Why be concerned about oral habits?
A sucking habit can affect the typical growth and development of your child’s face and jaw. It can cause the teeth to be misaligned, and the roof of the mouth to arch up, which in turn affects tongue placement, and swallowing patterns. Thumb sucking also can affect pronunciation, breathing and swallowing.
How can thumb sucking cause all these problems?
When your child sucks a thumb (or any combination of fingers), he/she opens the mouth, places the thumb on the roof of the mouth, and lowers the tongue. By doing so, the roof of the mouth develops in an arched manner (taking the shape of the little finger/thumb that rests there). The arched roof of the mouth can, in turn, cause the nasal cavity to narrow. A narrow roof of the mouth also causes a disruption in the dental eruption. Teeth can become crowded and over erupt causing an open bite (gap between the upper and lower front teeth when the teeth are closed).
Thumb sucking also interferes with resting tongue placement. At rest, the tongue should rest alongside the roof of your mouth, molding the hard palate for optimal growth and development. With thumb sucking, the tongue rests low in the mouth, and the mouth is hinged open. This can cause a weakening of the muscles of the tongue and lips, in turn affecting the development of a normal adult swallow pattern. Weakening of the tongue is also associated with the mispronunciation of a series of sounds, such as /s/, /z/, /n/, /t/, /d/, to name a few.
At what age should I become concerned about my child’s thumb-sucking habit?
At around 4 or 5 years old, a thumb sucking habit becomes concerning. Research has shown that most damage caused by thumb/finger sucking can be reversed if ceased prior to the eruption of permanent teeth.
Can’t orthodontic treatment alone restore the placement of my child’s teeth?
Orthodontists or dentists can realign your child’s teeth and restore his/her smile, but they do not retrain the tongue to rest in the correct location, or eliminate unhealthy habits. Since thumb sucking can lead to an atypical form of swallow, and weaken facial and oral muscles, it is essential to teach your child correct lip and tongue placement, as well as a normal swallowing pattern.
How does thumb sucking cessation therapy work? Is it successful?
Thumb sucking cessation therapy focuses on a positive reward system, provided both by parents and the treating clinician. Parental commitment and readiness of the child are essential, and can be determined at the time of the initial evaluation.