Breaking Your Child’s Thumb Sucking Habit
Thumb sucking in young children is a very normal response to anxiety and stress. Still, this behavior should decrease by ages 3-4 and stop by age five. Many children are slow to break the habit which can lead to anxiety for parents.
Is it worth the stress to break the thumb sucking habit? Yes, because long-term thumb sucking can cause problems with chewing, speech, facial appearance, as well as lead to diminished airway functions and tongue thrust.
Effects on the Jawbone
The longer and harder a child sucks his thumb the more harm is done to teeth and jaws. Regular, strong thumb sucking makes front teeth move and can even reshape the jaw bone. Upper front teeth flare out and tip upward while lower front teeth move inward. But, how can something as small as a child’s thumb or finger actually move bone?
Children’s jaws are rich in blood supply and fairly low in mineral content like calcium. This makes jaws of children under age eight especially soft and flexible. As a result, prolonged thumb or finger sucking easily deforms the bone around the upper and lower front teeth. The deformity produces a hole or gap when teeth are brought together, known as an open bite.
If a child stops thumb sucking before loss of baby front teeth and arrival of adult front teeth, most or all of the damage may disappear. The repair may be slow, and it may take up to 6 months for the changes to occur. However, if the habit persists, there may be lasting damage. Flared upper teeth, delayed arrival of front teeth, and open bites are all common problems. This can result in chewing difficulties, speech abnormalities, and an unattractive smile.
Do Home Remedies Work?
Some parents try home remedies to break the habit. Common methods include:
- Placing gloves on their children before bedtime
- Painting thumbs and fingers with various foul-tasting substances
- Wrapping bandages around the offending digits
Children can easily overcome these measures. Thumb sucking is also a deep-rooted behavior and may need more than these remedies offer. The child’s desire to stop will determine the success of any intervention.
The Dental Solution: Bluegrass Appliance
One answer to this parental problem is a simple appliance called a “Bluegrass.” The appliance is placed on the child’s upper teeth, and usually stops the habit the first day of use. This appliance also quickly redirects the tongue to a more normal swallowing position.
It is a type of brace that sits full-time on the upper teeth and roof of the mouth. The appliance consists of plastic roller connected to supporting bands or rings. The roller fits behind the child’s upper front teeth. It is barely visible in normal view. The bands are fastened to the back molars.
Effectiveness of the “Bluegrass”
Once the “Bluegrass” is cemented, there is nothing to adjust and no moving or removable parts. It is one of the simplest, yet most effective dental devices. Why is the “Bluegrass” so effective in stopping thumb sucking? It takes away the habit’s pleasure. The roller prevents the thumb or finger from touching the gums behind the front teeth and on the roof of the mouth, turning a pleasant experience into an unpleasant one. With no satisfaction, the child has no incentive to continue.
“Bluegrass” will also help to prevent the tongue from thrusting forward. In order to do that, the patient MUST practice flipping or “playing with” the roller as well as putting the tongue behind the roller when swallowing.
As a rule, the front tooth position is better within few weeks after appliance placement. It takes 4-6 months for an open bite to close and the front teeth to straighten. The brace is left on 9-12 months, plenty of time for the habit to fade away.
What is a good age to begin “Bluegrass” treatment? The ideal time is when upper front baby teeth become loose, before the adult teeth have pushed out. This usually occurs just before or after age six. Prompt thumb removal allows adult teeth to have a much better positioning. Dental health is certainly important to a child’s wellbeing. So is parental peace of mind. For the thumb sucking patient, the orthodontic “Bluegrass” provides the answer to both.
Thumb Sucking in Older Children?
Sucking on a thumb, finger, or blanket may be noted in preteens, teenagers and even adults. The initial orthodontic treatment is the same for all, placement of a “Bluegrass” to break the habit. For teens and adults, counseling may be suggested to deal with any underlying psychological problems.
Like thumb sucking, tongue thrusting is a normal behavioral pattern in young children. It’s actually part of the natural infantile swallowing pattern, which will normally change on its own — by the age of six, in most children. If the pattern doesn’t change, however, it can lead to problems similar to those caused by thumb sucking: namely, problems with tooth alignment, airway functions, and skeletal development. Fortunately, this problem can be successfully treated with a habit appliance that’s very similar to a Bluegrass.