Thumb sucking is a normal behavior that is seen throughout infancy and toddlerhood. Many children may develop this habit as a natural means of coping or to provide additional comfort. Some children may also suck their thumb to help fall asleep at night. Thumb sucking tends to not be a large issue for many children until the habit exceeds past the age of five.

Potential Effects of Thumb Sucking

If children continue to suck their thumbs after the age of five, this habit has the potential to cause changes to tooth alignment or jaw development, which can later lead to problematic results requiring orthodontic or dental attention. Continued thumb sucking can even lead to changes in the roof of the mouth.

Most importantly, the intensity of the “sucking” is a large factor that dictates whether or not dental problems may occur. Essentially, if a child rests their thumb in their mouth while “thumb sucking,” this is less likely to have negative effects as opposed to a child who aggressively sucks their thumb. Additionally, children who do tend to aggressively such their thumbs may have problem with their primary (baby teeth).

What Can Help with the Habit?

If a child is regularly sucking their thumb, it is a good idea to watch the habit. The ADA  recommends discouraging the habit after four years. Depending on the child, negative reinforcement may provide negative results. For many kids, positive praise can go a long way when it comes to thumb sucking. When the child slowly begins to wean off of thumb sucking, appraisal or a reward can often be a great option. For children who suck their thumbs for a means of comfort, it may be helpful to focus on the source of what is giving the child discomfort and find different coping methods.

Moreover, if the habit cannot be broken after the age of five there are additional methods that can be help to offer a solution as a last resort. By turning to an orthodontist for support, a plastic retainer can be placed that fits in the roof of the child’s mouth. The retainer tends to change the feeling or satisfaction of thumb sucking and decreases the urge of having a thumb in the mouth. If the habit continues with the retainer, a ”habit breaking guard” or a “crib” may be added to the appliance and will be worn up to 10 months in order to ensure that the habit has stopped. If necessary, during the 10 months, corrective tooth movements can be made with help of the appliance. We are often asked about local insurance plans covering the cost of orthodontic appliances. Reach out to us now and we can determine if your insurance will cover any of the costs.

Schedule a Consultation Today

If you feel that you may need assistance with your child’s thumb sucking habit or have questions regarding thumb sucking please contact us at Sims Orthodontics. Dr. Sims is dedicated to your needs and is available to answer any questions that you may have. 

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