Using an Appliance to Stop Thumbsucking Among Children

You may recall sucking your own thumb when you were young, and now you have a child who is doing the same thing.

While thumbsucking is completely normal behavior and is quite common in young children, this habit can lead to complications if the child does not outgrow the practice over time.

To learn more about the impact of long-term thumbsucking and what can be done by a dentist or orthodontist to stop the habit, please check out the information below:

What happens if a child does not stop thumbsucking?

Thumbsucking behavior among children usually stops between the ages of 2 and 4 years. However, in some children, it does go on longer than this. If it continues after the child’s adult teeth have erupted, thumbsucking can cause serious complications.

For example, sucking the thumb can interfere with the growth patterns of the child’s jaw, leading to misalignment of their 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 what is called an openbite, which is when the back teeth touch, 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

To try to prevent their child from sucking their thumb, some parents have tried “anti-sucking devices” that fit on the child’s hand or thumb. Unfortunately, these devices don’t always work and parents often find themselves feeling 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 called a palatal crib. This painless device consists of wires that are 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.

Once the positive feedback loop is interrupted, many children will 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 also 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. But 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 an openbite caused by thumbsucking can oftentimes reduce the length of treatment needed when your child is ready for braces. Each child’s needs are unique, and our team is happy to consult with you to find a habit appliance solution that is right for your 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.

Like thumbsucking, tongue thrusting is normal among children. However, a child should ideally outgrow the habit by the age of 6 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 5 years old and is continuing with their thumbsucking behavior, Dr. Kendra Pratt Manning may be able to help the child stop this habit. Additionally, if your child is 6 years old or older and exhibits tongue thrusting, Dr. Pratt Manning may have a solution for their needs.

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