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The Long-Term Effects of Thumb Sucking on Teeth Alignment and Oral Health

Posted on November 3, 2019

young girl sucking thumb

Does your child suck their thumb? Thumb-sucking is a natural behavior, and many children go through a stage when they occasionally want one or more digits in their mouth. But parents may begin to worry if their child doesn’t outgrow it.

Thumb or finger-sucking is a normal self-soothing habit some children use when they feel sleepy or want to feel safe and happy. They usually stop this behavior in or before starting preschool, but if your child’s habit continues past kindergarten, they may suffer some long-term effects.

What if your child uses a pacifier instead? Well, breaking a child of pacifier use might be easier than breaking them of thumb-sucking, but the pacifier may cause some of the same long-term effects on your child’s oral health.

Ways Thumb-Sucking Can Affect Teeth Alignment

young child sucking thumb

Your child’s bite, or the way their teeth fit together, may be changed by thumb-sucking, and these changes may affect the future alignment of their permanent teeth. If your child is vigorously sucking their thumb, you might notice more changes in their bite than if your child just rests their finger or thumb in their mouth.

The most common way thumb-sucking affects teeth alignment is by pushing the upper teeth forward and the lower teeth backward, causing buck teeth. It can also create a gap between the upper and lower front teeth, known as an open bite.

In some cases, thumb-sucking can affect the growth and shaping of the palate and the jaw. Enthusiastic sucking can cause a crossbite, which happens when the upper jaw is too narrow to fit the lower jaw. This can affect the shape of your child’s face.

Another long-term effect is a habit known as tongue-thrusting. This happens when the child mimics the thumb-sucking motion while chewing, talking, or swallowing. The repeated tongue movement can distort the position of the teeth or even cause your child to develop a lisp.

It’s important to correct these potential problems while your child’s bones are still growing. If left unchecked, your child may need more serious orthodontic treatment as a teen or an adult.

Correcting the Consequences of Thumb-Sucking

young girl sucking thumb

You’ll discover several early treatment options to remedy the changes in your child’s mouth caused by their thumb-sucking habit.

1. Discourage Your Child from Sucking Their Thumb

If the behavior continues past the age of five or six, you’ll need to help your child overcome the habit.

As your child continues to attend school and interact with peers, they may learn that thumb-sucking is socially frowned upon and stop on their own. To help, you can offer your child encouragement when you see them not sucking their thumb during moments when they normally would be.

You could also try making a reward system as motivation, putting a bandage or a glove on your child’s hand, or buying an over-the-counter product designed to discourage thumb-sucking.

2. Consult a Professional Orthodontist for Early Treatment Options

What if you need some professional advice?

An orthodontist like Dr. Lewis can give you a consultation to find out how your child’s oral health is affected by their habit. In some cases, they might recommend a device known as a thumb-sucking guard to help motivate your child to stop sucking their thumb.

A thumb-sucking guard works by preventing your child from putting their thumb in their mouth and interrupting the pleasure they get from sucking their thumb. Thumb-sucking guards come in a variety of types:

  • Aversion Therapy Splint: The device fits around your child’s wrist and thumb. The portion surrounding the thumb is too large for the child to comfortably fit in their mouth and suck on.
  • Removable Plastic Tongue Shield: The tongue shield fits inside the mouth and keeps the tongue from reaching the palate, preventing your child from being able to get suction. The downside to this type of guard is your child may choose not to wear it.
  • Palatal Gate: Your orthodontist will attach the palatal gate to your child’s teeth. Your child can’t remove it on their own, so it may be more effective than the plastic shield.

3. Look into Long-Term Treatment Options with Your Orthodontist

What if your child already has an open bite, buck teeth, or a crossbite? You may need to consider additional treatment options after your child has stopped sucking their thumb.

Request a consultation with a qualified orthodontist who has specialized in dentofacial orthopedics. Since thumb-sucking can cause some bone deformities of the palate or lower jaw, they can recommend treatment while your child’s bones are still malleable and growing. These treatments can prevent more serious issues from affecting your child’s adult teeth.

Dr. Lewis can create a comprehensive oral treatment plan to help your child’s mouth transition from childhood to healthy adulthood.

Specialized Orthodontic Treatment Options for Thumb-Sucking Effects

young boy sucking thumb

How is Dr. Lewis different from other orthodontists?

While most orthodontists are concerned primarily with the position of the teeth, Dr. Lewis stresses the importance of healthy underlying bone structure. If your child’s jaw development has been affected by thumb-sucking, they may benefit from orthopedic treatments in addition to orthodontics.

Dr. Lewis has developed a specialized two-phase treatment designed to take care of both bone development and tooth alignment. The treatment begins in early childhood, monitoring the growth of your child’s jaw and palate, and helping overcome issues caused by thumb-sucking before it’s too late.

The first phase plays an important role in making sure your child’s mouth is ready to provide their permanent teeth with a healthy eruption pattern. Phase one may reduce the need for other harsh corrective measures during your child’s teen or adult years.

Schedule a Consultation with an Orthodontist

If you believe your child might be at risk for the long-term consequences of thumb sucking, please contact Lewis Orthodontics in Edmond, OK to learn more about early childhood orthodontics.

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