Thumb sucking – Cessation

From infancy, children use sucking behaviors to calm themselves.  In fact, plenty of parents rely on pacifiers, teething toys, and other items designed for children to suck on in order to encourage emotional regulation in their children.

As children get older, they may develop the habit of finger or thumb sucking.  Unfortunately, thumb sucking can have long-lasting negative side effects if the habit persists past age four.

Thumb sucking affects the development of the teeth, jaw, and palate.  The habit can also change how your child eats and speaks.

The most serious permanent side effects of thumb sucking are types of dental malocclusion.  Malocclusion is a categorical term that describes tooth misalignment that is visible when the mouth is closed.  Two of the most common types of malocclusion caused by thumb sucking are open bite or overbite.

Open bite occurs when the top and bottom front teeth become directed outward.  This misalignment means that the front teeth do not touch, even with your child’s mouth closed completely.  Open bite may require orthodontic correction in the future or may complicate other dental misalignments that necessitate orthodontic treatment.

Overbite occurs when the upper teeth become directed outward. In an overbite configuration, however, this misalignment is confined to the upper front teeth.  This misalignment means that the top teeth cover the bottom teeth when your child’s mouth is closed rather than the top and bottom teeth touching normally.  Overbite malocclusion can affect the shape of the face and smile.  Individuals with extreme overbites may need extensive orthodontic treatment to correct the issue.  In some cases, patients with overbites may need treatment requiring orthodontic appliances if the development of the upper and lower arches has been restricted.

Thumb sucking is a subconscious response to stress or boredom for many children.  Because your child may not think before putting his or her thumb to work, your child may need your support and instruction to overcome the habit within the appropriate developmental stage.

As you work to help your child stop thumb sucking, it’s important to remember that this habit does not indicate any physiological or development issues.  Your child may need your help and the help of a dentist, pediatrician or myofunctional therapist to break the habit.  However, eliminating thumb sucking behavior is a goal that can be worked toward over time and one that should be achieved through positive reinforcement rather then punishment.

If you need help or support in thumb sucking cessation, our Myofunctional Therapist can create a plan for your child.