Thumb sucking and tongue thrusting

Thumb sucking and tongue thrusting

Did you know that babies are born with the need to suck?  Thumb, finger, and pacifier sucking are perfectly natural ways for babies and toddlers to soothe themselves. However, as the child grows, there comes a point when this comforting activity becomes and habit, causing more harm than good. While it is completely natural for children to engage in thumb, finger, and pacifier sucking during the first few years of life, prolonging the habit could damage the jaw’s growth pattern.

Because of the rich blood supply and the quick growth patterns of a child’s jaw, the constant pressure of sucking pushes the teeth and bones out of shape. If you child is a vigorous sucker, the chances of malformed jaws are much greater. If you have tried to help your child rid themselves of the habit with no success, your orthodontist may recommend a habit appliance.

What is a Habit Appliance?

Rather than deal with the development of crossbite, misaligned teeth, or other future jaw problems, you can use a habit appliance to help your child kick this habit.

There are varying types of habit appliance. There are some that look like a retainer, much like your child would wear after braces. It is metal with semicircular wires that form what we like to call a crib. For thumb sucking, the appliance is attached just behind the upper teeth. With the crib in the way, your child is unable to make contact with the roof of the mouth with his or her fingers or thumbs. Preventing this contact results in no pleasure received from sucking, and without the pleasure, the habit begins to fade away.

Another type of appliance is more of a glove for your child’s hand.  It is called a thumb guard. I slips on your child’s thumb and wraps back around the wrist. With the barrier in place over the thumb, as well as the inability to bend the thumb to touch the roof of the mouth, the child is unable to suck on his thumb. This is usually used if children subconsciously suck their thumb at night. Use can be discontinued once the the habit is broken.

What about tongue thrusting?

Another habit that is natural for young children to develop is tongue thrusting.  When infants swallow, they have to thrust their tongues backwards in order to get the food down safely. As children grow, the habit becomes less and less necessary and most children grow out of it by age six. However, in some cases, the habit persists, causing similar issues to thumb sucking to develop.

Thankfully, there are appliance to help with that too. The appliance used for tongue thrusting is similar to that one used for thumb sucking. The only difference is what the crib specifically blocks. For thumb sucking, the crib blocks the upper pallet, the tongue thrusting appliance gets in the way of the tongue eliminating access to the thrust.

Getting Started

If you are concerned that your child’s thumb sucking or that the tongue thrusting habits are persisting past the recommended age, it may be time to call your orthodontist for a consultation.  Your child’s oral health and safety are extremely important, and Dr. Hough would be more than happy to sit down with you for a free consultation and exam to answer any of your questions. Call our office at 636.391.1959 at your earliest convenience.