Posts for tag: thumb sucking

By Beltsville Dental Care
September 08, 2016
Category: Oral Health
EncourageYourChildtoStopThumbSuckingbyAge4

There's something universal about thumb sucking: nearly all babies do it, and nearly all parents worry about it. While most such worries are unfounded, you should be concerned if your child sucks their thumb past age of 4 — late thumb sucking could skew bite development.

Young children suck their thumb because of the way they swallow. Babies move their tongues forward into the space between the two jaws, allowing them to form a seal around a nipple as they breast or bottle feed. Around age 4, this “infantile swallowing pattern” changes to an adult pattern where the tip of the tongue contacts the front roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. At the same time their future bite is beginning to take shape.

In a normal bite the front teeth slightly overlap the bottom and leave no gap between the jaws when closed.  But if thumb sucking continues well into school age, the constant pushing of the tongue through the opening in the jaws could alter the front teeth's position as they erupt. As a result they may not fully erupt or erupt too far forward. This could create an open bite, with a gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are closed.

Of course, the best way to avoid this outcome is to encourage your child to stop thumb sucking before they turn four. If, however, they're already developing a poor bite (malocclusion), all is not lost — it can be treated.

It's important, though, not to wait: if you suspect a problem you should see an orthodontist for a full evaluation and accurate diagnosis. There are even some measures that could discourage thumb sucking and lessen the need for braces later. These include a tongue crib, a metal appliance placed behind the upper and lower incisors, or exercises to train the tongue and facial muscles to adopt an adult swallowing pattern. Often, a reward system for not sucking their thumbs helps achieve success as well.

Thumb-sucking shouldn't be a concern if you help your child stop before age 4 and keep an eye on their bite development. Doing those things will help ensure they'll have both healthy and straight teeth.

If you would like more information on thumb sucking, 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.”

KnowWhattodotoEaseYourChildOutoftheThumbSuckingHabit

Thumb or finger sucking is a normal activity for babies and young children — they begin the habit while still in the womb and may continue it well into the toddler stage. Problems with tooth development and alignment could arise, however, if the habit persists for too long.

It’s a good idea, then, to monitor your child’s sucking habits during their early development years. There are also a few things you can do to wean them off the habit before it can cause problems down the road.

  • Eliminate your child’s use of pacifiers by eighteen months of age. Studies have shown that the sucking action generated through pacifiers could adversely affect a child’s bite if they are used after the age of 2. Weaning your child off pacifiers by the time they are a year and a half old will reduce the likelihood of that occurring.
  • Encourage your child to stop thumb or finger sucking by age 3. Most children tend to stop thumb or finger sucking on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. As with pacifiers, if this habit continues into later childhood it could cause the upper front teeth to erupt out of position and tip toward the lip. The upper jaw also may not develop normally.
  • Replace your child’s baby bottle with a training cup around one year of age. Our swallowing mechanism changes as we grow; introducing your child to a training cup at around a year old will encourage them to transition from “sucking” to “sipping,” and make it easier to end the thumb or finger sucking habit.
  • Begin regular dental visits for your child by their first birthday. The Age One visit will help you establish a regular habit of long-term dental care. It’s also a great opportunity to evaluate your child’s sucking habits and receive helpful advice on reducing it in time.

While your child’s thumb or finger sucking isn’t something to panic over, it does bear watching. Following these guidelines will help your child leave the habit behind before it causes any problems.

If you would like more information on children’s thumb-sucking and its effect on dental development, 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 “Thumb Sucking in Children.”