Children's Dental Habits

Thumb Sucking

From birth, children have an natural born instinct to suck in order to get nourishment. This sucking feeling, or suction, becomes associated over time with warmth and comfort, and by itself, provides pleasure. If this habit become prolonged, there maybe some risk associated with it.

Overview of some of the risks associated with prolonged thumb sucking and pacifier use:
Dental complications may include jaw misalignment, tooth decay, roof narrowing, mouth sores and teeth protrusion. Bullying and teasing due to thumb sucking can be the source of serious social trauma. Frequent illness and delays in social development might be other complications.

Thumbsucking can cause protrusion of upper teeth, preventing the lower jaw from coming forward.

How can I encourage my child to stop thumb or pacifier sucking?

In this photo you can see jaw narrowing, open bite, and teeth protruding forward as the result of thumb sucking habit.

In most cases, children naturally relinquish the pacifier or thumb over time. As children grow, they develop new ways to self-soothe, relax, and entertain themselves. When thumb sucking or pacifier use persists past the age of five, a gentle intervention may be required.

Here are some helpful suggestions to help encourage the child to cease thumb sucking or pacifier use:

  • Ask the pediatric dentist to speak with the child about stopping. Often, the message is heard more clearly when delivered by a health professional.

  • Buy an ADA recommended specialized dental appliance to make it difficult for the child to engage in sucking behaviors.

  • Implement a reward system (not a punishment), whereby the child can earn tokens or points towards a desirable reward for not thumb sucking or using a pacifier.

  • Wrap thumbs in soft cloths or mittens at nighttime.

If the above suggestions do not seem to be working, Dr Zahedi is able to provide more guidance. Remember: the breaking of a habit takes time, patience, and plenty of encouragement!

Prefabricated Thumb Guard

This can be the next gentle step toward breaking this habit.

The advantages are ventilation of the device and the fact that it is comfortable, fun, and secure.

Thumb Sucking Appliances

The majority of children naturally outgrow their thumb-sucking habit. However, children who continue to thumb suck after the age of five or six (especially vigorously) risk oral complications. These complications include: narrowed arches, impacted teeth, and misaligned teeth. The “palatal crib” appliance usually stops thumb sucking immediately.

The “crib” is crafted and affixed to the teeth by the pediatric dentist, almost like a barely visible set of dental braces. Preventing the thumb from reaching the roof of the mouth reduces gratification – and breaks the habit very quickly. Removable variations of the “crib” are also available, and can be used depending on the age of the child and his or her willingness to cooperate.