A thumb guard is a plastic device worn over a child’s thumb. It is used to help a child break the habit of thumb sucking. Similar devices called finger guards can be used to help a child stop sucking their fingers.
Why is Thumb Sucking Bad?
Up until a certain age, sucking one’s thumb is perfectly normal and acceptable behavior. It can soothe and calm a baby or a small child. Most children outgrow the habit on their own when they are around four or five years old.
Thumb sucking becomes a problem if the child is still doing it when their adult teeth start to grow in, for it can affect the development of the growing jaws and teeth. The bones in a child’s jaw are comparatively soft, and the pressure created by intense thumb sucking can cause the upper jaw to protrude and thus create an overbite. Thumb sucking can also make the palate narrower, and an abnormally narrow palate can cause problems like tooth crowding. It can also cause a cross bite in which at least some of the upper teeth bite on the inside of the lower teeth. Crossbites can make chewing difficult and cause abnormal wear of the teeth.
Other dental problems seen in older thumb suckers include an open bite, in which the teeth do not meet when the mouth is closed, lower front teeth that are pushed in and top front teeth that stick out. Children with such problems will need orthodontic treatment later on to correct them.
The damage done to a child’s teeth and jaw will affect their ability to chew and speak normally. Many thumb suckers develop a lisp or another pronunciation problem. Thumb sucking is also not hygienic. Putting a dirty thumb in one’s mouth all the time increases the chances of picking up the various cold viruses and stomach bugs going around.
How Does a Thumb Guard Work?
The thumb guard, which is made of a clear material, is placed over the child’s thumb and held in place with a plastic strap. The thumb guard leaves an air gap and thus prevents the pleasurable suction that comes with sucking an uncovered thumb.
It usually takes between three to eight weeks to break a child’s thumb sucking habit with a thumb guard. Most children stop daytime thumb sucking before the nighttime thumb sucking; the latter is a harder habit to break.
Considerations When Using the Thumb Guard
The two most important factors in using the thumb guard successfully are the child’s motivation and the parents’ support. An unmotivated child will probably look for ways to remove the thumb guard and continue sucking – and taking the thumb guard off simply involves cutting the straps. The child has to want to break the habit for the thumb guard to work.
Breaking Your Child’s Thumb Sucking Habit
Since it is difficult for a child to see the big picture of the consequences of thumb sucking, it is often the parents’ decision to take the first step to break the habit for the child. If your child is still sucking their thumb and you know it’s time for them to stop, make an appointment at Ragan Orthodontics. We have three locations in the Dallas area. Contact us today to schedule a consultation for a thumb guard for your child.