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Thumb sucking variables include:

  • Protrusive upper front teeth. This can be a simple tooth position problem, where the upper incisor teeth are tipped forward. Occasionally, the formation of the jaw can be affected, and the upper jaw and teeth will develop in a protrusive relationship to the rest of the face.
  • Tipped back lower front teeth. The pressure of the thumb forces the lower incisor teeth to tip toward the tongue.
  • Open bite. The upper and lower front teeth do not overlap when the back teeth are together. The shape of the opening between the upper and lower front teeth may match the child’s finger or thumb exactly.
  • Crossbite. The formation of the upper jaw is too narrow for the lower jaw, so the upper and lower teeth do not fit together properly. This seems to occur as a result of the flexing of the cheek muscles during sucking.

If all efforts have been exhausted to stop the habit, an appliance can be fabricated to help break a thumb or finger sucking habit. It will, however, not prevent placement of t the thumb or finger into the mouth, but it will act as a deterrent to stop the habit. The appliance is cemented into place and is traditionally worn for 6-9 months.   Consult with your pediatric dentist about the different options available for thumb-sucking appliances.

Common problems caused by thumb sucking:

Habit Appliance

  • Duration: After the age of two, you may notice positional changes of the front teeth. Before the age of five, there are usually no jaw formation problems.  Traditionally, if a thumb or finger sucking habit is not discontinued by age five or six, a pediatric dentist or orthodontist will recommend an appliance to facilitate stopping the habit.
  • Intensity: Some children produce a stronger suckling that may cause more significant damage.
  • Frequency: If the sucking is less than one hour each day and/or the thumb or finger falls out at night, the habit traditionally does not pose a problem. However, if the child sucks all night beyond this age, some action may be needed.

For infants, try a pacifier. Pacifiers do not cause less damage, but it is easier to control a pacifier than a thumb when it comes to phasing it out. (Research indicates that no one particular kind of pacifier is superior to another.) For the child over five, explain the risks, offer rewards, and provide reminders such as nail polish or a band-aids. Avoid scolding or punishment can evolve into a form of negative attention. The child may need some emotional support, so be prepared to spend a little extra time with him or her.

A long-term habit such as sucking on a finger or a thumb can be difficult for a child to stop. These habits past the age of 2-3 can have long term effects on tooth position and developing jaw alignment. The degree of disruption depends on several factors, such as how forceful the habit is, how often, and up to what age the habit is continuing.

Strategies for resolving thumb sucking:

Thumb sucking appliance