Dentist in Syracuse, NY
Dr. Karen Lawitts

100 Intrepid Lane
Syracuse, NY 13205

(315) 492-8138
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(315) 492-8138

100 Intrepid Lane
Syracuse, NY 13205

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Posts for tag: thumb sucking

ThumbSuckingOneofManyFactorstoConsiderWhenTreatingaPoorBite

It’s true — thumb sucking beyond age 4 can cause bite problems for permanent teeth. But prolonged thumb sucking is just one of a number of possible contributing factors for a bad bite (malocclusion). A dentist must identify all the factors involved when a bad bite is present — their involvement is essential for a successful treatment outcome.

A fairly benign habit for infants and toddlers, thumb sucking is related to an “infantile swallowing pattern” young children use by thrusting their tongues forward between the upper and lower teeth when they swallow. Around age 4, though, they usually transition to an adult swallowing pattern in which the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. Thumb sucking stops for most children around the same time.

Thumb sucking beyond this age, though, can put increased pressure on incoming permanent teeth pushing them forward. This could lead to an “open bite” in which the upper and lower teeth don’t meet when the jaws are closed. The tongue may also continue to thrust forward when swallowing to seal the resulting gap, which further reinforces the open bite.

Before treating the bite with braces, we must first address the thumb sucking and improper tongue placement when swallowing — if either isn’t corrected the teeth could gradually revert to their previous positions after the braces come off. Besides behavioral incentives, we can also employ a thin metal appliance called a “tongue crib” placed behind the upper and lower incisors. A tongue crib discourages thumb sucking and makes it more difficult for the tongue to rest within the open bite gap when swallowing, which helps retrain it to a more normal position.

An open bite can also occur if the jaws develop with too much vertical growth. Like thumb sucking and improper tongue placement, abnormal jaw growth could ultimately cause orthodontic treatment to fail. In this case, though, surgery may be necessary to correct the jaw structure.

With all these possible variables, our first step needs to be a thorough orthodontic exam that identifies all the cause factors for your child’s specific malocclusion. Knowing if and how thumb sucking may have contributed to the poor bite will help us design a treatment strategy that’s successful.

If you would like more information on the causes of poor tooth position, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”

DontPanicTakeMethodicalApproachtoHelpYourChildStopThumbSucking

One of the most frequent concerns parents express to us is their child’s thumb or finger sucking habit. The good news, though, is that thumb sucking is a completely normal activity for babies and young children, and if they stop by age 4 it should have no adverse effects on their future bite.

In fact, there are positive aspects to thumb sucking: it provides babies with a sense of security, as well as a way to learn about the world. As a child grows and becomes more confident with their surroundings, the thumb sucking habit will fade and eventually stop: for most children this occurs between the ages of two and four.

If, however, the habit continues later in childhood, there is a chance the upper front teeth may be influenced to tip toward the lip during eruption and come into an improper position that could also adversely affect jaw development. The same concern exists for pacifier use — we recommend weaning a child off a pacifier by the time they’re eighteen months of age.

If your child still has a thumb or finger sucking habit as they prepare to enter school, it’s quite appropriate to work on getting them to stop. Punishment, shaming or similar negative approaches, however, aren’t the best ways to accomplish this: it’s much more effective to try to modify their behavior through reward, praise or some creative activity.

Another factor that may help is to begin regular dental visits around their first birthday. Regular checkups give us a chance to monitor the development of their bite, especially if thumb sucking continues longer than normal. We can also assist you with strategies to encourage them to stop thumb sucking or pacifier use.

Thumb sucking that continues later than normal isn’t a cause for panic, but it does require attention and action. Helping your child “grow” past this stage in their life will improve their chances of developing a normal and healthy bite.

If you would like more information on thumb sucking, please contact us to schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Thumb Sucking in Children.”

TakePositiveActionwithYourChildsThumb-SuckingHabit

As a parent you’re concerned with a number of issues involving your child’s health, not the least of which involves their teeth. One of the most common is thumb-sucking.

While later thumb-sucking is a cause for concern, it’s quite normal and not viewed as harmful in infant’s and very young children. This universal habit is rooted in an infant swallowing pattern: all babies tend to push the tongue forward against the back of the teeth when they swallow, which allows them to form a seal while breast or bottle feeding. Infants and young children take comfort or experience a sense of security from sucking their thumb, which simulates infant feeding.

Soon after their primary teeth begin to erupt, the swallowing pattern changes and they begin to rest the tongue on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth when swallowing. For most children thumb sucking begins to fade as their swallowing pattern changes.

Some children, though, continue the habit longer even as their permanent teeth are beginning to come in. As they suck their thumb the tongue constantly rests between the front teeth, which over time may interfere with how they develop. This can cause an “open bite” in which the upper and lower teeth don’t meet properly, a problem that usually requires orthodontic treatment to correct it.

For this reason, dentists typically recommend encouraging children to stop thumb-sucking by age 3 (18-24 months to stop using a pacifier). The best approach is positive reinforcement — giving appropriate rewards over time for appropriate behavior: for example, praising them as a “big” boy or girl when they have gone a certain length of time without sucking their thumb or a pacifier. You should also use training or “Sippy” cups to help them transition from a bottle to a regular cup, which will further diminish the infant swallowing pattern and need for thumb-sucking.

Habits like thumb-sucking in young children should be kept in perspective: the habit really isn’t a problem unless it goes on too long. Gentle persuasion, along with other techniques we can help you with, is the best way to help your child eventually stop.

If you would like more information on thumb sucking, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Thumb Sucking in Children” and “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”

TestYourKnowledgeAboutThumbSuckinginChildren

Are the following statements true or false?

Thumb sucking in children may cause problems with their teeth later on.

A: TRUE

Prolonged thumb sucking may be responsible for many problems with the bite. The constant pressure of the thumb itself can create a gap between the top and bottom teeth in front, a condition called an “open bite.” It also reinforces the habit of using the “tongue thrust” motion in swallowing, where the tongue is positioned between top and bottom teeth. This habit may also block full eruption of the front teeth.

Infants and young children swallow exactly the same way that adults do.

A: FALSE

When they swallow, young children use what is called the “infantile swallowing pattern.” In this method, which begins before their teeth have erupted, the tongue is thrust forward in the mouth, sealing and supporting the lips. In adult swallowing, the tongue touches the roof of the mouth, behind the front teeth. The transition from the infantile method usually happens naturally, by around age 4.

Most open bites result from the habit of positioning the tongue too far forward.

A: TRUE

Failure to transition between the infantile and adult swallowing pattern is believed to be the cause of most open bites. The tongue's position alone may prevent the front teeth from fully developing. Allowing the thumb to rest between the teeth has the same effect — and it can also push the front teeth forward. Other causes of an open bite are skeletal or jaw-related problems.

It is harder to cure open bites caused by thumb sucking or bad tongue position than those from other causes.

A: FALSE

Open bites that are caused by skeletal factors (patterns of bone growth, etc) are often difficult to resolve. Those caused by dental factors (tongue position, tooth eruption, etc) are generally easier to fix. However, the pressure exerted by the thumb over a long period of time can influence bone growth in the jaw.

There is a dental appliance that can help discourage thumb sucking.

A: TRUE

A thin metal “tongue crib” placed behind upper and lower incisors discourages the thumb-sucking habit. It also helps to “re-train” the tongue, keeping it from going between upper and lower teeth. To successfully treat an open bite caused by dental factors, and to prevent its reoccurrence, it is essential to eliminate the unhelpful habits of both the thumb and the tongue.

If you would like more information about thumb sucking or open-bite problems in children, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects The Bite.”

TreatingThumbSuckingNowCouldReduceOrthodonticTreatmentLater

One of the most common parental concerns is the habit of many children, even late into childhood, to suck their thumbs or fingers. Many parents have asked us, “Could this affect their teeth?”

The answer, unfortunately, is yes — thumb sucking can contribute to a malocclusion (bad bite) that could eventually require orthodontic treatment. Before making any assumptions, however, we need to understand the bigger picture.

To begin with, infants have a different swallowing mechanism than adults and older children. When you as an adult swallow, you'll notice the tip of your tongue positions itself just above the back of the top front teeth. An infant, however, will thrust their tongue between their upper and lower jaw as they swallow (also known as an infantile swallowing pattern or primary tongue thrust). The infant normally begins changing to an adult swallowing pattern when their primary (baby) teeth begin to erupt.

However, if a child's swallowing transition is slower than normal and the tongue rests between the jaws for a longer duration, it can inhibit the full eruption of teeth, believed to be the main cause of an open bite (a gap between the upper and lower teeth when the jaws are shut). The thumb during sucking resting between the teeth can have the same effect.

Thumb sucking may not necessarily lead to a malocclusion — for example, an abnormally developing jawbone could be the culprit. If prolonged thumb sucking does become a concern, however, there are steps we can take to reduce the impact of the habit. We can install a thin metal “tongue crib” behind the upper and lower incisors that will not only discourage thumb sucking, but also help retrain the tongue not to rest between the upper and lower teeth. There are also exercise routines known as orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT) that can retrain specific muscles in the mouth to encourage more normal chewing and swallowing patterns.

These steps may not prevent future orthodontic treatment, but they could reduce its extent. The key is regular dental checkups and consultation to ensure your child's teeth and bite are developing normally.

If you would like more information on the effects of chronic thumb sucking on the mouth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”



Dr. Karen Lawitts

Dr. Karen Lawitts

 

 

Dr. Lawitts was born and raised in Syracuse, NY. She received her Bachelor of Science and D.D.S degree from Northwestern University in Chicago.  
       
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