Thumb and Finger Sucking
Thumb sucking is normal and can be soothing in babies. Thumb sucking can be the result of hunger, boredom, nervousness or tiredness. Most children stop sucking their thumbs between the ages of 2 and 4. For children who continue to suck their thumbs, there are possible negative side effects.
Dental and Skeletal Problems
Dental problems can occur from extended thumb sucking. A child's teeth may not align properly (malocclusion). The teeth may be pushed outward causing an overbite or they may not overlap (open bite). The roof of the mouth may become malformed and the upper palate may develop into a narrow "V" shape. Depending on the severity of these issues, treatment from an orthodontist may be needed.
Speech difficulties are a possible side effect of thumb sucking that continues after the permanent teeth are appearing. Teeth alignment problems cause certain sounds distortions, according to SpeechPathology.com. Additionally, long-term thumb sucking may slow the replacement of tongue thrust, a normal early childhood swallowing pattern, with the mature swallow. The sounds and letters that may be impacted includes, z, t, d, l, n, s, and dz. A lisp may also be an effect of thumb sucking that extends into the school years.
Germs are spread through thumb sucking. Children that continue thumb sucking into their school years pick up and spread germs through their thumb sucking.
Children that suck especially hard on their thumbs may create sores and infections.
Children that continue thumb sucking into elementary school or beyond are at risk of being teased. Thumb sucking is thought of as a baby or toddler activity, so children who suck their thumbs beyond that age may be subject to comments and ridicule from peers.
Problem thumb-sucking is most often resolved with home treatment such as offering rewards and praise when the child is not thumb-sucking. We have provided a chart below to help with this process. Negative reinforcement DOES NOT work and may increase the child's desire. When home treatments have not worked, other treatments may be necessary.
• Behavioral therapy Behavioral therapy helps a child avoid thumb-sucking through various techniques, such as substituting tapping fingers together quietly. Behavioral therapy works best if all people involved in the child's care follow the treatment plan.
• Baseball glove Purchase an athletic batting glove that fits the child. Cut two small slits in the Velcro closure so you can insert a "zip tie" that can be secured on the outside of the glove. The child should wear the glove at times when he or she is most likely to suck his or her thumb or fingers and definitely overnight.
• Thumb devices Thumb devices can be used for children with severe thumb-sucking problems. A thumb device is usually made of nontoxic plastic and is worn over the child's thumb. It is held in place with straps that go around the wrist. It has been my experience that children will usually find a way to remove these devices.
• Oral devices Oral devices, such as an arch or crib in the roof of the mouth, interfere with the pleasure a child gets from thumb-sucking. It may take several months for the child to stop sucking the thumb or fingers when these devices are used. When the child stops sucking, Dr. Spillers will likely continue the device for several months. This may prevent the child from starting the habit again. Oral devices need to be fitted by a dentist or orthodontist
It is important to delay treatment for thumb-sucking if a child is facing a stressful time, such as after an injury, loss of a pet, moving, or when the family is having difficulties.
Tongue thrust (also called reverse swallow or immature swallow) is the common name for the behavioral pattern where the tongue protrudes through the front teeth during swallowing, speech, and while the tongue is at rest. People, who tongue thrust, do it naturally and are usually unaware of the behavior.
This oral habit can be devastating to someone's teeth & appearance since your tongue exerts roughly 4-6 pounds of force every swallow. This force makes it impossible for the facial bones to grow downward and forward, creating an open bite. An open bite is where the top teeth do not come down over the bottom teeth properly.
The opening can be in the front, to one side or there may be an opening on both sides. Treatment for a tongue thrust habit would involve
an appliance to "re-train" the tongue to make a seal in the roof of the mouth, allowing the lips to start redirecting
the growth into a normal pattern.
Print and use this chart for positive reinforcement.