Sucking is a natural reflex for babies and small children – it provides comfort and soothing for them. But, persistent thumb or finger sucking, or use of a pacifier, can cause significant issues with tooth alignment and can even deform the jaw as it grows.
Common issues associated with persistent thumbsucking include:
- Protruding upper teeth
- Lower front teeth that lean in toward the tongue
- Open bite, where the front upper and lower teeth do not overlap
- Crossbite, causing the upper and lower teeth not to fit together properly
Thumbsucking, finger sucking or pacifier use that extends beyond the ages of four or five can begin to have serious lasting issues. Jaw formation will begin to be negatively affected, and you may even be able to see the front teeth starting to get out of line. It is also important to monitor the intensity of your child’s sucking – some children gently suck, which will not cause as much damage as a child who tends to suck much harder. Frequency of the habit also plays a role in damage that can be done. Some children only need to suck for a few minutes to fall asleep or calm themselves, while for others it is a much more consistent habit.
So, how can parents encourage their children to stop their thumbsucking habit before too much damage to the smile is done?
For infants who suck their thumbs, a pacifier may be able to replace the thumb. While a pacifier does not do less damage to the emerging smile, it is easier to remove a pacifier when it comes time to phase the habit out.
For older children, it helps to talk about the habit, and why the child should choose to stop. Offer encouraging words and rewards, and reminders if necessary. Some parents find it helpful to place a bandaid on the thumb the child sucks as a reminder. Punishment often does not work to help the child curb the habit.
We can also offer help, if needed. We can use a temporary retainer that fits over the teeth. For some children, this changes the sensation when they suck, helping the child to stop the habit. Other children may need something a bit more substantial. In this case, a guard or palatal crib can help. The crib is placed on the upper teeth and roof of the mouth, and won’t be visible to others. The crib prevents the thumb or finger from touching the gums behind the teeth and the roof of the mouth, making it impossible to suck.
If you believe your child could benefit from a crib appliance, the first step is to call our office. We will complete a thorough examination, including taking X-rays, photos and impressions, if needed. Then, if recommended, we will custom fabricate a crib to fit your child’s mouth. We will then monitor your child until the appliance is removed.
The crib is painless to wear, but there may be some initial discomfort after it is placed, but that will subside quickly. We advise avoiding chewing gum or eating hard and sticky foods while the appliance is in.
Dr. Reza Salmassian is a Board Certified Orthodontist. For any questions regarding this article or to schedule your complimentary orthodontic evaluation, please contact Dr. Salmassian’s office at 661-222-7444 or visit us at www.salmassianortho.com