My Blog

Posts for tag: thumb sucking

By Gregory S. Herzler, DDS
March 24, 2017
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 Gregory S. Herzler, DDS
September 29, 2014
Category: Oral Health
TreatingThumbSuckingNowCouldReduceOrthodonticTreatmentLater

One of the most common parental concerns is the habit of many children, even late into childhood, to suck their thumbs or fingers. Many parents have asked us, “Could this affect their teeth?”

The answer, unfortunately, is yes — thumb sucking can contribute to a malocclusion (bad bite) that could eventually require orthodontic treatment. Before making any assumptions, however, we need to understand the bigger picture.

To begin with, infants have a different swallowing mechanism than adults and older children. When you as an adult swallow, you'll notice the tip of your tongue positions itself just above the back of the top front teeth. An infant, however, will thrust their tongue between their upper and lower jaw as they swallow (also known as an infantile swallowing pattern or primary tongue thrust). The infant normally begins changing to an adult swallowing pattern when their primary (baby) teeth begin to erupt.

However, if a child's swallowing transition is slower than normal and the tongue rests between the jaws for a longer duration, it can inhibit the full eruption of teeth, believed to be the main cause of an open bite (a gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut). The thumb during sucking resting between the teeth can have the same effect.

Thumb sucking may not necessarily lead to a malocclusion — for example, an abnormally developing jawbone could be the culprit. If prolonged thumb sucking does become a concern, however, there are steps we can take to reduce the impact of the habit. We can install a thin metal “tongue crib” behind the upper and lower incisors that will not only discourage thumb sucking, but also help retrain the tongue not to rest between the upper and lower teeth. There are also exercise routines known as orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT) that can retrain specific muscles in the mouth to encourage more normal chewing and swallowing patterns.

These steps may not prevent future orthodontic treatment, but they could reduce its extent. The key is regular dental checkups and consultation to ensure your child's teeth and bite are developing normally.

If you would like more information on the effects of chronic thumb sucking on the mouth, 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 Greg Herzler, DDS
July 19, 2013
Category: Oral Health
ThumbSuckingHarmlessHabitorPotentialProblem

For many parents, the image of an infant intently absorbed in sucking a pacifier — or her own thumb — is one of the cherished memories of babyhood. But if this habit goes on for too long, it can cause problems with the child's bite. Want to know what the potential predicaments are, when you should be concerned about the behavior, and what you can do? Read on!

Thumb sucking is a natural, comforting behavior of humans (and some other primates) related to nursing. It usually goes away on its own by the time the permanent teeth are coming in. But it can be a hard habit to break — and if it becomes a persistent behavior, the consequences may include a problem called an “open bite.”

In a normal bite, the top teeth slightly overlap the bottom teeth. When the thumb (or any other object) constantly rests between the upper and lower teeth, however, the pressure it exerts may prevent the teeth from fully erupting (coming out from the gums into the mouth) and alter the shape and development of the upper and lower jawbone. This result is a gap between the upper and lower teeth.

The same problem may also be caused by prolonging the “infantile swallowing pattern,” a forward-thrusting position of the tongue which, like thumb sucking, normally begins to cease around age four. That's when it is replaced by the adult swallowing pattern, where the tongue is held behind the teeth, against the roof on the mouth. Researchers believe that most open bites result from the failure to change from the infantile to the adult swallowing pattern.

When should you be concerned about the thumb sucking habit? If the behavior continues much past toddlerhood, or if the sucking is particularly active, you may wish to have us evaluate your child's bite. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends having the habit stop by age 3. Persistent thumb sucking can actually push the teeth forward and change the growth patterns of the jaw, creating more difficult problems.

There are several methods for controlling the behavior and correcting problems with the bite. One is an appliance called a “tongue crib.” This thin metal device is placed behind the upper and lower incisors. It discourages thumb sucking, while at the same time helping to keep the tongue from inserting itself between the upper and lower teeth. Eliminating these unhelpful habits is essential to allow the teeth to erupt into proper position and to allow for the normal development of the jawbones.

Recent research has also shown that individualized exercise routines called orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT) can be highly effective in preventing open bite relapses. These exercises are designed to retrain muscles in the face, tongue and lips, and can help to create good chewing and swallowing patterns.

If you would like more information about thumb sucking or children's bite problems, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about these issues by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects The Bite.”

By Greg Herzler
February 24, 2012
Category: Oral Health
CanThumbSuckingHarmYourChildsTeeth

Sucking their fingers or thumbs makes young babies feel secure and is completely normal behavior. Babies have been observed to suck their fingers or thumbs even before they are born. But like many comforting habits, over-doing pacifier, thumb, or finger sucking habits may be harmful.

Stop Pacifier Use by 18 Months

Studies have shown that pacifier use after the age of two may cause long-term changes in a child's mouth. We recommend that pacifier use should stop by about 18 months. A pacifier habit is often easier to break than finger or thumb sucking.

Stop Thumb and Finger Sucking by Age Three

Most children naturally stop thumb and finger sucking between two and four years of age, but some children continue this habit much longer. This may cause their upper front teeth to tip towards their lips or to come into position improperly. It can also cause their upper jaw to develop incorrectly. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children stop these habits by age three.

Use of Behavior Management to Encourage Quitting

We offer creative strategies for gentle ways to cut back and stop pacifier use, including behavior management techniques that use appropriate rewards given at predetermined intervals. Meanwhile, make periodic appointments with us to carefully watch the way your child's teeth and jaws develop.

When your child is old enough to understand the possible results of a sucking habit, just talking about what may happen to teeth as a result can often encourage him/her to quit. As a last resort, a mouth appliance that blocks sucking may be needed.

If you are worried about your child sucking a pacifier, thumb, or fingers, please visit us to put your mind at rest. For more information read “Thumb Sucking in Children” in Dear Doctor magazine. Contact us today to schedule an appointment to discuss your questions about children's thumb sucking.

For many children, thumb sucking is a great source of comfort. However, for some parents, it sets off potential red flags. See how much you really know about thumb sucking by taking our quick and easy true/false self test.

  1. Thumb or finger sucking is a totally normal behavior for babies and young children that should not cause any concerns for parents or caregivers.
    True or False
  2. One of the main reasons babies and young children suck their thumbs or fingers is that it provides a sense of security.
    True or False
  3. Sonograms have revealed that some babies actually begin sucking their fingers or thumbs in their mother's womb, before they are even born.
    True or False
  4. Recent research has shown that children using a pacifier after the age of four may cause long-term changes in the mouth.
    True or False
  5. Most children who suck their fingers or thumb tend to stop this habit on their own between the ages of two and four.
    True or False
  6. One of the biggest myths about thumb sucking is that it can cause buck teeth (the teeth tip outwards towards the lips).
    True or False
  7. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends that children stop using a pacifier and/or thumb or finger sucking by the age of three; however some recent studies suggest that this should stop as early as 18 months of age.
    True or False
  8. Breaking a pacifier habit is often much more difficult to break than a finger or thumb sucking habit.
    True or False
  9. Dipping a pacifier, finger or thumb in vinegar is a recommended way of stopping the habit.
    True or False
  10. For the most challenging cases, we may suggest that your child needs a mouth appliance that a blocks sucking habits.
    True or False

Answers: 1) False. While it is a totally natural habit, parents and caregivers should monitor thumb or finger sucking. 2) True. 3) True. 4) False. It is not age 4, but rather age 2. 5) True. 6) False. This is NOT a myth but rather a fact. 7) True. 8) False. It is easier. 9) True. 10) True.

If you are having trouble getting your child to stop using a pacifier, thumb or finger sucking habit, we are an excellent resource for working with you and your child to accomplish this goal. To learn more on this topic, continue reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Thumb Sucking in Children.” Or you can contact us today to schedule an appointment or to discuss your questions.