Oral Habits & Habit Breaking Appliances
It's normal and healthy for infants to suck their thumbs, fingers, pacifiers, or toys. Object
sucking gives children a sense of emotional security and comfort. But
if thumb sucking continues beyond certain age, when the permanent
teeth begin to come in, dental problems can occur.
Depending on the frequency, intensity, and duration of the sucking,
the teeth can be pushed out of alignment, causing them to protrude
and create an overbite. Your child may also have difficulty with the
correct pronunciation of words. In addition, the upper and lower
jaws can become misaligned and the roof of the mouth might
Tips to Help Your Child Stop Thumb Sucking
First, remember that thumb sucking is normal and should not be a concern unless the habit
continues as the permanent teeth begin to emerge.
Children must make the decision on their own to stop sucking their thumb or fingers before
the habit will cease. To help toward this goal, parents and family members can offer
encouragement and positive reinforcement. Because thumb sucking is a security
mechanism, negative reinforcement (such as scolding, nagging, or punishments) are
generally ineffective; they make children defensive and drive them back to the habit.
Instead, give praise or rewards for time successfully avoiding the habit. Gradually increase
the time needed without sucking to achieve the reward. The younger the child, the more
frequent the rewards will need to be given. For children who want to stop, cover the finger
or thumb with a Band-Aid as a reminder. Take the thumb or finger out of the mouth after
your child falls asleep.
To help older children break the habit, you should try to
determine why your child is doing it: Find out what stresses your
child faces and try to correct the situation. Once the problem is
gone, your child often finds it is easier to give up sucking. If this
doesn't work, there are dental appliances your child can wear in
the mouth to prevent sucking. These appliances are cemented to
the upper teeth, sit on the roof of the mouth, and make thumb
sucking harder and less pleasurable.
Lip sucking involves repeatedly holding the lower lip beneath the upper front teeth. Sucking
of the lower lip may occur by itself or in combination with thumb sucking.
This practice results in similar kinds of problems as with thumb sucking
and tongue thrusting. Stopping the habit involves the same steps as for
stopping thumb sucking.
Tongue thrusting is the habit of sealing the mouth for swallowing by thrusting the top of the
tongue forward against the lips.
Just like thumb sucking, tongue thrusting exerts pressure against the front teeth, pushing
them out of alignment, which causes them to protrude, creating an open bite, and possibly
interfering with proper speech development.
There are dental appliances your child can wear in the mouth to
prevent tongue thrusting. These appliances are cemented to the upper
teeth, sit on the roof of the mouth, and make thumb sucking harder
and less pleasurable.
If we notice symptoms of tongue thrusting, we may refer you to a speech pathologist. This
person can develop a treatment plan that helps your child to increase the strength of the
chewing muscles and develop a new swallowing pattern.
If you think your child has developed any of the above habits, please contact us at 703-743-
2324 for an appointment and visit us at Gainesville Dental Arts in Gainesville.