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Thumb sucking is a common, natural reflex infants and toddlers exhibit as a way to self-sooth. According to the American Dental Association, most children stop sucking their thumbs between the ages of two and four. However, if you’ve noticed your child has made a habit of this practice when he or she is bored, tired, or scared, it’s important to know the orthodontic harm that can result from this seemingly innocent action.

When The Habit Becomes Harmful to Your Child’s Teeth

Persistent thumb sucking is problematic for young teeth as it puts unnecessary pressure on the developing teeth in addition to causing negative issues for the bone and soft tissues inside the mouth. Jaw growth and tooth movement can also be affected, which are factors that often lead to orthodontic treatments such as braces and retainers later in life.

One of the most common orthodontic errors arising from thumb sucking is protrusive upper front teeth. Because the finger is being pulled with the mouth, developing teeth can be pulled into a “tipped forward” position. This protruding of the teeth is commonly referred to as “buck teeth” and almost always calls for orthodontia to correct.

Likewise, the lower front teeth can be shifted based on the pressure caused by habitual thumb or finger sucking. The momentum caused by the sucking of the thumb forces the lower incisor teeth to slant backwards or inwards toward the tongue. This condition can appear unsightly and cause discomfort, thereby requiring braces or other orthodontic action to correct and relieve the problem.

Placing the thumb or finger in the mouth repeatedly during the childhood period of tooth growth can also force the upper and lower teeth to no longer match up as they should. Instead, the space between the top and bottom front teeth grows to match the width of the child’s finger. The space misaligns the teeth when the molars are held together, even resulting in speech impediments on top of the aesthetic impact.

Crossbites are another of the negative alignment issues arising from habitual thumb sucking in children. Crossbites occur when the upper jaw is too narrow for the lower jaw, causing the teeth to fit together improperly. Thumb sucking causes a hard flexing of the cheek muscles, which can stunt the growth of the upper jaw, resulting in the incorrect alignment. Asymmetrical jaw growth is problematic as it can create a total breakdown of how the teeth are arranged in addition to the asymmetrical bite.

While thumb sucking can have some dire consequences for your child’s teeth, with creativity, patience, and understanding, you can help break the habit! Consider developing a reward system such as offering a small token of celebration like a sticker placed on a calendar to commemorate each day your child avoids sucking his or her thumb. At the end of the month, reward your child’s efforts with a treat like a toy or fun outing to keep the positive momentum going. In addition, Birmingham Orthodontics offers appliances designed specifically to curb thumb sucking to ensure any damage is avoided. Remember, it takes 21 days to break a habit, so stay diligent and know that it is possible and to avoid the negative orthodontic effects of thumb sucking!

If you need assistance or further information to help stop your child’s thumb sucking, consult us at 205-545-8105.

At Birmingham Orthodontics, our mission is simple:  we create smiles.  Not only do we straighten the crooked grin, fix the bite, and adjust the jaw, we also brighten yearbooks, help young people come to like their looks, and give adults the confidence they have wanted for a long, long time.  We also believe in our staff. Our culture of continuous learning has allowed us to host monthly training sessions for each team and bring in leading industry consultants to help keep us ahead of the curve.  Contact us for a free consultation, or any questions you might have.

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