Invisalign Carson CA

How Can Orthodontia Help Treat Thumb Sucking?

If your child doesn't seem to be able to give up sucking his or her thumb, you've probably found yourself wondering what the habit can do to his or her teeth. It's certainly a hard habit to break, but there are solutions to help you and your child without fear of long-term repercussions. Orthodontics of Carson is here to help today!

How Long Does Normal Thumb Sucking Last?

Thumb sucking is a completely normal habit for babies and toddlers. The action is a self-soothing act that can help your child calm him or herself down in times of stress, anxiety, boredom, or fear. The act resembles breastfeeding or bottle-feeding through the suction and rhythm, which is why so many young children do it.

The urge to suck the thumb consistently should begin to subside at the age of six months. It's fairly normal for kids to continue doing so every so often, especially in high-stress situations, but it should be only that: every so often.

What's the Real Concern with Thumb Sucking?

Obviously, thumb sucking isn't an attractive habit in older children, but you may be wondering if there are any permanent consequences. The unfortunate answer is that there are. Thumb sucking can affect the formation and alignment of teeth and may result in painful misalignments, severe overbites, or difficult chewing or speaking if left unchecked.

By the time your child is four or five years of age, thumb sucking will affect the permanent teeth that are coming in. The act of thumb sucking creates pressure and suction in the mouth that pull the teeth forward, resulting in what's known as an "open bite."

This open bite prevents the top teeth and bottom teeth from connecting properly, even when the mouth is closed, making it difficult for the child to speak or eat. It can also create lisps and the inability to pronounce certain consonants like ts and ds. Again, if left unchecked, this can become permanent for your child.

Not all thumb sucking looks the same. Some kids passively rest their thumbs or fingers in their mouths while others suck aggressively, creating that intense suction. The latter is the more problematic of the two, though both types should break the habit to prevent damage.

Excessive thumb sucking also makes children prone to middle-ear infections more often and can cause the thumbnail to warp and become ingrown or peel. Kids who suck their thumbs once they've begun participating in groups like schools, clubs, or teams, may also be teased by their peers for the behavior, which can harm your child's confidence and emotional development.

What Can Be Done at Home to Stop the Thumb Sucking Habit?

In many cases, you can help your child stop the thumb sucking habit without the assistance of Orthodontics of Carson. A positive approach has been shown by more experts to bring about happy results like confidence and the breaking of the habit, so we recommend this approach.

There are gentle ways you can explain to your child that the habit isn't good for them, though you should be careful to not become critical in these discussions.

To help your child, there are small things you can try.

Helping With Anxiety

As you've observed your child's thumb sucking habits, you may have noticed that he or she primarily engages in this while feeling anxious, tired, hungry, or some similar emotion. If this is the case, help your child learn to communicate these needs simply and work to resolve the particular situation rather than focusing on the finger sucking habit.

Use a Bad Tasting Substance On Their Fingernails

Some kids need that extra motivation to avoid the habit through physical assists. One of the most effective can be using a bad tasting, nontoxic substance on the fingernails. Some people use Mavala, which is a nail biting deterrent that tastes bitter and is harmless.

Watch Patterns of Behavior

If you haven't already noted the patterns your child has for thumb sucking, you may wish to start paying attention and marking down the times and situations in which your child starts sucking his or her thumb. The activity might happen anywhere, like riding in the car, while watching television, while holding security items like a blanket or stuffed animal, or other situations that frequently occur.

Again, instead of focusing on the thumb sucking behavior, provide distractions and other activities for the hands during these patterned times.

Keep a Progress Chart

If your child responds well to rewards, you can start a progress chart. Each time he or she goes for a day without sucking his or her thumb, a sticker - placed by your child - goes on the chart, marking successes along the way.

As you maintain the chart, remind your child that at the end of a certain time period - or after a certain number of stars in a row - he or she will receive a prize from a list you create together. Start off with a week rather than larger chunks of time like a month to help keep your child motivated.

Wrap Their Thumb in a Bandage

Similar to using Malvana, wrapping your child's thumb in a bandage can help curb the urge. If sleeping time is the primary time when thumb sucking occurs, you can use oversized long sleeve shirts, socks on the hands, or other safe, soft materials to cover the hand to prevent unconscious thumb sucking.

If you choose this option, make sure your child knows this is not a punishment, but rather a tool to help avoid the activity.

Can Orthodontics Help If I Can't?

If your child's thumb sucking habit is too difficult for you to break without assistance - which is often the case - your orthodontist can help with a number of different dental appliances and methods.

Hawley Retainer Thumb Appliance

A simple removable, nighttime habit retainer may be the solution for your child. The Hawley retainer thumb appliance is similar to the commonly used Hawley retainer patients use after wearing braces. The difference is the retainer has added semicircular wires to discourage thumb sucking. The feeling of the plastic appliance in the mouth often changes the feeling of thumb sucking enough to stop the habit.

Thumb Crib

If your child is a more intense thumb sucker, a fixed appliance may be necessary. A palatal thumb crib is a small metal appliance that fits into the mouth and attaches to the upper molars. The wires prevent the thumb from making contact with the gums behind the front teeth and reduces the satisfaction from thumb sucking. Eventually, this helps stop the habit altogether.

Bluegrass Appliance

If the palatable thumb crib isn't enough to stop the thumb sucking habit for your child, an alternative appliance, called a bluegrass appliance, may be effective. This appliance uses a spinning roller to help break the habit.

Rake Appliance

The rake appliance is similar to the Bluegrass appliance, only it extends in such a way that it awkwardly but harmlessly pokes the thumb and prevents it from resting in the mouth. The discomfort is enough to keep the thumb out of the mouth and prevent the habit from continuing.

If your child is having difficulty curbing the thumb sucking habit, call Orthodontics of Carson for help at (424) 391-8941.