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Posts for tag: thumb sucking

By Anderson Pediatric Dentistry
August 21, 2018
Category: Oral Health
EncourageYourChildtoStopThumbSuckingAroundAge3

One of the biggest concerns we hear from parents is about their child's thumb sucking habit. Our advice: if they're under age 4, there's no need for concern — yet. If they're older, though, you should be concerned about the possible effect on their bite.

Thumb sucking is a universal habit among infants and toddlers and is related to their swallowing pattern during feeding. As they swallow, their tongue thrusts forward to create a seal with the lips around the breast or a bottle nipple. Many pediatricians believe thumb sucking replicates nursing and so has a comforting effect on infants.

Around age 4, though, this swallowing pattern begins to change to accommodate solid food. The tongue now begins to rest at the back of the top front teeth during swallowing (try swallowing now and you'll see). For most children, their thumb sucking habit also fades during this time and eventually stops.

But for whatever reason, some children don't stop. As the habit persists, the tongue continues to thrust forward rather than toward the back of the top front teeth. Over time this can place undue pressure on both upper and lower front teeth and contribute to the development of an open bite, a slight gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut.

While late childhood thumb sucking isn't the only cause for an open bite (abnormal bone growth in one jaw is another), the habit is still a prominent factor. That's why it's important that you start encouraging your child to stop thumb sucking around age 3 and no later than 4. This is best accomplished with positive reinforcement like rewards or praise.

If they've continued the habit a few years after they should have stopped, we may also need to check to see if their swallowing mechanism has become stunted. If so, we may need to use certain exercises to retrain their tongue to take the proper position during swallowing.

While you shouldn't panic, it's important to take action to stop thumb sucking before it becomes a long-term problem. A positive, proactive approach will help avoid costly orthodontic problems later in their lives.

If you would like more information about thumb or finger 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.”

By Anderson Pediatric Dentistry
May 23, 2018
Category: Oral Health
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.”

Tips and Ideas to Stop Thumb Sucking

 

Thumb sucking develops in young children as a coping mechanism. Like a pacifier, children often suck on their thumbs as a way to self-soothe. While this natural habit can be useful during infancy and in the early toddler years, if it goes on too long, it can cause serious problems in your child’s dental development.

 

If thumb sucking continues long enough, it can even cause social problems if other kids begin to make fun of the child, anxiety if the child hasn’t developed other ways to self-soothe, and even sickness - just imagine all the germs on your child’s hand being placed directly in their mouth! Yuck.

 

Anderson Pediatric Dentistry wants to help you and your child break the habit of thumb sucking. We hope the information and tips below are useful for you and your family.

 

Why did my child start sucking his/her thumb?

 

Children find their thumb in the early months of infancy as they explore their body and surroundings. Many babies will experiment with sucking on their fingers and thumbs. Some even prefer their thumb over a pacifier. Like a pacifier, the thumb provides something to suck on, which is how babies naturally self-soothe. Often this soothing habit is used during stressful times, when tired, or during periods of separation from parents or caregivers.

 

Should I give my baby a pacifier to prevent thumb sucking?

 

While we know that people have strong feelings about pacifiers and many breast-feeding mothers will need to wait to introduce the pacifier until their nursing routine and milk supply is secure, we do advocate a pacifier over a thumb. Pacifiers do not put as much pressure on the roof the other child’s mouth and will not push the teeth out as easily. But the main reason for choosing pacifier over thumb is that it tends to be an easier habit to break. A pacifier can be “lost” or removed from the child’s daily environment. A thumb will always be available and there to tempt the child.

 

What age does my child need to stop thumb sucking?

 

While earlier is better, we recommend all children stop sucking their thumbs by the age of three, as this is when their teeth are in and the damage to their growth can really start to occur. Some children are very aggressive suckers, bruising the roof of their mouth or blistering their thumbs. For these children, a plan to eliminate the habit needs to be put in place much earlier.

 

How can I prevent my child from starting to thumb suck?

 

While exploring their hands, fingers and thumbs will be a natural part of infant growth and development; there are ways to prevent them from ever becoming full-blown thumb suckers.

 

1) Provide the baby with lots of opportunities to suck:
 

Babies use sucking as a means of attachment and a way to self-soothe. If an alternative means is not provided, they will find something to suck on - like their own thumb. If nursing, you can allow for non-nutritive nursing when baby needs to be comforted, or provide alternative ways for the baby to suck, such as your (clean) finger, a pacifier or collapsed bottle nipple.

 

2) Distraction

 

Keep your child’s thumbs busy or occupied. If you see your child’s hand heading towards his or her mouth, distract them with something that keeps their hands busy.

 

3) Talk to Your Child

 

If your child has reached the age where thumb sucking can harm their teeth (three years), than he/she is old enough to understand. Put your child in front of a mirror and explain how sucking on their thumb can harm their teeth, show pictures of the damage that thumb sucking can cause, and have your pediatric dentist also discuss the possible problems with your child. Sometimes hearing it from someone else will be more effective.

 

4) Always Be Positive

 

Do not berate your child for sucking his or her thumb, or resort to calling them a baby or other demeaning terms. Encourage your child and use positive reinforcement. Be sure to find opportunities to praise your child, such as when they handle a new or stressful situation without sucking their thumb.

 

5) Time Your Discussions and Offer Reminders

 

Do not allow thumb sucking to become a power struggle. You don’t want to create more stress for the child, which will make him/her want to soothe by thumb sucking even more. You also do not want it to hurt their self-esteem, cause shame or become a habit they try to do in secrecy. Speak to your child about it when he or she is calm and receptive to hearing what you have to say, not after an upsetting event.

 

6) Offer Physical Reminders

 

A tongue depressor taped over the thumb to act as a splint, a sock worn over the hand at night or even the bitter tasting liquid that can be painted on the thumb (popular brand name is Mavala), can all serve as physical reminders when the child tries to place thumb in his or her mouth.  A thumb guard (T-guard is a popular brand) is also available online and is very effective if used appropriately.  We recommend purchasing the thumb guard with the locking straps so the child cannot take the device off on their own.

 

7) Suggest a Competing Habit

 

For older children, encourage another activity that keeps their hand busy, such as fidget spinner or cube. If you have a nighttime thumb sucker, suggest the child sleep with his/her hand under the blanket or pillow. For younger children, offer a soothing blanket or animal for the child to pet or stroke to help soothe.

 

8) Provide a Prize

 

Whether you call it a bribe or a prize, they work. Offer your child some sort of prize to give him or her incentive to stop thumb sucking. Make it something to get excited about and remind them along the way.

 

9) Talk to Your Pediatric Dentist

 

If breaking the habit of thumb sucking seems impossible, we are always here to help. We can speak to your child and show them pictures and visuals. Sometimes, hearing it from their dentist seems a bit more serious to them. We can also discuss the option of using a thumb guard device if your child is having a hard time giving it up.

 

 

As always, Anderson pediatric Dentistry is always available to answer your questions and help your child achieve his/her best smile.

By Anderson Pediatric Dentistry
February 04, 2018
Category: Oral Health
EncourageYourChildtoStopThumbSuckingbyAge4

There's something universal about thumb sucking: nearly all babies do it, and nearly all parents worry about it. While most such worries are unfounded, you should be concerned if your child sucks their thumb past age of 4 — late thumb sucking could skew bite development.

Young children suck their thumb because of the way they swallow. Babies move their tongues forward into the space between the two jaws, allowing them to form a seal around a nipple as they breast or bottle feed. Around age 4, this “infantile swallowing pattern” changes to an adult pattern where the tip of the tongue contacts the front roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. At the same time their future bite is beginning to take shape.

In a normal bite the front teeth slightly overlap the bottom and leave no gap between the jaws when closed.  But if thumb sucking continues well into school age, the constant pushing of the tongue through the opening in the jaws could alter the front teeth's position as they erupt. As a result they may not fully erupt or erupt too far forward. This could create an open bite, with a gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are closed.

Of course, the best way to avoid this outcome is to encourage your child to stop thumb sucking before they turn four. If, however, they're already developing a poor bite (malocclusion), all is not lost — it can be treated.

It's important, though, not to wait: if you suspect a problem you should see an orthodontist for a full evaluation and accurate diagnosis. There are even some measures that could discourage thumb sucking and lessen the need for braces later. These include a tongue crib, a metal appliance placed behind the upper and lower incisors, or exercises to train the tongue and facial muscles to adopt an adult swallowing pattern. Often, a reward system for not sucking their thumbs helps achieve success as well.

Thumb-sucking shouldn't be a concern if you help your child stop before age 4 and keep an eye on their bite development. Doing those things will help ensure they'll have both healthy and straight teeth.

If you would like more information on 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.”