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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Is thumb sucking bad for my child's teeth?

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    Thumb Sucking Can Cause the Anterior Teeth to have an “open bite affect”
    Even when the child bites.there may be a gap or space on the anterior teeth…although the image of an infant sitting down with his thumb for a nice suck can be pretty endearing, as your child ages it can become less cute. So how old is too old for thumb sucking?

    According to the Australian Dental Association, thumb sucking starts to become a permanent problem if continued beyond four or five years of age. Fortunately, most children spontaneously stop the habit by this point, but if your child is still sucking away at that age and you want to avoid paying the potentially high costs associated with orthodontists later on, there are a number of things you can do to help you child kick the habit.

    Above all, it is important that you not put too much overt pressure on your child as that can have the reverse effect, turning what is a natural development phase into an ingrained habit. Instead, use more subtle methods, such as trying to distract your child when you notice their thumb enter their mouth. You can also consult your child's pediatrician regarding the number of thumb painting treatments out there, which, when applied, make the thumb much less tasty and therefore much less appealing for sucking.

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    Thumbsucking is bad for your child's adult teeth and their bite. The presence of the thumb or finger in the mouth will cause the front teeth to drift forwards. This creates a space between the top and bottom front teeth when the child bites together on their back teeth. This creates a problem for speech and orthodontic issues when the adult teeth start to come out.

    Trying to stop your child from thumbsucking is difficult. There are products on the market which involve nasty tasting varnishes. But often children tend to adapt to this and eventually continue sucking their thumb. Most children do grow out of this phase eventually. 

    Take them to your dentist early so they can monitor the situation with the bite and intervene with orthodontic management if necessary. Also their speech development needs to be monitored closely as lisping can develop and a speech therapist may need to be consulted early.


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    Dr Gary Adno of Adno Dental in Edgecliff offers a full range of general, cosmetic and family dentisty. Dr Adno prides himself in providing high … View Profile

    Sucking is a babies first instinct and is generally strongest in the first 12 months. Dummy and thumb sucking is usually of no concern, however if it is regular and prolonged it can cause teeth and bone to be pushed out of position. Thumb sucking is very common in children , luckily most children out grow the habit by age 2-4 years. It is extremely important the children stop thumb and dummy sucking before their permanent teeth erupt at around 6 years of age. I however strongly recommend stopping the habit by the age of 4 years or earlier if possible.
    If the habit continues, it can cause an anterior open bite, protrusion of the upper front teeth , possible displacement of the lower front teeth , affect palate formation, cause a tongue thrust and speech problems. As a dentist I work with the kids and parents to help break the habit.

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    Jaffar Dental - Trusted and Established since 1997. We are a family owned General Dental Practice offering a friendly and caring environment in Waterford QLD. … View Profile

    Yes. If it is not stopped by about age 6, then the upper front teeth can be permanetly pushed out and the lower front teeth pushed in. This excessive overbite can affect chewing and speech development. Orthodontic work can usually fix this if caught early enough.

  • Sharon Moore

    Speech Pathologist

    I am a Speech Pathologist with 30 years clinical experience, working over the years with a wide range of clients with communication and swallowing disorders. … View Profile

    Thumsucking can cause families much distress once they are aware of the damage it casues children's growing faces and teeth. Once there is a decision to correct thumb sucking (or any other oral habit), there needs to be a good plan and firm resolve. Some children will resist parents' initial attempts to change this habit, literally, because it is a habit which is most persitent during times of tiredenss, or other emotional states and can happen very much at the child's subconcsious level. If attempts to stop the habit are not successful straight away, it can increase the resistance to stopping the habit and set up a behavioural failure cycle, that leaves parents feeling frustrated and sometimes helpless. Often, a battleground of sorts can develop. Thumb sucking and other oral habits, usually creates dental open bite spaces (as described in the other posts) that can then also be maintained not just by thumbs, but also by habits of tongue and lip sitting in those dental open bite spaces. I see this regularly in my practice and so when a parent requests help with thumbsucking, the first thing we do is commence the habit cessation with an orofacial myology retraining program to help change muscle habits that go hand in hand with the oral habit. This gives the open bite the best chance to ‘close down’, something they do VERY quickly once the program commences. Parents too, are most surprised at how little fuss their children make once this very positive rewarding program is commenced. Most children find it easier to be accountable to an ‘outside’ person, where the behavioural dynamics set out on a new footing and once they understand that their oral habit is causing the gaps in the teeth, they are in most cases, very much on board with the program, very compliant and ENJOY the process, including all the games they get to play everyday. I am constantly amazed at how well children cope with and enjoy this program, and how surprised and relieved that parents are, about the success in this approach. The psychology of the people changing habits including family dynamics is considered an integral part of this program, and the program offers positive outcomes for all family members. Parents too, seem to enjoy the process, that for some had developed into a battle ground. 
    This program is run successfully from 2 years of age, if parents are keen for support, the oldest current patient treated with this approach in my practice is 16 years (they can keep the habits for a long time with out treatment) and the oldest thumbsucking patient that I am aware who sought help from a colleague, is 62 years.

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