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Thumb Sucking – Part Two

Posted on by Dr. Axelrad

Thumb Sucking

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In this blog we will discuss the dental problems that arise due to thumb sucking and the different strategies to break the habit. It may be helpful to reread the last blog.

Consequences of prolonged thumb sucking

If thumb sucking goes beyond six to eight years of age, there may be an effect on the shape of the oral cavity and/or the teeth themselves…How does this occur?

a) High arched palate: The intense sucking causes the buccinator muscles (muscles of the cheek) to be overactive. This has a way of remodelling (changing) the shape of the palate.

b) Labially positioned maxillary incisors – the upper front teeth are pushed forward giving a bucked tooth appearance.

c) Lingually positioned mandibular incisors – the lower front teeth are tipped inwards.

Note: both b and c occur as a result of the thumb resting on the teeth during sucking.

There is also the risk of:

d) Infection from communicable diseases. Since the thumb that is sucked is not sterile, it is quite possible to transfer bacteria into the oral cavity.

e) Social implications. Kids who partake are most likely to be teased or picked on. They are seen as engaging in an immature habit. They may end up being rejected by their peers which can lead to psychological problems.

Strategies to help stop thumb sucking…if the child does not grow out of it.

1) Give praise and positive reinforcement to encourage them to not suck. However, don’t get angry with the child if they do.

2) Children often suck their thumb to comfort themselves when they experience anxiety. Try to help them deal with their anxiety if this is the case.

3) Concerning older children: If they cannot stop thumb sucking on their own, let them choose the way to end this habit.

4) Involve the dentist or the dental team. They can help by discussing the consequences of thumb sucking, ie: what can happen to their teeth. If they hear it from someone other than the parent, it may have more of an impact.

5) If thumb sucking is due to boredom or is a habit, try to engage the child in another ‘fun’ activity…distract them.

6) Children often look up to an older sibling. Try to involve them in breaking the habit…the younger child may very well listen to them.

7) Bandage the child’s thumb with a sock or glove if the above tips are not helpful.

8) Bitterants/piquants (spicy) on the thumb are not recommended, but still used at times

9) Orthodontics: Appliances with spikes may deter the habit, but only used as a last resort if numbers 1 – 6 are not effective. Thumb guards are 90 % effective. They break the habit by removing the ‘suction’ which is responsible for generating the feelings of comfort and nurture.

To conclude

What is normally an act that is done to comfort and soothe, thumb sucking can turn into a habit that can be damaging for the said child…

Psychologically, it may be hard to stop a habit that brings comfort and feelings of well-being. Physically, it may lead to both changes in the shape of the jaw bones and direction of the teeth themselves. However, like other habits, thumb sucking can successfully be managed…A proper strategy, such as the ones above, should be implemented.

Yours in dental health,

Dr. Robert Axelrad, Brampton Dentist

For any dental questions or concerns, please give us a call today @ 905.791.3867…you’ll be glad you did!

Based in Brampton, Ontario, Brampton Dentist Dr. Robert Axelrad has been practicing gentle and pain-free dentistry for over two decades. During this time, he has helped to improve the dental health of countless satisfied patients in Peel Region, Brampton and beyond!

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