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Posts for tag: thumb sucking

By Gregory J. Gauthier DDS, LLC
February 05, 2014
Category: Oral Health
ThumbSuckingandyourChildsBite

You've probably heard that thumb sucking can be harmful to your child's mouth, but do you know why?

Keep in mind that thumb sucking is completely normal in children up to a certain age. In fact, 95% of babies suck their thumb! This is because it provides them with a sense of security and a way to test and learn about their new world. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that parents and caregivers encourage children to cease this habit by age three.

Many children stop sucking thumbs by themselves between the ages of two and four. However, if you are having issues getting your child to stop after this point, you should inform us at your next appointment. Thumb sucking can actually block your child's front teeth from fully erupting and can also push the teeth forward. The number of hours per day and how much pressure your child applies will affect how far out of position the teeth end up. Excessive thumb sucking can also cause your child's jaw to develop incorrectly. This is why it is so important to stop sucking habits before permanent teeth start to erupt.

There are many creative ways that you can help your child cut back and eventually stop sucking his or her thumb. You might try to implement some behavioral management techniques, such as offering rewards after your child goes a length of time without thumb sucking. If your child is old enough to understand consequences, you can simply try explaining what will happen if he or she keeps up with this habit. If you continue to have trouble, speak with us at your next appointment and we can discuss other options, such as a mouth appliance that blocks this habit.

If you would like more information about thumb sucking, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”

By Gregory J. Gauthier DDS, LLC
September 09, 2013
Category: Oral Health
TestYourKnowledgeAboutThumbSuckinginChildren

Are the following statements true or false?

Thumb sucking in children may cause problems with their teeth later on.

A: TRUE

Prolonged thumb sucking may be responsible for many problems with the bite. The constant pressure of the thumb itself can create a gap between the top and bottom teeth in front, a condition called an “open bite.” It also reinforces the habit of using the “tongue thrust” motion in swallowing, where the tongue is positioned between top and bottom teeth. This habit may also block full eruption of the front teeth.

Infants and young children swallow exactly the same way that adults do.

A: FALSE

When they swallow, young children use what is called the “infantile swallowing pattern.” In this method, which begins before their teeth have erupted, the tongue is thrust forward in the mouth, sealing and supporting the lips. In adult swallowing, the tongue touches the roof of the mouth, behind the front teeth. The transition from the infantile method usually happens naturally, by around age 4.

Most open bites result from the habit of positioning the tongue too far forward.

A: TRUE

Failure to transition between the infantile and adult swallowing pattern is believed to be the cause of most open bites. The tongue's position alone may prevent the front teeth from fully developing. Allowing the thumb to rest between the teeth has the same effect — and it can also push the front teeth forward. Other causes of an open bite are skeletal or jaw-related problems.

It is harder to cure open bites caused by thumb sucking or bad tongue position than those from other causes.

A: FALSE

Open bites that are caused by skeletal factors (patterns of bone growth, etc) are often difficult to resolve. Those caused by dental factors (tongue position, tooth eruption, etc) are generally easier to fix. However, the pressure exerted by the thumb over a long period of time can influence bone growth in the jaw.

There is a dental appliance that can help discourage thumb sucking.

A: TRUE

A thin metal “tongue crib” placed behind upper and lower incisors discourages the thumb-sucking habit. It also helps to “re-train” the tongue, keeping it from going between upper and lower teeth. To successfully treat an open bite caused by dental factors, and to prevent its reoccurrence, it is essential to eliminate the unhelpful habits of both the thumb and the tongue.

If you would like more information about thumb sucking or open-bite problems in children, 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.”

By Gregory J. Gauthier DDS, LLC
April 27, 2013
Category: Oral Health
ThumbSuckingHarmlessHabitorPotentialProblem

For many parents, the image of an infant intently absorbed in sucking a pacifier — or her own thumb — is one of the cherished memories of babyhood. But if this habit goes on for too long, it can cause problems with the child's bite. Want to know what the potential predicaments are, when you should be concerned about the behavior, and what you can do? Read on!

Thumb sucking is a natural, comforting behavior of humans (and some other primates) related to nursing. It usually goes away on its own by the time the permanent teeth are coming in. But it can be a hard habit to break — and if it becomes a persistent behavior, the consequences may include a problem called an “open bite.”

In a normal bite, the top teeth slightly overlap the bottom teeth. When the thumb (or any other object) constantly rests between the upper and lower teeth, however, the pressure it exerts may prevent the teeth from fully erupting (coming out from the gums into the mouth) and alter the shape and development of the upper and lower jawbone. This result is a gap between the upper and lower teeth.

The same problem may also be caused by prolonging the “infantile swallowing pattern,” a forward-thrusting position of the tongue which, like thumb sucking, normally begins to cease around age four. That's when it is replaced by the adult swallowing pattern, where the tongue is held behind the teeth, against the roof on the mouth. Researchers believe that most open bites result from the failure to change from the infantile to the adult swallowing pattern.

When should you be concerned about the thumb sucking habit? If the behavior continues much past toddlerhood, or if the sucking is particularly active, you may wish to have us evaluate your child's bite. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends having the habit stop by age 3. Persistent thumb sucking can actually push the teeth forward and change the growth patterns of the jaw, creating more difficult problems.

There are several methods for controlling the behavior and correcting problems with the bite. One is an appliance called a “tongue crib.” This thin metal device is placed behind the upper and lower incisors. It discourages thumb sucking, while at the same time helping to keep the tongue from inserting itself between the upper and lower teeth. Eliminating these unhelpful habits is essential to allow the teeth to erupt into proper position and to allow for the normal development of the jawbones.

Recent research has also shown that individualized exercise routines called orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT) can be highly effective in preventing open bite relapses. These exercises are designed to retrain muscles in the face, tongue and lips, and can help to create good chewing and swallowing patterns.

If you would like more information about thumb sucking or children's bite problems, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about these issues by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects The Bite.”