Oral Healthcare Paediatric Dental

Did you know that there are habits that can affect your teeth and facial appearance? Thumb sucking is among other oral habits which are defined as a constant practice that may be permanent or temporary that will cause harm to the teeth and facial structures.

They include:

  • Lip sucking
  • Tongue thrusting
  • Mouth breathing
  • Lip biting
  • Pencil/pen /needle biting
  • Opening soda cans with teeth
  • Nail-biting
  • Thumb sucking

In this post, we will detail how thumb sucking, affects one’s dental health and how to cope with the habit.

Thumb sucking

This is the placement of the thumb or more fingers in varying depths into the mouth. It is common in children below 3 years of age.

In infants, it could be due to a nutritional or psychological need e.g a soothing mechanism when hungry or when they want to sleep.

Most children usually discontinue the habit after 3-4 years of age.

Causes of thumb sucking

  • An excessively busy mother who doesn’t breastfeed the baby as much
  • Attention shift of parents to another sibling
  • Long term use of a pacifier
  • Hunger especially in neonates
  • Coping mechanism during teething

Dental effects of thumb sucking

open bite
An Open Bite case / Photo Courtesy: Journal of Clinical Orthodontics
  • Open bite-inability to completely close the mouth during rest
  • Upper teeth push outwards while the lower teeth are pushed inwards and downwards
  • The fingers sucked will appear reddened, clean, chapped nails with fibrous tissue on the top of the finger
  • The lower lip may appear longer and more strained
  • Changes to the palate (roof of the mouth)

Treatment of thumb sucking

Habit Breaker, Top Dentist in Nairobi
A habit breaker can help your child against thumb sucking and its impact to the teeth. Photo: Courtesy
  • Psychological counselling to rule out any psychological disturbance
  • Talk: Constant polite reminders with positive reinforcement and encouragement especially between 4-7years old. E.g., mention that thumb sucking spreads germs that may make you sick
  • Identify triggers e.g if due to stress, find out the cause, hug your child or engage in a physical activity
  • Use of aids to illustrate the effects of continued thumb sucking. explain to them that continued thumb sucking may push the teeth forward and make you look funny and make you unable to speak some letters properly. You can even use YouTube videos
  • Use of reminders especially above the age of 3years e.g., applying cayenne pepper or black pepper on the fingers or bad-tasting nail polish applied on the nails.
  • Tying a bandage around the fingers that the child sucks
  • Wearing oversized clothes that cover the fingers completely
  • Use of long-sleeved nightclothes that covers the fingers completely

Can the dentist help?

If you are concerned about the effect of thumb sucking on your child’s teeth a visit to the dentist may help greatly. The dentist will explain why it is important to stop thumb sucking and the consequences that may happen. Some children listen to the dentist more than the mum or dad.

The dentist may use orthodontic appliances to irritate the finger and prevent the recurrence of the habit.

In adults or older kids, braces may be placed to correct the poorly placed teeth.

What if nothing works?

For some children, this is really a difficult habit to stop. Do not worry or put too much pressure on your child as this may delay the process.

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