How to Break the Thumb-Sucking Habit

If you have a child (or children), it’s likely that you’ve experienced their thumb-sucking phase.

Or maybe your child is currently going through this phase and you need help breaking his/her habit, because you know thumb-sucking can damage your child’s teeth. Your child’s health is constantly at the forefront of your mind, so we’re here to help relieve some of your worries!

Why is thumb-sucking bad for your child’s dental structure?

Thumb-sucking can lead to poor orthodontic conditions.

Poor bite conditions, specifically open bites and overbites, are often caused by thumb-sucking. As a child sucks their thumb, the thumb applies force to the back of the front teeth, causing the teeth to shift outward. When the teeth begin shifting outward, the top and bottom teeth will not meet properly, causing a bite misalignment (or malocclusion). This specific malocclusion is characterized as an “open bite”, as the front teeth are open and positioned outwardly.

Similarly, thumb-sucking can cause the front teeth to jet out over the bottom teeth without necessarily shifting the bottom teeth outward. This is considered an “overbite” (as the top teeth are positioned over the bottom teeth).

If it progresses and stabilizes, a misaligned bite can cause significant problems in a child’s life! Normal functions, like eating, chewing and even breathing, are difficult when the jaws are not aligned properly. Teeth can become crowded, gapped or crooked when the jaw does not accommodate the teeth. Bite conditions can lead to speech impediments and narrow breathing airways, and progressed damage from thumb-sucking may require dentofacial orthopedics to realign the bite and facial structure!

How can you help your child to stop sucking their thumb?

Here are a few ways to help your child stop sucking their thumb!

  • Understand the root of the habit. Generally speaking, children suck their thumbs for security. This habit often helps children sleep or rest peacefully. But what causes your child to suck their thumb? Do you notice this habit when your child is bored? Scared? Tired? Once you identify the trigger of their thumb-sucking, you can introduce healthy habits to replace this habit. Maybe a new toy or stuffed animal provides an alternative sense of security for your child!
  • Help your child understand why it’s unhealthy. If your child chooses to put an end to their thumb-sucking on their own, they’re much more likely to stop than if you tell them to stop. Gently explain to your child why this habit can be damaging to their teeth and their speech. Discuss the dangers of spreading germs and the consequences that can follow this habit.
  • Use a foul-tasting substance. There’s nothing like a foul substance to make thumb-sucking undesirable! Assure that the substance is non-toxic and won’t harm your child if ingested, of course. (Some of our patients have tried applying Mavala to their child’s thumb, and it works wonders!)
  • Consider an orthodontic device. Call your orthodontist for reinforcement! By use of thumb-sucking appliances (or thumb-sucking guards), you can help your child leave their thumb-sucking phase in the past! These devices include plastic guards that cover the hands, making the thumbs unavailable to the mouth. It’s normal for toddlers and infants to suck their thumbs, but once a child reaches age 5, thumb-sucking is no longer harmless. As baby teeth begin to fall out, it’s important that thumb-sucking does not intervene with the development of emerging permanent teeth. A thumb-sucking device along with an informative discussion can spare your child from enduring damage to their teeth!

If you aren’t quite sure of the best orthodontic treatment for your child, please don’t hesitate to schedule your free exam with us or give us a call today. Our doctors are highly experienced in orthodontics for children, and we’re here to help!

On the other hand, if you, your child or someone you know has dental damage from thumb-sucking or a similar cause, we offer affordable Invisalign, braces and similarly effective treatments; we can correct the damage done to the teeth in the early, thumb-sucking years!

With affordable orthodontist payment plans and insurance plan discounts available, we have a treatment to suit your orthodontic needs. Let’s get started today!