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Posts for tag: thumb sucking

By Jeffrey A. Harris, D.D.S.
February 25, 2016
Category: Oral Health
Tags: thumb sucking  
ThumbSuckingOneofManyFactorstoConsiderWhenTreatingaPoorBite

It’s true — thumb sucking beyond age 4 can cause bite problems for permanent teeth. But prolonged thumb sucking is just one of a number of possible contributing factors for a bad bite (malocclusion). A dentist must identify all the factors involved when a bad bite is present — their involvement is essential for a successful treatment outcome.

A fairly benign habit for infants and toddlers, thumb sucking is related to an “infantile swallowing pattern” young children use by thrusting their tongues forward between the upper and lower teeth when they swallow. Around age 4, though, they usually transition to an adult swallowing pattern in which the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. Thumb sucking stops for most children around the same time.

Thumb sucking beyond this age, though, can put increased pressure on incoming permanent teeth pushing them forward. This could lead to an “open bite” in which the upper and lower teeth don’t meet when the jaws are closed. The tongue may also continue to thrust forward when swallowing to seal the resulting gap, which further reinforces the open bite.

Before treating the bite with braces, we must first address the thumb sucking and improper tongue placement when swallowing — if either isn’t corrected the teeth could gradually revert to their previous positions after the braces come off. Besides behavioral incentives, we can also employ a thin metal appliance called a “tongue crib” placed behind the upper and lower incisors. A tongue crib discourages thumb sucking and makes it more difficult for the tongue to rest within the open bite gap when swallowing, which helps retrain it to a more normal position.

An open bite can also occur if the jaws develop with too much vertical growth. Like thumb sucking and improper tongue placement, abnormal jaw growth could ultimately cause orthodontic treatment to fail. In this case, though, surgery may be necessary to correct the jaw structure.

With all these possible variables, our first step needs to be a thorough orthodontic exam that identifies all the cause factors for your child’s specific malocclusion. Knowing if and how thumb sucking may have contributed to the poor bite will help us design a treatment strategy that’s successful.

If you would like more information on the causes of poor tooth position, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”

By Jeffrey A. Harris, D.D.S.
March 25, 2014
Category: Oral Health
ThumbSuckingandyourChildsBite

You've probably heard that thumb sucking can be harmful to your child's mouth, but do you know why?

Keep in mind that thumb sucking is completely normal in children up to a certain age. In fact, 95% of babies suck their thumb! This is because it provides them with a sense of security and a way to test and learn about their new world. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that parents and caregivers encourage children to cease this habit by age three.

Many children stop sucking thumbs by themselves between the ages of two and four. However, if you are having issues getting your child to stop after this point, you should inform us at your next appointment. Thumb sucking can actually block your child's front teeth from fully erupting and can also push the teeth forward. The number of hours per day and how much pressure your child applies will affect how far out of position the teeth end up. Excessive thumb sucking can also cause your child's jaw to develop incorrectly. This is why it is so important to stop sucking habits before permanent teeth start to erupt.

There are many creative ways that you can help your child cut back and eventually stop sucking his or her thumb. You might try to implement some behavioral management techniques, such as offering rewards after your child goes a length of time without thumb sucking. If your child is old enough to understand consequences, you can simply try explaining what will happen if he or she keeps up with this habit. If you continue to have trouble, speak with us at your next appointment and we can discuss other options, such as a mouth appliance that blocks this habit.

If you would like more information about thumb sucking, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”