Thumb Sucking Behaviors

By: Skygate Dental
Jan 2016

Many children suck their fingers or thumbs for a short period of time during early childhood. This habit is often considered normal behavior during the first 24 months of life. It is recommended that parents monitor the habit, if present, to observe that it gradually decreases and the child grows out of the behavior altogether. If however, the habit continues past 2 years of age and persists into later childhood (when the adult teeth are erupting) adverse dental and skeletal changes can be observed. This can often lead to specific intervention and dental correction being needed to avoid a malocclusion.

Some of the undesirable consequences that can occur include:
– Protrusion of the front permanent teeth

– An “Open-bite” a space between the top and bottom teeth

– Narrow upper jaw and palate

What Should Parents Do?

The aim with children who continue to suck their thumb would be to have the habit stopped by the age of 7-8 years old or younger. The age of 7-8 is important, as this is the time that the first permanent incisors are being to come into place. If a thumb sucking habit is still continuing during this process this can lead to tipping or moving the incisors forward into an undesirable position.

Initially and for the majority of children the habit can be successfully stopped by counseling the child, using a reward system or bandaging the digits (netball tape). In rare cases the habit can persist despite best efforts. This is often the point when parents are presenting to the dentist for help to stop the habit. At this point if all of the above methods have proven unsuccessful other dental alternatives could involve either a deterrent nail polish and or include a “habit” breaking appliance; these are typically “glued” or bonded in place for approximately 3 months or after the habit is ceased.

Will My Child Need Braces? Do I Need to See the Dentist?

If the habit is successfully stopped early enough, before the age of 7-8, then generally in most cases thumb sucking will not have significant long-term consequences. If however, there other underlying dental or skeletal issues this may affect the position and alignment of the teeth.

If you have any concerns about a thumb sucking habit for your child. It would be best to consider an examination or consult to determine and discuss any potential issues early.

If you would like more information please contact Skygate Dental today on 07 3114 1199.