Using an Appliance to Stop Thumbsucking Among Children

While thumbsucking is normal behavior among children, the habit can lead to complications if the child does not outgrow the practice over time. Read below to learn more about the impact of long-term thumbsucking and what can be done by a dentist or orthodontist to stop the habit.

What happens if a child does not stop thumbsucking

Thumbsucking behavior among children usually stops between the ages of two and four years. However, the behavior persists beyond age four with some children. If the behavior continues after the child’s adult teeth have erupted, thumbsucking can cause serious complications.

The habit can interfere with the growth patterns of the child’s jaw, leading to misalignment of the child’s teeth. In some cases, the child’s upper front teeth may flare out, and the child’s lower teeth may move back and inwards. Thumbsucking can also cause an openbite (where the back teeth tough, but the front teeth do not overlap when the back molars are closed. In some cases, a narrow upper arch form or crossbite may develop.

Using a palatal crib to stop the thumbsucking habit

Some parents have tried sucking devices that fit on the child’s hand or thumb in an attempt to prevent the child’s thumbsucking habit. Often, these parents find themselves frustrated when their child removes the device and continues their thumbsucking behavior.

Fortunately, parents do have more effective orthodontic options for their child to help break the thumbsucking habit. One of the most popular semi-permanent options is a palatal crib. A palatal crib is a painless device that consists of wires placed on the upper teeth. The device’s wires extend to create a physical barrier between the tongue and the roof of the mouth.

With a palatal crib in place, the child is unable to make contact between their thumb or finger and the gums behind their front teeth. Without contact between their thumb or finger and the gums behind the front of their teeth, they do not experience any pleasurable feedback from thumbsucking.

With the feedback loop interrupted, many children completely stop their thumbsucking habit the same day that they receive their palatal crib. Most children who need a palatal crib will wear the device for several months until they fully break the habit.

Parents who wish to break their child’s thumbsucking habit may have heard of hay rake appliances. Hay rake appliances are similar to palatal cribs, in that both devices are wire structures that block the child’s thumb from touching the roof of their mouth. In addition to preventing contact, hay rake appliances also cause discomfort to the child’s thumb when it comes in contact with the device.

Correcting a openbite caused by thumbsucking can often times reduce the length of treatment needed in when your child is ready for braces. Each child’s needs are unique, and our team will consult with the child’s family to find a habit appliance solution that is right for the child’s requirements and circumstances.

The negative effects of tongue thrusting and how to stop the behavior

In addition to thumb or finger sucking, another potentially harmful habit among children is tongue thrusting. Tongue thrusting occurs when the child pushes their tongue against the back of their upper front teeth.

Tongue thrusting is normal among children. However, a child should outgrow the habit by the age of six to avoid dental complications. Much like thumbsucking, tongue thrusting over long periods can negatively impact the development of the child’s jaw and adult teeth. In some instances of prolonged tongue thrusting, the child’s upper teeth may flare outward and result in an open bite or a gap between the child’s front teeth.

To prevent the negative impacts of prolonged tongue thrusting, children can receive a wire device that discourages tongue thrusting behavior. The device is similar to a palatal crib, and the device sits behind the child’s upper front teeth.

The next step towards stopping your child’s thumbsucking habit

Like many potentially harmful behavioral patterns, thumbsucking and finger sucking can be challenging habits to break. For many children, hand-worn devices or reward-based methods prove to be ineffective in preventing the child from sucking their thumbs or fingers.

Turning to dental and orthodontic interventions is a common strategy to help prevent dental complications in the future. If your child is over five years old and continues thumbsucking behavior, Dr. Kendra Pratt may be able to help the child stop their thumbsucking habit. Additionally, if your child is six years old and exhibits tongue thrusting, Dr. Kendra Pratt may have a solution for their needs.

To get started, contact us on our website or call Dr. Kendra Pratt’s friendly staff at 281-367-0050 (Woodlands) or 936-596-1200 (Montgomery) today to schedule an appointment for you and your child.

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