Stop Your Child From Thumb Sucking

by | Apr 20, 2020 | Kids Tooth Booth

Every parent gets worried when they notice that their kids’ teeth are misaligned. Misaligned teeth could be due to a bad habit known as thumb sucking. Oftentimes the front teeth will start pointing forward and a gap will start forming between upper and lower teeth which can be quite scary for parents. Even though a thumb sucking habit should not be taken lightly, the good news is that most of the time the teeth can be corrected if the habit is stopped early enough.  Mouth breathing can result from this habit leading to difficulties in sleeping and a dry mouth which could be a risk factor for caries. In this article, we will talk about how thumb sucking affects teeth and how to stop your child from thumb sucking.

Why do children engage in thumb sucking behavior?

Children naturally have sucking reflexes that are developed even before your little one is born. Children feel calmed and soothed when they are sucking their thumb. As your child grows, this behavior may turn into a prolonged habit.

Why does thumb sucking cause teeth to move? 

Have you ever wondered why when you chew on hard foods or when you put pressure on a particular tooth, it doesn’t move? However, when your child sucks on their thumb, it causes their teeth to move? 

The answer is relatively simple. Teeth move when your child applies direct pressure on them for a continuous period of time of at least 6 hours. So even though when you chew, your jaws apply an even greater amount of pressure on the teeth however, that pressure only lasts for a few seconds at a time which is insufficient time to displace the teeth. That is one of the main reasons why in orthodontic treatment, patients have to wear braces for years in order to correct their smiles because continuous pressure over a long period of time is required to move the teeth. 

As you can imagine, a child can be sucking onto his/her thumb for more than 6 hours every night. This is sufficient time to displace teeth. Unfortunately, for parents, it is difficult to monitor and control thumb sucking behavior because it occurs mostly during the night. However, don’t worry because below we will provide ways to stop your child from thumb sucking.

4 signs that your child is sucking their thumb

  1. When you find sores on your child’s fingers
  2. Your child’s upper teeth start protruding forward
  3. Your child’s lower teeth start tipping back
  4. Top and bottom teeth do not meet when the mouth is closed and this is called an open bite

When should you stop your child from thumb sucking

You should stop your child from thumb sucking before the adult teeth start coming in which is around age 6. If the child stops this habit in time then there is no risk of displacement of his/her adult teeth when they come through. Even if the adult teeth come through with a slight protrusion they can be put back naturally to their normal position due to the muscles of the soft tissues (the lip) that push the teeth back into place over time. 

What will happen if your child doesn’t stop thumb sucking behavior in time

Unfortunately, if you cannot stop your child from thumb sucking before adult teeth come through, then, not all the changes in the teeth will be possible to correct spontaneously. Specifically, over time the posterior teeth will start drifting towards the tongue and an improper bite will be established between upper and lower teeth known as a crossbite. You can correct your child’s crossbite by using orthodontic appliances which may end up being quite costly. One of the appliances that may be required is called the maxillary expander. The extent to which a crossbite can be corrected depends on multiple factors including the severity of the crossbite, age of patient, growth and skeletal development. 

5 ways to stop your child from thumb sucking

  1. Discussion
  2. Reward
  3. Reminders
  4. Orthodontic appliance called Buttons
  5. Orthodontic appliance called Thumb Sucking Crib

1. Discussion

  • Children between the age of 7 and 11 reach cognitive development allows them to reason between good and bad. Therefore, you should be able to engage with your child in a conversation that discusses the negative effects of thumb sucking.
  • Showing them pictures of consequences of thumb sucking may do the trick. 
  • Sometimes children may not even be aware of this behavior until you point it out

2. Reward

  • Praising children for good behavior of not sucking their thumb is a good start
  • It could be as simple as preparing their favorite meal or allowing them to play more with their friends

3. Reminders

  • Thumb Guard is an excellent way to prevent thumb sucking with a high success rate
  • You can also try using bitter nail polish on your child to try and break their habit. The success rate varies between kids, nevertheless, it is a good non-invasive option

4. Orthodontic appliance called Buttons

  • An orthodontist can glue “Buttons” to the back of your child’s teeth that have 2 prongs and will produce discomfort to your child when placing the thumb into the mouth thus stopping the bad behavior over time

5. Orthodontic appliance called Thumb Sucking Crib

  • Thumb sucking Crib is a more sophisticated approach that requires monitoring and good oral hygiene
  • It may cause trauma to the tongue or finger
  • The child might perceive it as a form of punishment
  • It may be expensive depending on where you live but if all other options fail then this might be the only way to go

If you would like to learn more about how to take care of your child’s teeth, you can click on the following links that discuss good foods for healthy teeth and why brushing teeth twice a day is important.

Hi, I’m Yana!

I’m a fourth year dentistry student and I’m here to share with you:

  • how to take care of your and your little one’s oral health
  • good dental practices for prevention of disease
  • facts on teeth whitening and cosmetic dentistry
  • answer any lingering questions
  • and MORE!

Stay Tuned!

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” Romans 12:12

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