WHAT HAPPENS IF THUMB SUCKING DOES NOT STOP?
Between the ages of two and four, most children stop sucking their thumbs on their own. It tapers off naturally as children become more active and use their hands for other activities. Children entering school or play groups may feel peer pressure to stop placing their fingers in their mouth. However, if your child continues this behavior after the age of four, you should take corrective action as it can cause damage that may require extensive orthodontic treatment to correct.
There are a number of factors that will determine the extent of problems that will result from thumb or finger sucking. The first factor is the intensity of the thumb sucking. If your child sucks passively, resting the thumb or finger inside the mouth, it is less likely to cause problems. On the other hand, if he or she sucks intensely and creates a significant amount of pressure in the mouth, it can lead to problems with tooth alignment and jaw growth. The second factor is the amount of time your child spends engaging in this activity. If it is consistent, especially during the day, it is more problematic.
Depending on these factors, there are a number of common problems that result from regular thumb/finger sucking once permanent teeth emerge. If you see any of the following signs you should schedule a free consultation with Dr. Hage.
- An overbite, which means the upper front teeth protrude.
- An open bite, which means there is an opening between the upper and lower front teeth when the back teeth are biting together.
- A crossbite, which means there is an underdeveloped upper jaw which causes the lower jaw to shift to one side.
- A recessive or weak chin. This means the lower jaw is not developing properly.
- Speech or chewing difficulties may also occur in more pronounced cases.
WHAT CAN BE DONE AT HOME?
There is a widespread agreement that a positive approach is the best way to overcome this habit. It will allow your child to build confidence and take pride in their accomplishment. A negative approach will unlikely work and may even worsen the situation. Even so, you should gently explain the consequences. Here are some suggestions that you can implement, on your own to help your child.
- Painting or smearing a bad tasting substance, such as Mavala on the thumb or finger. It stops the habit very quickly in most children.
- If you notice your child engaging in the habit because they are tired or hungry, try to resolve the particular situation rather than focusing on the thumb sucking behavior.
- Take note of the particular times your child tends to thumb suck. Such as riding in the car or watching television and then attempt to create distractions during this time.
- If the the finger or thumb sucking occurs primarily when the child is engaged in a secondary habit, such as holding a security blanket or stuffed animal or twirling hair, it is a good idea to correct both habits at the same time. If you get control of the secondary habit, often times the thumb sucking will stop or greatly reduce on its own.
- Start a progress chart and have your child place a sticker on the chart each day he/she is successful at avoiding their thumb/finger. Explain that if they go for an extended period of time without the habit, they will be able to choose a prize from a list you create together.
- Place a bandage around your child’s finger or a sock on their hand at night. Just let them know this is not a punishment, but rather a method to help them avoid the thumb/finger habit.
HOW CAN AN ORTHODONTIST HELP?
If none of the above solutions help and your child’s permanent teeth begin to emerge, it may be time to seek the help of an orthodontist. One common solution is a device called a “fixed palatal crib”. Also referred to as a tongue crib. It is essentially a small appliance that is placed on the upper teeth and the roof of the mouth. It is almost invisible to outside observers. The crib is very effective and usually stops the thumb/finger habit very quickly because it removes the enjoyment. The crib prevents the thumb or finger from touching the gums behind the front teeth. Try to remember your child likely gets a substantial amount of comfort and security from this behavior so he is likely to be restless, unhappy and uncomfortable after the crib is inserted. You can alleviate this by providing the child with extra affection and attention while he adjusts to the new orthodontic appliance.
If you feel your child needs orthodontic help with his thumb/finger habit, you should call for a free consultation with Dr. Hage.