Thumbsucking is a common and normal reflex for young children. Babies even suck their thumb in the womb. Young children may suck their thumb or another object for security and to self-soothe themselves to sleep. Research has also found that babies who suck their thumb have fewer allergies. In this post, we’ll show you the facts on this habit and how to avoid problems. So, let’s get cracking.
It can even help develop muscles in the mouth and jaw. While thumb sucking isn’t always a concern, this habit can affect your child’s tooth development as they get older. Here is what you should know about thumb sucking and your child’s smile.
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How Does Thumbsucking Affect Dental Development
- Once the permanent teeth come in, sucking a thumb can interfere with dental alignment and growth of the jaw and mouth. Young children who suck their thumb too often can develop poor tooth alignment and even abnormal changes to the roof of the mouth.
- When a bite is normal, the dentition on the upper jaw should overlap the dentition on the lower jaw. The pressure of thumb sucking can interfere with tooth eruption and the jaw. Sucking a thumb blocks each front tooth from fully erupting while pushing them forward to the side of where the thumb rests. Some kids who suck their thumb develop an open bite in which there is a severe misalignment and an open space between dentition on the lower and upper jaw. Others can develop an excessive overbite in which the dentition on top severely overhangs the bottom dentition.
- In some cases, thumbsucking may even change the position of the tongue. Rather than lifting against the roof of the mouth while swallowing, the tongue may thrust into the space between dentition. This may lead to a lisp as well as the pressure and position of the thumb can affect the position of the jaw bone..
- Not all children will develop serious problems. The intensity of the thumbsucking is an important factor that determines the severity of dental problems. Children who merely rest their thumb in their mouth are at a lower risk of dental issues than children who vigorously suck a thumb or finger.
- The frequency and duration of the thumbsucking habit can also influence whether your kid is at risk for dental issues. Thumbsucking for less than an hour a day, and not during sleep, is less problematic than frequent thumb sucking. Kids who suck their thumb before the age of 5 rarely experience issues with jaw formation, although the front dentition may lose its correct alignment. After the age of six, it isn’t just the dentition that’s affected; thumb sucking can also affect the jaw alignment.
When You Should Be Concerned
- It can be easy to get stressed when you notice your little one sucking their thumb after they break a new tooth. The good news is you don’t need to worry about thumbsucking early in life. According to the American Dental Association, 85% to 99% of kids stop sucking their thumb naturally before they are four or five. There is absolutely no need to try to stop thumb sucking behavior in kids under four as it can do more harm than good.
- Still, it is important to keep an eye on the habit. Make sure your young one is not hurting their thumb or mouth. Aggressive thumbsucking can cause sore, chapped lips and cuts on the thumb and mouth.
- If your kid is still sucking their thumb often past the age of four, it may be a good idea to speak with your pediatric dentist to get a mouth guard or advice to curb the behavior before it begins to cause problems.
Solutions for Thumbsucking
There are many solutions that may help stop your child’s thumbsucking habit:
- Give infants a pacifier. While this doesn’t reduce damage, pacifiers are easier to control and children who use a pacifier can give it up easier than thumbsucking.
- Offer praise and rewards. After explaining why thumbsucking is a bad habit, without scaring your son or daughter, offer plenty of praise when they resist the habit. Come up with a system for rewarding their habit-breaking, such as stickers or a fun activity.
- Offer reminders. Offer gentle reminders when you notice thumbsucking. For some kids, placing a band-aid or nail polish on their finger is enough of a reminder.
- Offer comfort. Take note of when the thumbsucking behavior is most common. Some kids suck their thumb to ease anxiety and increase their own comfort, especially to fall asleep or in a situation that causes anxiety. Offering comfort and distraction may be helpful to break the habit.
- Remember that negative reinforcement like punishments and scolding are not effective at curbing this behavior. After all, this behavior is often related to anxiety, which can only increase with scolding and nagging. We also recommend that you avoid intentionally scaring your kids out of thumbsucking behavior with images of dental damage. Always focus on praise and positive reinforcement to help conquer thumb sucking for good.
- Your dentist can also recommend solutions to stop or correct thumbsucking. The use of a retainer can often stop this habit by changing the feeling of sucking a thumb. A guard or crib may even need to be attached to the retainer. A thin metal crib is inserted behind the lower and upper incisors to discourage thumb sucking and retrain the tongue to prevent it from going between the incisors while swallowing.
- When thumbsucking causes serious dental problems like a crossbite or open bite, braces may be necessary to help correct the problem. Breaking a thumbsucking habit as soon as possible can help protect your son or daughter’s tooth development and avoid the need for years in braces and other corrective orthodontic treatments.
What’s The Bottom Line?
If you are concerned about a thumbsucking habit and how it may affect your son or daughter’s teeth in the future, contact Dr. Engel and his team at KinderSmiles. He is a friendly pediatric orthodontist and can recommend strategies that may be effective. And develop a custom treatment plan to restore a beautiful smile and straight teeth.
Contact us today and schedule an appointment to find out why we do what we do.
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KinderSmiles Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics
400 Kinderkamack Rd.
Oradell, NJ 07649
Curious About Thumbsucking and Teeth in 2020 | FAST FACTS
Dr Engel holds a speciality license in pediatric dentistry from New Jersey and New York. He also has attained sedation certification, which allows for in-office oral sedation options, and he’s on staff at Hackensack University Medical Center. As an attending pediatric dentist at HUMC, Dr Engel retains operating room privileges, allowing for an array of treatment modalities and anaesthesia options.