Thumb sucking is an instinctual habit that is formed in the early years of life. Ultrasound results even show that a 15-week old fetus may develop the habit. When a baby is born, the baby associates the sucking as a way to receive nutrients. Receiving nutrients is not only essential to survival but pleasurable and comforting. Babies may also suck their thumbs as a means of coping with stress or discomfort. Thumb sucking is the repeated action of inserting the thumb into the mouth for an extended amount of time. The thumb is the most common digit to be sucked on, but other fingers and toes may be used as well. Thumb sucking is prevalent in humans, lemurs, chimpanzees, and other types of primates. If your child is still sucking their thumb, you owe it to yourself and your little one to learn more about what a thumb guard can do.
The Consequences of Chronic Thumb Sucking
Thumb sucking is commonly observed in toddlers under the age of 3 years old. The reflex is usually replaced with another form of mental and physical satisfaction as the toddler gets older. For instance, if the child is upset over something, the parent may give them a hug to help them feel less upset. If the child is hungry, they can grab a piece of fruit on the table and fulfill their hunger. They are able to express themselves more effectively and no longer have to fall back on thumb sucking or the use of a pacifier. However, if the child becomes a chronic thumb sucker, several negative effects can occur. After the age of five, thumb sucking can really lead to dental issues. After this age, permanent teeth start to grow in, and if the thumb sucking does not stop, it can cause irreversible damage to the teeth and jawbones. Therefore, it is important to break the thumb sucking habit as soon as possible. Ideally, the habit should be quashed by the time the child is three or four years old. Thumb sucking that occurs during adulthood is usually caused by Stereotypic Movement Disorder. Stereotypic Movement Disorder is a condition that causes the individual to perform repetitive, unnecessary movements. The consequences of chronic thumb sucking are dental problems (such as profound overbites and underbites), skin problems, speech issues, and social complications.
Prolonged thumb sucking causes bite problems in the mouth. This causes overbites and underbites to develop. Overbites are a misalignment that affects the upper top portion of the teeth. Having an overbite can lead to health issues, like TMJ pain, headaches, and teeth grinding. Underbites are a misalignment that affects the bottom set of teeth. Underbites can cause unnecessarily pressure in the jaw and teeth and affect the way a person chews their food. Overbites and underbites can also affect the way an individual looks and cause feelings of low self-esteem. Fixing overbites and underbites caused by thumb sucking can be time-consuming. Braces and other orthodontic appliances in Dallas will be needed to fix the malocclusions.
Skin issues may develop over time as well. The skin surrounding the thumb may be cracked and prone to bleeding. The cracked skin can lead to infections. The thumb may start to develop calluses. Ingrowth and peeling around the thumbnail may occur because the constant pressure and wetness from thumb sucking can distort the area. Rashes often develop around the mouth of babies who frequently suck their thumbs. This happens because the skin becomes irritated when it is always exposed to the continuous fluctuation between the dry and wet elements.
Those who chronically suck their thumbs are susceptible to developing a speech impediment. A speech impediment is a disorder that disrupts typical speech patterns. Chronic thumb sucking can cause lisps to form. Often times, the hard consonant sounds of letters like “T” and “D” are difficult to pronounce properly. A speech impediment can strongly impact the way a child communicates, and they may feel frustrated and angry that they can’t express themselves clearly. Aside from feeling insecure about their speech issues, a thumb sucker may be teased by peers about their habit, and this can lead to further feelings of rejection and isolation. Thumb sucking can even lead to the child having low self-esteem.
Ways to Treat Thumb Sucking
There are many ways to treat thumb sucking. One popular way is the use of positive reinforcement and gentle encouragement to eliminate the habit. Never berate the child for not being able to stop the habit. Never make them feel guilty about thumb sucking. Most importantly, never punish them if they are unable to kick the habit. Instead, give praise to the child if they are able to make the effort. Be sure to set goals that are realistic so that it is easier for the child to accomplish them and be rewarded for it. If the goals are too high, the child will be easily discouraged and the training will be counterproductive. Some types of rewards include taking them on a trip to the park or reading a few extra bedtime stories. Keep track of the child’s progress by using a calendar and put stickers on the days they were successful in refraining from thumb sucking. If they are unable to stop their habit, keep on gently and patiently reminding them to try their best.
Another method that is effective in treating thumb sucking is to identify the culprits that are causing the child to constantly suck their thumb. Thumb sucking is often a means to soothe the self, both emotionally and physically. Chances are there is something that is stressing out or scaring the child and they suck their thumb as a way to cope and protect themselves. Exposure to too many media influences (like TV and computer games) and not having enough external environmental outlets can lead to feelings of anxiety. Anxiety can lead to the child feeling stressed and the need to suck their thumb to feel less uncomfortable. Work to identify what is triggering the behavior and find an alternative to the thumb sucking. For example, giving reassuring words of support and hugs may help an anxious child. Or present them with a soft stuffed animal or toy so they can hold it close to them, making them feel safe.
Showing the child some videos about thumb sucking can help as well. Some kids just need to hear about their problems from someone else (or somewhere else) in order to stop their bad habits. Hearing the news from mom and dad may not be enough for certain kids to nip their bad habits in the bud.
A thumb guard is another option. A thumb guard is a helpful product that effectively puts a stop to a child’s habit of sucking their thumb. These devices work to stop suction from forming and ultimately make the action less desirable to indulge in. Once the pleasure is taken out of the habit, the child will no longer want to suck their thumb.
Generally speaking, there are two types of thumb guards: cloth and plastic. Our orthodontist in Dallas offers plastic thumb guards that are made of a soft, flexible plastic. They are very easy to clean and are proven to be effective in putting an end to thumb sucking. They are FDA-approved and comfortable to wear. They are well-ventilated and allow the thumb to be moisture-free. They are easy to put on and cannot be easily removed by the child. These types of guards are also known as TGuards. A large majority of wearers stop sucking their thumb within just days to weeks of wearing the device.
The alternative to thumb guards is orthodontic devices. Orthodontists, dentists, and pediatricians have been recommending thumb guards for decades because they tend to be more convenient and practical than preventative thumb sucking orthodontics. Two well-known kinds of intraoral appliances that orthodontists offer to thumb suckers are the hay rake and the palatal crib. The hay rake is a fixed oral device that discourages thumb sucking from occurring. Metal wires are inserted behind the front teeth of the mouth. Short prongs or spikes lie behind the teeth and when the child puts the thumb in their mouth, it causes pain to the inserted thumb. The pain discourages the child from wanting to put their thumb in their mouth again. The palatal crib is similar to the hay rake. The palatal crib is attached to the roof of the mouth and made up of metal rings or bars that make it hard for the thumb to touch the top of the palate. This device can be removed or fixed. Other types of thumb sucking deterrent orthodontic devices exist as well, but nothing really compares to the thumb guard.
Talk to Our Orthodontist in Dallas
Schedule an appointment at Ragan Orthodontics to learn more about how a thumb guard can put an end to your child’s thumb-sucking days. Thumb sucking can be a bothersome habit that can lead to profound negative physical and mental effects, so it’s important to nip the problem in the bud as soon as possible. Otherwise, your child may be looking at orthodontic treatment in Dallas down the line, whether this involves braces or another treatment like Invisalign®.