It isn’t uncommon for young children to develop the habit of sucking their thumbs. Some even start thumpsucking in the womb. It is comforting to them and helps them deal with stress, boredom and tiredness. Though it isn’t always a cause of problems with a child’s teeth and/or jaw, it does at times cause problems ranging from mild to severe.
When a problem does develop, it usually falls into one of these categories:
- Protrusion or overbite in the upper teeth. At times, the lower teeth will go inward.
- A gap between the front teeth, also called an open bite. The space occurs because the teeth grow to accommodate the thumb.
- Crossbite in either the front or back teeth. When it is the back teeth, it is called a posterior crossbite.
If the child stops sucking their thumb before permanent teeth start coming in, most problems with the front teeth often correct themselves. If they do not correct themselves or the habit continues after permanent teeth start coming in, orthodontic correction will be necessary. Crossbites in the back teeth do not correct themselves and will need to be corrected through orthodontics.
Most children stop sucking their thumbs on their own by the time they are four and a half. If your child doesn’t, you may need to try to help them break the habit.
It may take some time to find a way that works or it is possible that nothing you do helps. There isn’t a magic formula but there are several methods that may work. When gentle reminders to your child don’t work, one of these two might succeed. One is to put a terrible but safe substance on the thumb. Another is to sew the sleeve opening of a long sleeve t-shirt closed for your child to wear as a sleep shirt.
If nothing you try at home is successful in getting your child to stop sucking their thumb, your child’s dentist can help.
A thumb guard can be made that is attached with orthodontic bands in the child’s mouth. It is to be worn at all times so the thumb can’t be place in the mouth the way the child likes it. It has a high degree of success but is typically not used on children under the age of five.
It is mostly used for children eight and over who have not been able to break themselves of sucking their thumbs. Once the thumb guard has help break the habit of thumbsucking, braces are used to correct the overbite or open bite or an orthodontic appliance is used to correct a crossbite.