Babies are known to seek comfort from sucking their thumb. Even in the womb, babies have been discovered through ultrasound also to suck their thumbs. Although this habit is perfectly natural in infants and toddlers, it gets to a point where it becomes awkward and potentially detrimental to oral health to continue in this practice.
At around age 2-4, most children give up the tongue sucking habit. Continuing in this habit after the eruption of permanent teeth is dangerous. It could lead to significant misalignment of the teeth and cause the shape of the jaw to change. Various reasons exist as to why a seemingly harmless habit could cause such damage.
The jaws of children under eight years are highly vascularized and developing, and also they are flexible. When the thumb continually exerts pressure on these relatively soft and supple bones, it could lead to the deformation of the lower and upper front teeth. The deformation could be higher in children who vigorously suck their thumb.
Persistent sucking of the thumb will cause the lower front teeth to move inwards and the upper front teeth to push outwards. It can also cause the upper jaw to push forward while impairing the growth of the lower jaw. All this could lead to several problems such as teeth misalignment, open bite, crossbite, among others. Therefore, the habit must be stopped at the appropriate time.
Managing Thumb Sucking
Harmful habits, such as thumb sucking, are challenging to break. Parents have adopted several strategies in trying to make their children drop the habit. They have tried things like rubbing bitter substances on their thumb, wearing gloves on their hands and sometimes talking to them about it. Although these strategies are successful sometimes, in most cases, the urge to suck the thumb seems irresistible.
If after three years of age, you are unable to stop your child from dropping the thumb sucking habit, then it is best to consult a dental professional. There are habit devices such as fixed palatal crib which will help curb the practice. The palatal crib is worn inside the mouth.
A palatal crib consists of semicircular wires. These wires prevent the thumb from touching the gum at the back of the front teeth. The pleasure in thumb sucking seems to go away with the prevention of the thumb from reaching the back of the front teeth. Eventually, the child drops the habit as they no longer derive pleasure from it.
Getting and Using a Habit Appliance
The first step in getting your child a habit device involves a thorough investigation of the child. Images, X-rays, and dental impression of their mouth is taken. With this information, custom made palatal crib is made and then placed at a later appointment. The device usually is used for months, under regular monitoring.
Wearing the crib does not cause any pain. But the upper back teeth could become sore for a few hours after first installing it. It could also make it a little bit difficult to fall asleep for a day or two. During the period the device is worn, keep away from anything that can cause the device to become loose. The child needs extra attention and care during this period.
Tongue thrusting is also very common in young children. In infants, it is part of the way they swallow. Like thumb sucking, tongue thrusting is a perfectly natural habit which goes away on its own. If by age six, the practice continues, it could lead to similar problems as those caused by thumb sucking. A fixed palatal crib can also help control this habit.