How Does Thumb Sucking Affect Your Child’s Oral Health?

While it's quite normal for young children to suck their thumbs or use pacifiers to self-soothe, prolonged thumb sucking can potentially cause dental issues down the road. If you notice that your child isn't breaking the habit, you may want to visit an orthodontist for help. Take a look at why prolonged thumb sucking is a problem and how to address it.

Why Is Prolonged Thumb Sucking a Problem?

Thumb sucking can actually change the position of the teeth and shape the palate as a child grows. If he or she continues the habit for too long, then the upper incisors can pull forward, causing an open bite or buck-tooth appearance that may require orthodontic treatment.

Furthermore, prolonged thumb sucking can lead to an abnormal swallowing pattern called tongue thrust. Instead of pushing the tongue to the roof of the mouth to swallow food, children with tongue thrust tend to push the tongue forward through the front teeth. Again, this motion can change the way your child's palate and facial structures develop. Some children with tongue thrust may breathe through their mouths and be more prone to sleep apnea.

How Can You Curb Their Habit?

Keep your child's hands occupied with coloring, puzzles, and other activities and reward or praise them when they aren't falling back to the habit. There are commercial hand creams that are geared towards thumb suckers. These creams are safe for children and have a bitter taste so that when your child tries to suck his or her thumb, he or she will be put off by the bitter taste.

How Can an Orthodontist Help?

An orthodontist can fit your child with a tongue crib appliance. Tongue cribs look a lot like retainers, since they fit against the palate. The tongue crib is fixed with temporary dental cement and is usually worn for a few months. The tongue crib contains metal wires near the front of the mouth, so when your child tries to suck his or her thumb, it won't be comfortable to do so. Tongue cribs aren't painful; they may just be an annoyance to your child at first as he or she tries to continue the habit. However, once your child gets used to the tongue crib, the thumb sucking should stop.

If your child has already developed a tongue thrust from prolonged thumb sucking, your orthodontist might recommend an appliance that's similar to a mouth guard to correct it. These appliances can be fitted after the tongue crib is removed; these oral appliances can retrain your child's facial muscles so that he or she develops a normal swallowing pattern when eating.

Reach out to an orthodontist in your area today to learn more.