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Resolving Thumb Sucking Habits

Thumb-sucking is a natural, self-soothing habit that many babies turn to. It is usually easy to help a child quit the habit before any real damage is done. However, persistent thumb and finger sucking habits beyond age five or six can cause significant changes to tooth alignment or jaw deformation, resulting in:

  • Protrusive Upper Teeth: This can be a simple tooth position problem, where the upper incisor teeth are tipped forward. Occasionally, the formation of the jaw can be affected, and the upper jaw and teeth will develop in a protrusive relationship to the rest of the face.
  • Tipped Back Lower Front Teeth: The pressure of the thumb forces the lower incisor teeth to tip toward the tongue.
  • Open Bite: The upper and lower front teeth do not overlap when the back teeth are together. The shape of the opening between the upper and lower front teeth may match the child’s finger or thumb exactly.
  • Crossbite: The formation of the upper jaw is too narrow for the lower jaw, so the upper and lower teeth do not fit together properly. This seems to occur as a result of the flexing of the cheek muscles during sucking.

Methods to Stop Thumb Sucking

To help a child over five resolve their thumb sucking habit, be sure to explain the risks, offer rewards, and provide reminders about things like nail polish or band-aids. Be prepared to spend a little extra time with the child if they seem to need some more emotional support; however, there is no need to talk about the sucking habit or how difficult it may be. Instead focus that extra time on favorite activities, such as reading, watching movies, or playing games. Above all, do not scold or punish the child for the habit. It is an ineffective method that can evolve into negative attention.

When Extra Support Is Needed

At Sims Orthodontics, we know that additional methods may be necessary for some children. If other methods do not help your child resolve their thumb sucking habit, we can apply a retainer, a plastic appliance that fits in the roof of the mouth. This usually stops the habit because it changes the feeling or satisfies the urge of having the finger or thumb in the mouth.

If the habit is more stubborn, a habit breaking guard or a crib may be added to the retainer. The appliance will be worn for up to 10 months to ensure the habit has stopped, and during this time, we can also make other corrective tooth movements with the appliance (if indicated). If a child is consistently removing the appliance to suck their finger or thumb, an alternative device that is cemented to the teeth may be a viable solution.

Sims Orthopedics is available for consultations if you need assistance resolving your child’s thumb sucking habit. We have four offices in the Pensacola area for added convenience.