Thumb or Finger sucking and your teeth

Thumb or finger sucking is really common in young children, British Orthodontic Society figures show that as many as 1 in 8 children have a persistent, prolonged sucking habit. It is not unusual. There are a few reasons why children like to suck their thumb or finger. It is often comforting to a child and provides security for them. Sometimes it is a habit they have developed watching older/younger siblings and friends. The important thing is that this habit is broken before orthodontic treatment commences and ideally before their adult teeth appear.

Effects of thumb/finger sucking on your teeth

Not every child who sucks their thumb/finger will develop a problem with their teeth. If the habit can be stopped before their adult teeth appear, then chances are there will be little to correct. However if the habit persists when adult teeth are present, then the following side effects may occur:

1) A vertical gap may appear (anterior open bite) – this is a large gap between the upper and lower teeth – this may cause problems biting certain foods.
2) Upper front teeth may be pushed out and lower teeth may be pushed back, causing teeth to look very prominent and stick out
3) Upper jaw may narrow causing the back teeth not to meet in the correct position – this is called cross bite.

It is not considered appropriate to begin orthodontic treatment when a thumb/finger sucking habit is still occurring.

What can I do to help stop the habit?

First of all, the child must want to stop the habit as it will be very hard without their cooperation. Simple measures such as:

1) rewards charts, offering rewards when a certain number of hours or days have been free of thumb/finger sucking
2) painting ‘stop n grow’ on your child’s thumb/finger which tastes bitter and discourages sucking.
3) often children suck thumbs/fingers when they are tired or asleep – putting a sock over their hand whilst they sleep may stop the habit
4) some parents have put a plaster or bandage around the thumb/finger so it doesn’t feel the same or nice to suck
5) in stubborn cases – dentists can intervene and fit a thumb or finger guard or even a thumb dissuader, but generally they prefer not to.

For any advice or guidance, please call us at North Devon Orthodontic Centre on 01271 343688

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