When Cute Habits Create Problems

A thumb- or finger-sucking habit seems to relax and comfort babies and toddlers and is perfectly natural.

But as your child grows, the habit can become socially awkward and can hurt their smile and oral health.

About Thumb-Sucking

Most children stop sucking their thumb between the ages of two and four. If they continue after their baby teeth have erupted, it can drastically change the way the jaw grows, and cause their teeth to be significantly misaligned.

It may be hard to believe that a seemingly harmless habit can move teeth and bone, but there are several reasons why this happens.

Children’s jaws a relatively soft and flexible, especially in kids under eight.

The constant pressure of a thumb or finger may deform the soft bone around the upper and lower front teeth.

Controlling Thumb or Finger Sucking

Thumb-sucking can be a difficult habit to break. You may have tried home remedies, such as having the child wear gloves, coating the digits with a bitter-tasting substance — and even reasoning with a toddler. Sometimes it works — but in other cases, the allure of thumb sucking proves very difficult to control.

If your child’s thumb or finger sucking habit has persisted past the age of three and you haven’t been able to stop it, you should consider visiting our office. We’ll consider treating your child with a “habit appliance” such as a fixed palatal crib or a removable device.

The crib is a small metal appliance worn inside the mouth that is attached to the upper teeth. The semicircular wires of a palatal crib keep your child’s thumb or finger from touching gums behind their front teeth.

Simply preventing this contact seems to take all the enjoyment away from the thumb sucking habit. The device is often successful the first day it's worn.

Getting a Habit Appliance

The first step to getting a habit appliance is an examination, which includes X-rays and impressions. The crib will then be custom made to fit your child’s mouth and placed at a future appointment. We’ll monitor your child for a few months to make sure the device is doing its job.

The crib isn’t painful, but your child may experience some soreness in the back teeth for a few hours. They may also have trouble falling asleep for a few days. While your child wears the appliance, they shouldn’t chew gum or eat hard, sticky food that might cause it to come loose.

Tongue Thrusting

Tongue thrusting is also normal for young children. It’s part of the natural swallowing pattern for infants and young children and usually changes on its own by the time they turn six.

If your child continues to thrust their tongue, they can have the same issues that come from thumb sucking.

Fortunately, this problem can be successfully treated with a habit appliance that's very similar to a fixed palatal crib.