek muscles used for the sucking motion.

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Lisp: it may become difficult to pronounce certain sounds due to the teeth being pushed out of place.

Trauma to thumbs and fingers: the thumbs or fingers may become swollen and develop sores or calluses.

Methods to stop the thumb sucking habit

  •  Identify and remove the cause(s) of the stress and anxiety for the child
  • Encourage and offer rewards for breaking the habit
  • Tape the thumb or finger at night with sports tape, to bring the habit into the child’s awareness when sleeping
  • Use unpleasant tasting nail paint

If all of the above methods are not successful in breaking the habit, then a Thumb Sucking Appliance can be used.  This orthodontic appliance is cemented onto the back teeth and consists of a smooth metal crib positioned on the roof of the mouth, behind the upper front teeth.  This acts as a physical reminder for the child not to suck their thumb.

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Thumb sucking habits can be difficult for a child to break.  However this problem is better corrected earlier rather than later, and before the adult teeth start erupting into the mouth.  If you are having difficulty getting your child to break the habit, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Written by Jennifer Wu.

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