Damage Caused by Thumb Sucking

By David Hutto

The word “occlusion” is used to describe the way the upper and lower teeth fit together. The best fit is when the upper teeth slightly fit over the front of the lower teeth, with molars (the rear teeth) fitting together in a kind of grooved way. “Malocclusion” refers to a situation in which the upper and lower teeth come together incorrectly.

Malocclusion is divided into several types, but the most common from thumb sucking is when the upper teeth project forward, as though they are moving toward sticking straight out, a condition called “overjet” (different from “overbite,” which is the normal fit when not excessive)

There are various reasons why a person may have malocclusion of the teeth, including injury or birth defects. The teeth can also be subject to displacement from any kind of prolonged pressure, even from nursing bottles (Robke 2008). One of the possible causes of malocclusion comes from children applying pressure to the teeth and mouth from prolonging sucking on the thumb or fingers.

Quite a few potential problems may arise from malocclusion.

  • Tooth decay: risk of tooth decay may increase, in part because properly aligned teeth are easier to keep clean.
  • Periodontal disease: malocclusion may create an increased risk of periodontal disease from gingivitis (an inflammation or infection of the gums) or periodontitis (inflammation or infection that has spread to ligaments or bone, with possible loss of teeth).
  • TMJ problems: excess pressure on the tempromandibular joint (often referred to as TMJ) can lead to biting or chewing problems, pain in the jaw, headache or earache, or difficulty with opening and closing the mouth.
  • Facial distortion: the shape of the face can be distorted with malocclusion, which may even require surgery to correct (Guzel 2000).
  • Chewing or speech problems.
  • Social problems: embarrassment due to extremely crooked teeth can be a serious problem for some people.

Treatment for malocclusion depends on the type of secondary problems that are associated with it. The most common treatments involve braces, which are expensive and inconvenient. More extreme cases may even require surgery.

Preferable to treating problems afterward is to prevent them from happening. When malocclusion is caused by thumb sucking, the problem is entirely preventable. With the use of TGuard, the thumb sucking habit can be broken, preventing malocclusion and saving your child from later problems.

References:                                                                                            

Guzel, M.Z. (2000). One-stage approach to the correction of facial skeletal deformity with malocclusion. Journal of Craniofacial Surgery, 11(2), 128-36.

Malocclusion and Orthodontics: What Happens. WebMD. http://www.webmd.com/oral-health/tc/malocclusion-and-orthodontics-what-happens

Malocclusion of teeth. Medline Plus. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001058.htm

Robke, F.J. (2008). Effects of nursing bottle misuse on oral health. Prevalence of caries, tooth malalignments and malocclusions in North-German preschool children. Journal of Orofacial Orthopedics [Fortschritte der Kieferorthopädie], 69(1), 5-19. doi: 10.1007/s00056-008-0724-7.  [Article in English, German]