Thumb sucking is a natural reflex seen in babies and young children. While it can be comforting, prolonged thumb sucking can have long-term negative dental health effects. If a child continues to suck their thumb past the age of 4 or 5, it can cause an irregular positioning of the teeth, also known as malocclusion. Learn everything you need to know about dental malocclusion and the methods you can use to help your child break the thumb-sucking habit.
Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs?
Thumb sucking is a calming, self-soothing action that children often resort to when they feel anxious or bored. While it can be difficult to break the habit, it’s important for parents and caregivers to support their children in finding alternative methods of comfort.
When Should Parents Be Concerned About Thumb Sucking?
If a child over the age of 4 or 5 is still sucking their thumb regularly, it’s important to discuss this with their pediatrician and dentist. Prolonged thumb sucking can lead to dental malocclusion, which may require corrective action to ensure that the teeth grow properly aligned.
What Is Dental Malocclusion?
Dental malocclusion is a misalignment of the teeth that can cause difficulty when chewing or biting. Thumb sucking can often cause it, but it can also be hereditary. If caught early, dentists can usually correct it with braces or other forms of orthodontic treatment.
Types of Dental Malocclusion Caused by Thumb Sucking
Thumb sucking can cause a number of different types of dental malocclusion. Examples include an open bite, an overjet, and a crossbite. An open bite is where the upper and lower teeth don’t meet when biting. An overjet happens when the upper teeth are farther forward than they should be. Finally, crossbite is when the top or bottom teeth overlap the other.
It’s important to note that thumb sucking can have a broad range of effects on dental development. If you notice any signs of malocclusion, it’s best to seek professional advice to protect your child’s dental health and well-being.
What Are the Consequences of Dental Malocclusion?
Dental malocclusion can have a range of negative effects on health and well-being. These include speech impediments, difficulty chewing, facial asymmetry, and pain in the jaw or teeth. In extreme cases, malocclusion may even cause chronic headaches or sleep disorders.
Fortunately, a qualified pediatric orthodontist can correct most types of childhood dental malocclusion. Early intervention and treatment are essential for preventing further complications down the line.
What Are the Signs of Developing Dental Malocclusion?
Common signs of developing malocclusion include irregularly shaped teeth, gaps between the teeth, and difficulty when biting or chewing. If you notice any of these signs in your child, it’s important to bring them to their pediatrician or dentist for an evaluation.
Thumb Sucking’s Impact on the Roof of the Mouth
While dental malocclusion is the most common problem associated with thumb sucking, there are other issues that can arise as well. Extended periods of thumb sucking can lead to changes in the shape and position of the roof of the mouth.
This includes a narrowing of the soft palate, which brings the sides of the mouth closer together and may cause the upper and lower teeth to become misaligned. This means that when the child chews or closes their mouth, the teeth won’t meet properly. This can cause discomfort, speech impediments, and even sleep apnea. If parents and caregivers notice that their child is having difficulty with articulation or pronunciation, is breathing exclusively through their mouth, or snoring and waking up during sleep, an evaluation by a pediatrician or speech therapist may be necessary.
How To Treat Dental Malocclusion
Dental malocclusion treatment will depend on the individual. In some cases, an orthodontist may prescribe devices, such as braces or retainers, to reposition the teeth and correct bite problems.
If the cause of the misalignment is thumb-sucking related, your dentist or pediatrician may recommend a habit-breaking device, such as the T-Guard AeroThumb. Additionally, your dentist or orthodontist may recommend taking your child to a pediatric therapist to address the underlying stresses that may be triggering the thumb-sucking habit.
How Can Parents Break Their Child’s Thumb-Sucking Habit?
Breaking the thumb-sucking habit can be difficult, but it’s possible. The key is to focus on positive reinforcement and find other forms of comfort or distraction. This may include providing them with a stuffed animal or blanket for comfort or helping them find fun activities to reduce the need for thumb sucking.
Other Negative Consequences of Thumb Sucking
The consequences of thumb sucking go beyond dental deformations. Thumb sucking can also lead to blisters on the thumb or lips, rashes, or skin irritations. Additionally, if a child sucks their thumb for extended periods, it can cause irritation and pain in the jaw muscles due to the constant pressure.
Thumb sucking can cause painful blisters that open the risk of infection. Never pop a blister, and don’t use bandages for young children—these are choking hazards. Wash the blister and allow it to air dry thoroughly. Try to keep your child from sucking the thumb with the blister by providing other means of comfort for boredom or anxiety.
Hyperkeratosis is a condition where the skin on the thumb or finger becomes thick and hard due to constant pressure and friction from sucking. It can lead to significant discomfort and difficulty in performing everyday tasks, such as writing or buttoning shirts.
Finally, putting the thumb in the mouth can expose a child to infections. This is especially true if the child already has skin irritation or blistering. It’s important to ensure that you keep your child’s hands and nails as clean as possible to minimize the risk of infection.
Thumb sucking is a natural reflex that can be comforting for babies and young children. However, there are potential long-term effects on dental health, such as malocclusion. If your child continues to suck their thumb after the age of 4 or 5, it’s best to seek professional advice to ensure that they receive the treatment they need.
Parents need to know about thumb sucking and dental malocclusion. They don’t have to wait to address thumb sucking until the child is school-aged. Act now with effective treatments like the T-Guard AeroThumb. The AeroThumb takes away the pleasurable sensation of thumb-sucking, reducing a child’s motivation to engage in the habit. After a month or so of wearing an AeroThumb device, the child will no longer feel the need to suck their thumb.