Posts for tag: thumb sucking

By Dr. Dulat
February 01, 2022
Category: Oral Health
Tags: thumb sucking  
LateThumb-SuckingCouldCauseBiteProblems

Of the many concerns pediatric healthcare providers hear from parents, thumb-sucking is definitely on the short list. Such a worry isn't totally unwarranted—persistent thumb-sucking could influence poor bite formation.

But if you have an infant or toddler who can't seem to keep their thumb out of their mouth, there's no need to panic—yet. Thumb-sucking is a nearly universal habit among young children, but the vast majority won't suffer any long-term harm from it.

That being said, though, it can become a problem if the habit continues on into late childhood, especially as permanent teeth begin to come in. That's because of the habit's relationship with the transition that occurs in child's swallowing patterns.

Babies initially thrust their tongue forward as they swallow, which helps them maintain a seal on the breast or bottle. This causes the jaws to remain partially open and not completely shut together, what's known as an open bite. Later, when weaning off milk for solid food, the pattern will change as the child begins moving the tongue down and away as they swallow. This in turn allows the jaws to completely shut.

Thumb-sucking often coincides with the initial infant swallowing pattern, and it usually fades about the time the child is moving into the more adult pattern. Persistent thumb-sucking, however, interferes with that process, essentially extending the open bite longer than normal, which in turn creates the conditions for poor bite development. Thumb-sucking can also put undue upward pressure on the front teeth, which could disrupt their alignment.

If thumb-sucking causes these conditions to develop, a child could eventually need extensive orthodontic treatment later in childhood or adolescence to correct their bite problems. The better course, though, is to avoid this by encouraging your child to end their finger-sucking habit, preferably by the age of 3.

It was common in years past to coat a child's thumb with something spicy that although not harmful was definitely not pleasant to taste. Today, most care providers recommend a more positive approach like offering praise or rewards to a child when they avoid sucking their thumb.

It may take time, but persistence and patience can win out. And, the biggest winner in ending thumb-sucking will be the child's long-term oral health.

If you would like more information on the dental effects of 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.”

ActressEmmaStoneRevealsHowThumbSuckingAffectedHerTeeth

It's no secret that many of Hollywood's brightest stars didn't start out with perfectly aligned, pearly-white teeth. And these days, plenty of celebs are willing to share their stories, showing how dentists help those megawatt smiles shine. In a recent interview with W magazine, Emma Stone, the stunning 28-year-old star of critically-acclaimed films like La La Land and Birdman, explained how orthodontic appliances helped her overcome problems caused by a harmful habit: persistent thumb sucking in childhood.

“I sucked my thumb until I was 11 years old,” she admitted, mischievously adding “It's still so soothing to do it.” Although it may have been comforting, the habit spelled trouble for her bite. “The roof of my mouth is so high-pitched that I had this huge overbite,” she said. “I got this gate when I was in second grade… I had braces, and then they put a gate.”

While her technical terminology isn't quite accurate, Stone is referring to a type of appliance worn in the mouth which dentists call a “tongue crib” or “thumb/finger appliance.” The purpose of these devices is to stop children from engaging in “parafunctional habits” — that is, behaviors like thumb sucking or tongue thrusting, which are unrelated to the normal function of the mouth and can cause serious bite problems. (Other parafunctional habits include nail biting, pencil chewing and teeth grinding.)

When kids develop the habit of regularly pushing the tongue against the front teeth (tongue thrusting) or sucking on an object placed inside the mouth (thumb sucking), the behavior can cause the front teeth to be pushed out of alignment. When the top teeth move forward, the condition is commonly referred to as an overbite. In some cases a more serious situation called an “open bite” may develop, which can be difficult to correct. Here, the top and bottom front teeth do not meet or overlap when the mouth is closed; instead, a vertical gap is left in between.

Orthodontic appliances are often recommended to stop harmful oral habits from causing further misalignment. Most appliances are designed with a block (or gate) that prevents the tongue or finger from pushing on the teeth; this is what the actress mentioned. Normally, when the appliance is worn for a period of months it can be expected to modify the child's behavior. Once the habit has been broken, other appliances like traditional braces or clear aligners can be used to bring the teeth into better alignment.

But in Stone's case, things didn't go so smoothly. “I'd take the gate down and suck my thumb underneath the mouth appliance,” she admitted, “because I was totally ignoring the rule to not suck your thumb while you're trying to straighten out your teeth.” That rule-breaking ended up costing the aspiring star lots of time: she spent a total of 7 years wearing braces.

Fortunately, things worked out for the best for Emma Stone: She now has a brilliant smile and a stellar career — plus a shiny new Golden Globe award! Does your child have a thumb sucking problem or another harmful oral habit? For more information about how to correct it, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can learn more in the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”