Thumb Sucking: A Little Habit with Big Consequences

Why be concerned about my child’s thumb-sucking habit?

A sucking habit can affect the typical growth and development of your child’s face and jaw. It can cause the teeth to be misa-ligned and the roof of the mouth to arch up, which in turn affects tongue placement and swallowing patterns. Thumb sucking also can affect pronunciation, breathing and swallowing.

What problems can thumb sucking cause?

  • Roof of mouth develops in arched manner
  • Causes nasal cavity to narrow
  • Disrupts eruption of teeth
  • Teeth become crowded and over erupt causing open bite
  • Palate cannot mold to tongue for optimal growth and devel-opment
  • Weakens muscles of tongue and lips
  • Effects development of normal adult swallow pattern
  • Associated with mispronuncia-tion of sounds such as /s/, /z/, /n/, /t/, /d/ to name a few

At what age should I become con-cerned about my child’s thumb-sucking habit?

While thumb or finger sucking is quite normal in infancy and early childhood, at around 4 or 5 years old, a thumb sucking habit be-comes concerning. Research has shown that most damage caused by thumb/finger sucking can be reversed if ceased prior to the eruption of permanent teeth.

Can’t orthodontic treatment alone restore the placement of my child’s teeth?

Orthodontists or dentists can rea-lign your child’s teeth and restore his/her smile, but they do not re-train the tongue to rest in the cor-rect location, or eliminate un-healthy habits. Since thumb sucking can lead to an atypical form of swallow, and weaken facial and oral muscles, it is essential to teach your child correct lip and tongue placement, as well as a normal swallowing pattern.

How does thumb sucking cessation therapy work? Is it successful?

Thumb sucking cessation therapy focuses on a positive reward sys-tem, provided both by parents and the treating clinician.

Most children who participate in thumb sucking cessation therapy stop their habit within a week. Pa-rental commitment and readiness of the child are essential, and can be determined at the time of the initial evaluation.


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