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Thumb & Finger Sucking

Questions & Answers

What Causes Thumb/Finger Sucking Habits?

After an Infant Is born the activities of the mouth quickly become the center of his/her universe! It Is through the natural sucking action that a great deal of pleasure Is derived as the child Ingests the milk from the mother’s breast and/or the formula from a bottle. This natural and healthy sucking urge (which provides the Infant with pleasure and sustainment of life) may generalize to other objects within the Infant’s environment. The Infant begins to experience pleasure by repeating the action of taking nourishment without getting such nourishment. Thus, the beginning of a habit has emerged. The most common objects associated with this behavior are the thumb and/ or fingers.

Should I Be Concerned About Thumb/Finger Sucking Habits?

Thumb/finger suckln1 habits are quite normal In Infancy and early childhood. Many children experience pleasure from these habits for the first few years of life and then terminate them of their own volition. To call undue attention to these habits at this early age may do more harm than good.

However, It Is Important to understand that these habits may become excessive as time goes by. Three factors used to determine IF the habit is excessive are:

  • Intensity: How hard is the thumb/finger being sucked when it is in the mouth?
  • Frequency: How often during the day and night does this sucking act occur?
  • Duration: For how many years does the habit persist? (If the permanent teeth become affected, the concern intensifies).

 

Each of these three factors may vary in degree from person to person. Therefore, no clear-cut formula can be derived, BUT it is known that:

Intensity + Frequency + Duration = Excessiveness

What Are The Reasons For Concern?

In addition to the known hygiene, psychological and social Implications, certain dental aspects may also need to be considered. Whereas It Is true that heredity does play an important role in the development of the structures of the face, EXCESSIVE thumb/finger sucking habits may have a profound impact on this development. They can create a disturbance of the relationship of the Jaws and teeth:

  • The upper front teeth may be pulled outward and pushed upward by the thumb/finger. If this is severe, the upper jaw can become displaced forward which may contribute to a poor biting and chewing surface and promotes a “bucked tooth” appearance.
  • The pressure of the thumb/finger resting on the lower front teeth may retard the growth of the lower jaw and crowd or tip the lower front teeth.
  • The bony support of the upper teeth may be displaced upward, leaving an “open bite” (when the back teeth are brought together, a space remains between the upper and lower teeth).
  • The tongue may come forward during the production of certain speech sounds to compensate for this thumb/finger-induced open bite. The tongue is encouraged to fill the gap, and lisping on certain speech sounds may result.
  • During the sucking act, the tongue is carried in a low and forward posture which may encourage the tongue to push against the teeth during swallowing. A “tongue thrust” swallow is thereby encouraged which may further contribute to the malalignment of teeth (malocclusion).
  • The constant motion of the cheek muscles in the sucking action may begin to narrow the upper dental arch by collapsing it around the thumb/finger. This may contribute to a “crossbite” where the upper and lower jaws no longer fit in harmony.
  • With the thumb/finger in the mouth the lips remain in an open posture. Over time this can distort the appearance of the lips. The child may begin to rest with the lips open most of the time (even when the thumb/finger is not in the mouth). An open-lips resting posture is encouraged, and the child begins to have a “mouth breather” look which detracts from his/her appearance. People unjustly associate dullness of Intelligence with open-lips resting postures. In addition, the open lips posture and the low tongue posture may further contribute to the narrowness of the upper dental arch.

How Can A Parent Determine If Such A Habit Has Become Excessive?

The easiest way to determine if a sucking habit is excessive is to carefully observe the relationship of the teeth and jaws. This can be accomplished by asking the child to bring the BACK teeth together in his/her “normal” bite. If the observable Impact on the teeth and jaws appears mild (see figure 1) there is probably little to be concerned about. If the problem is moderate (see figure 2) there may be reason for concern. If the problem appears severe (see figures 3, 4, & 5) there are definite reasons for concern! (Each photograph is of a different patient.)

fig2

At What Age Should One Become Concerned About Thumb/Finger Sucking Habits?

Thumb/finger sucking and other non-nutritive sucking habits represent a developmental delay if prolonged beyond four or five years of age. The three factors (intensity, duration, frequency) have to be considered in determining the degree of concern. If the sucking act is excessive, the sooner the problem is identified and addressed the better! During a child’s growth and development years, the structure has a remarkable ability to physiologically “rebound!” Whereas some parts of the thumb/finger-induced structural problems may still require orthodontic attention, certain structural components may be minimized by early cessation of these habits.

fig1

If I Am Suspicious That My Child's Habit Is Excessive, What Can I Do?

One of the first steps is to be sure that your child visits a dentist regularly. Sometimes by merely expressing a concern to your child, the dentist can be Instrumental In motivating your child to stop. However, some habits will continue to persist. In these cases consult with a Certified Orofacial Myologist for an evaluation. The Certified Orofacial Myologist Is skilled in helping children (and adults) bring such habits under control in a very positive, non-threatening and uninvasive way.

What About the Psychological implications?

Contrary to belief, the cessation of a thumb/finger sucking habit with patient motivation and cooperation leaves no Ill side effects or deep psychological scars. The Certified Orofacial Myologist Is skilled in motivating people of all ages to WANT to bring these habits under control. The termination of such a habit can become a very positive and gratifying experience for the child!

However, if a person tries to stop a child’s thumb/finger sucking habit by using HUMILIATION, GIULT, PUNISHMENT and/or FORCE, definite psychological overtones may begin to surface.

We will be happy to arrange a Free Consultation for you in order to get all the information you need to know

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