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How to Avoid Bad Teething and Bad Bite From Thumb Sucking

By December 17, 2022January 4th, 2023Children's orthodontics

Bad bites, teeth misalignments, and functional disorders like Finger Sucking, Tongue Thrusting, and Tooth Grinding might be a consequence of habits that could trigger bad habits our child develops from the mother’s womb in some cases or as a result of environmental factors.

Furthermore, it is imperiously essential for parents to know them and address them promptly and appropriately before they become dental habits to avoid future complications that include dental health issues and orthodontic problems that could severely affect their development and become expensive to treat with dental care.

This article will review one of the most common habits in kids, which you must supervise before it becomes a problem. The most important consideration is you can do a lot of the work to benefit your little one’s proper growth.

What Is Thumb Sucking?

Thumb sucking is an oral habit that is a parafunctional behavior that can be normal at a certain point in life. It can lead to a dentofacial alteration when it shows persistence over time.

However, to explain the thumb-sucking habit, it is necessary to define the types of suction first:

Nutritive Suction

Nutritive sucking is a child’s natural self-protection mechanism. The baby sucks breast milk to get the vitamins or nutrients she needs.

Non-nutritive Sucking

Non-nutritive sucking is when the child uses this habit to comfort herself or to feel good, giving herself human warmth. In addition, non-nutritive sucking provides the child with a sense of security.

In ancient times it was customary for children to suck their thumbs. Painters, for example, captured scenes of children sucking their thumbs in paintings from the Renaissance period.

However, as time passed, at the beginning of the 20th century, research developments in various fields occurred, from which there was an incipient disapproval of the habit of thumb-sucking.

The first reason to disapprove of thumb-sucking came from modern medicine and understanding the risk of infections. With the development of microscopes and the identification of bacteria, viruses, and germs, researchers determined their incidence in developing oral infections.

Secondly, studies revealed the possibility of producing dental displacement due to applying pressure with the thumb when sucking.

What Are the Orthodontic Problems Caused by Thumb-Sucking?

Specialists from various professional branches studied the phenomenon of thumb-sucking. However, in orthodontics, thumb-sucking produces significant impacts on dental functionality.

Alterations in Dentofacial Structures

Thumb-sucking produces alterations in dentofacial structures, which depend on the following:

  • Frequency;
  • Intensity;
  • Duration and;
  • Position of the finger in the mouth.

Thumb-sucking causes orthopedic, muscular, dental, and functional problems. In general, the forces exerted by the finger on the teeth could aggressively affect the bone structure. For instance, the upper jaw moves forward, “bulging out,” while the lower jaw moves backward. In some cases, this might produce jaw pain.

There are also cases in which the child may develop an anterior open bite. This means that the anterior teeth will not overgrow the lower ones as they usually do. Over time, the protrusion forms a space for the finger to fit, degenerating into an orthopedic disorder. The force of the finger separates the upper and lower jaws.

Muscular Effects

Sucking the thumb produces effects on the jaw and mouth muscles. For example, the muscles that allow chewing atrophy with a condition named hypertonicity.

In other words, oral muscles will have increased activity when sucking, so the masticatory muscles, especially the planter muscle tone, will also grow.

Hypertonicity also occurs in the chin and lower lip muscles due to the pressure exerted by the muscles when sucking the thumb. However, in other cases, the child may develop hypotonicity. That is, the opposite, a weakening at the level of the upper lip.

Dental Effects

The dental effects of thumb sucking occur when the upper front teeth move forward and the lower front teeth move back. In orthodontic terms, we know this as vestibularization of the anterior teeth and a lingualized occlusion of the lower teeth.

Functional Alterations

All the functions that the mouth has typically alter. Phonation, chewing, and swallowing are the most critical functions deformed and altered.

An example is when eating an apple. Usually, the patient tears and cuts the apple with the anterior incisors. When the incisors are in the correct position, the cut is adequate. However, when a child has the habit of sucking her thumb, she will not be able to cut the apple, or the cut may be inadequate.

So here, the front teeth’ function alters. In the posterior sector, the lack of an anterior guide makes the posterior teeth begin to extrude due to the lateral movements of the jaw. Therefore, thumb sucking will have significantly altered the teeth’ functionality.

Other Problems Developed From Thumb-Sucking

Onychomycosis

The child may develop fungus at the skin level of the finger and nail. In addition, onychomycosis occurs because the finger remains humid for a long time.

Breaking the Habit

So, at a certain point, you will ask yourself the question. When should I instruct the child to stop this habit? First, let us tell you that this habit is physiological or normal during the first years of life, even when the child is in the mother’s womb.

It is possible to find the child with her finger in his mouth in the images obtained from three-dimensional echoes while she is in the mother’s womb.

When we talk about the first years of life, some authors emphasize that it is normal for a child to suck her thumb from when she is in the mother’s womb until she is four.

This means a child can suck her thumb until all the milk teeth erupt. However, other authors indicate that parents should begin to eliminate this habit from the appearance of the first milk incisors.

Nonetheless, all authors agree that this habit should not exceed six years because, at that age, dental replacement begins. That is, the permanent teeth will replace the baby ones, especially the upper incisors.

At the child’s four years of age, parents must take action to eliminate the habit and avoid the vestibularization we discussed previously. So, the faster we stop this habit from our children, the better for their oral health.

It also happens that from the age of four, the child begins to be sociable, and also the parents give orders and indicate what is allowed and what is not.

Be Careful Not to Distress Your Child

Giving orders to a child can cause stress, intensifying the thumb-sucking habit. In these cases, we recommend parents start a treatment to reduce the habit gradually.

Parent involvement is crucial in helping your child. For example, according to the American Dental Association – ADA, it is necessary to instruct the child to motivate her when she does not suck her thumb with positive reinforcement and scold her when she does.

It is imperative to talk with your child, making her feel comfortable to prevent the child from relapsing into the habit due to stress. Another strategy to break this habit is to apply aversive techniques. That is, using liquid substances with an unpleasant taste and impregnating them on the child’s fingers.

You can also use response prevention techniques such as armbands that prevent bending of the elbow, bandages on fingers sewed with the sleeves of clothing, or to wear gloves.

In general, you can use everything that comes to mind so that the child does not put her finger in her mouth, even when the child does not yet present any alteration in the oral cavity.

Treatment for Children/Early Intervention Orthodontics

Finally, if you notice that your child presents any alteration, we recommend you take her to the pediatric dentist for a first dental checkup evaluation. After an assessment, your pediatric dentist will refer your child to Sacramento Early Orthodontics Treatment at Markham Orthodontics.

Among the possible solutions that we have at Markham Orthodontics for misaligned tooth development is a Two-Phase Interceptive treatment which consists of the use of orthopedics devices in the oral cavity that modifies the dental direction of the altered areas.

Depending on the case, we recommend using certain appliances for your child at Markham Orthodontics. Among them, there is the tongue bar that will prevent the child’s finger from entering the oral cavity.

In the event that the maxilla narrows, at Markham Orthodontics, we also recommend palatal expanders to expand the maxilla, returning it to its normal position.

Another treatment that Dr. David Markham can suggest is Orthodontic Treatment with braces that produce dental movements to align your child’s teeth to a functional and beautiful position.

In parallel, you can take your child to a psychology specialist to get guidelines on making them feel comfortable and lose the habit.

Remember that corrective treatments occur when parents don’t identify the problem on time, becoming a complication that is generally quite expensive. That is why you should prevent your child from sucking her thumb before these alterations alter the oral cavity.

Schedule an appointment or visit Dr. David Markham in Sacramento. You may also call Dr. David Markham’s office at (916) 665-0894 for an evaluation of your child’s case. Anticipation is the most important thing you can do for your child’s oral health issues and also guarantee her a beautiful smile.

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