Habit & Thumb Sucking Appliances for Children

Habit & Thumb Sucking Appliances for Children

Thumb and Finger Appliances

In most children, thumb sucking stops on its own between the ages of two and four years. But if the practice persists after the adult teeth have erupted, it can drastically change the growth patterns of the jaw and cause significant misalignment of the teeth.

If the thumb sucking habit persists, it can result in the upper front teeth flaring out and the lower ones moving back and inward. It can also hold back the growth of the lower jaw while causing the upper jaw to be thrust forward. Thumb or finger sucking can also cause an anterior open bite (where the front teeth fail to close together), collapse the shape of the upper arch, thereby causing a crossbite, or other problems.

Controlling Thumb Sucking or Finger Sucking

Like many potentially harmful behavior patterns, thumb sucking and finger sucking can be difficult habits to break. If your child has a thumb or finger sucking habit that has persisted past the age of five, and you’ve been unable to tame it, then it may be time for you to visit our office. We will consider treating your child with a habit appliance to assist in breaking the habit.

How does it work? The semicircular wires of a palatal crib keep the thumb or finger from touching the gums behind the front teeth. Simply preventing this contact seems to take all the enjoyment away from the thumb sucking habit – and without that pleasurable feedback, a child has no reason to continue the behavior. In fact, the device is often successful the first day it’s worn.

A Word About Tongue Thrusting

Like thumb sucking, tongue thrusting is a normal behavioral pattern in young children. It’s actually part of the natural infantile swallowing pattern, which will normally change on its own — by the age of six, in most children. If the pattern doesn’t change, however, it can lead to problems similar to those caused by thumb sucking. Fortunately, this problem can be successfully treated with a preventative tongue thrust habit appliance that’s very similar to a fixed palatal crib.

Habit Appliances for Children FAQs

Persistent thumb-sucking can end up damaging your child’s teeth. By investing in habit appliances for children, you can break this habit and protect your child’s smile. To learn more about this tool, read on.

What is a habit appliance?

A thumb habit appliance is designed to stop a child from sucking their thumb. It is designed to prevent them from obtaining suction when they put their thumb in their mouth. After the orthodontist evaluates their teeth and bite, they can make a custom appliance by making an impression of your teeth.

Later, a dental lab will use this impression to fabricate a fixed appliance. Then, your orthodontist will schedule an appointment where you can get the appliance. Typically, the habit breaking appliance works the first night, but is left in place for 6-9 months to ensure the habit is fully corrected before the appliance is removed.

While thumb-sucking is one of the most common habits in young children, some kids also suffer from tongue thrusting. This habit is a normal part of swallowing for infants, but it can lead to issues if it isn’t stopped by the age of 6.

Can thumb-sucking cause dental problems?

Without the assistance of habit appliances for children, kids can suffer from tooth mal-alignment and skeletal development issues. Thumb-sucking can push or flare the upper teeth out of alignment, and pressure from the thumb causes the lower teeth to crowd inward, so an overbite develops. Later on, they will need orthodontic help to get their teeth back into the right positions.

Thumb-sucking can also change the shape of the maxillary (upper) arch so it is narrowed in the front incisor region and can even cause crossbites to develop if the habit is severe.  If the habit is ceases, we often see an improvement in the alignment of the teeth and shape of the upper arch.

Kids can suffer from some of the following issues when thumb-sucking

  • Palate constriction.
  • Crowded lower teeth.
  • Open bites.
  • Flared upper teeth with risk of damage.
  • Lower lip posturing behind upper flared teeth.
When should thumb-sucking stop?

Most children naturally stop sucking their thumbs between the ages of six months to four years. Once permanent teeth begin erupting between the ages of five to seven, children should already have stopped sucking their thumbs. If thumb sucking continues when the permanent adult teeth have erupted, more complicated dental issues can occur.

What to expect with a habit appliance?

There are a few things you can expect after getting a habit-breaking appliance. We want the child to be willing and cooperative to cease their thumb sucking. Ideally, the child will have made attempts to break the habit at night and quit sucking their thumb during the day. Since we cannot always control nighttime habits, this is where the thumb guard appliance will assist the patient in the final step towards quitting.

Initially, thumb habit appliances can cause some speech changes and tongue soreness. This is because the tongue has to get used to sharing the space, and the child’s tongue may bump up against it for a while. A waterpik is a good tool to have initially to help get food out of their appliance.

What does a habit appliance fix?

Habit appliances for children are intended to fix persistent thumb-sucking. It can also help with issues like tongue thrusting.

How does a habit appliance work?

A habit breaker or thumb crib appliance works by deterring finger sucking and tongue thrusting. For example, a thumb crib is used to stop the pressure and sucking sensation on the roof of the mouth, which breaks the habit. Meanwhile, a habit appliance can remind the tongue to stay higher in the palate to retrain tongue thrusting habits.

How do you stop sucking your thumb with a habit appliance?

A thumb habit appliance works by making thumb-sucking too irritating to do. It can also prevent you from feeling the same comforting sucking sensation, which can break the neural feedback loop.

How do I know if my child needs a habit appliance?

If your child has continued their habit after the age of seven, you should talk to your orthodontist about a habit breaker appliance. This is especially true if you’ve tried other methods before and been unsuccessful.

How long should a habit appliance be worn?

When someone has a mild or moderate habit, they may only need to wear the appliance for three to six months. For severe problems, the appliance may be worn for six months to a year.

How effective are anti-thumb-sucking devices?

Anti-thumb-sucking devices are extremely effective for intractable thumb-sucking. If the child is quite motivated, they will work even faster.

Does a habit appliance hurt?

Habit appliances for children shouldn’t hurt to wear. Some of them are designed to irritate the thumb if the child tries to suck their thumb, which can be uncomfortable. Additionally, the appliance may be slightly uncomfortable at first because the child is still getting used to it.

What is the best age for a child to wear a habit appliance?

While children can start wearing habit-breaking appliances at the age of five, these appliances are normally recommended for ages six to eight.

Is a habit appliance removable?

Habit-breaking appliances are not removable. If the patient isn’t motivated, this could be an issue because they can just remove the appliance whenever they want.

What is a palatal crib appliance?

A palatal crib creates a U-loop behind the front teeth to prevent children from thrusting their tongues forward.

What is a thumb-sucking appliance?

A thumb-sucking appliance comes in many formats. The goal is to make thumb-sucking uncomfortable or to prevent a sucking motion from being possible, so the metal covers the anterior roof of the mouth (anterior hard palate) so suction is blocked. The child can still try to put their thumb in their mouth, but the enjoyment of sucking on it is deterred.

If your child has a thumb-sucking or tongue-thrusting habit, Dr. Pratt Manning can help. We can discuss habit appliances for children and the best options for your little one. To learn more or arrange an initial appointment, call us today.