It is normal for very young children to suck a thumb or fingers. However, to give teeth the best chance of being straight, it is very important that any thumb or finger sucking habits stop prior to the front permanent teeth coming in and especially prior to any orthodontic treatment. The forces applied by fingers and thumbs can undo the correction done by orthodontic treatment.
Most children stop these habits naturally on their own. However, sometimes the habits persist and this can affect the jaw and the bite.
Effects of thumb and finger sucking habits
The immediate adverse effect of mouth breathing is that the front teeth will not come together and bite properly. Then, because of the prolonged time there is a gap between the top and bottom teeth, the tongue often develops a habit of resting in that space which further affects the bite and can affect speech. The sucking can create pressure on the sides of the upper teeth, narrowing the upper jaw and creating cross-bites.
Suggestions to help stop
Here are some ways that you might help your child to stop the habit:
- Tape on the finger or thumb with Micropore tape. Before your child goes to bed, tape up the thumb or fingers that the child sucks on. It is more effective if you tape more than one finger together. If the tape is still there in the morning then the habit is stopping. We recommend using the tape for a least 30 consecutive days in a row to break the habit.
- If you are able to stop the habit on your own, we will then check the teeth in a few months to see if the bite is improving. Early stopping of the habit may result in some self-correction of the bite changes that may have already occurred.
- Other ideas – cloth glove can be taped onto the hand at night.
- An upper crib appliance.
Should your child be unable to stop the sucking habit on their own, we would recommend placing an upper crib appliance. A crib is a wire framework which gets in the way of sucking a finger or thumb and this deters the habit. The crib would be glued in place for at least six months.
Instructions regarding a crib appliance:
- With the appliance in place, your child should not eat hard foods, such as whole raw apples or carrots, as these foods may bend the wire frame up towards the roof of the mouth. Sticky foods are to be avoided as they may dislodge the appliance.
- Brushing and flossing with the appliance takes slightly more time as food and plaque needs to be removed from the wire framework as well as the teeth.
- If the appliance comes loose at any time it is important that you come back in and have it re-cemented. A loose or ill-fitting appliance can cause sore gums and cavities.