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How Thumb Sucking Habit Can Affect Your Child's Teeth and Face

It is inherent trait of babies to suck on anything that is placed near their mouth. While this reflex action is important in feeding the child through breastfeeding, bottle-feeding and providing a soothing effect to the child, it can be equally dangerous if children develop the habit of sucking their thumbs for prolonged durations. This habit of thumb sucking, although normal in the earlier years of infancy, can cause serious damage to the teeth and other structures within the oral cavity if it prolongs beyond five years of age.

What Is The Cause of Thumb Sucking?

During infancy, the child derives nourishment, pleasure and warmth from the mother's breast or the feeding bottle. However, as breast and bottle feeding is gradually tapered off while the child grows, the child find alternative ways to get the same sense of satisfaction and enjoyment it got while being fed. Since the baby can easily put the finger into the mouth, they become the next alternative for a child to suck on. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), the habit of thumb sucking in children is quite safe, until they grow their permanent teeth. If it continues beyond this age, it can deteriorate the alignment of the teeth as well as the facial profile.

When Parents Should Seeks Expert Help?

The deleterious effects of thumb sucking on the teeth are related to the intensity as well as the duration for which a child sucks it thumb each day. If the child simply rests the thumb passively within the oral cavity, then the chances of damage to the teeth are minimal. However, if the child aggressively sucks onto the thumb or finger, then there are chances of dental damage, particularly if it is done for extended durations. In this case, it is advisable for the parents to consult an orthodontist for the management of this habit

Long Term Effects of Thumb Sucking

If this para-functional dental habit goes unchecked in children, it can cause several adverse effects on the teeth as well as the facial profile:

  • Protrusion of Teeth - since the teeth are constantly being pressed by the thumb with an outwards force, the teeth front teeth tend to protrude out of alignment. This condition is known as an overjet, creating an aesthetic problem.
  • Difficult Oral Hygiene Maintenance - the anteriorly protruded teeth do not allow the lips to be properly sealed. As a result, the gums and the teeth remain deprived of the saliva, increasing the chances for development of tooth cavities, as well as gingival and periodontal problems.
  • Disturbances In Facial Profile - during childhood, rapid development of the head and the face is in progress. In these cases, if the child excessively performs thumb sucking, it can lead to discrepancies within the development and profile of the jaw bones. In addition, since the child rests the thumb onto the roof of the palate, there are high chances that its shape may get altered.
  • An Open Gateway For Germs - children are constantly putting their hands into dirty places, and afterwards, habitually put these fingers into their mouths. As a result, the germs can an unrestricted entry into the oral cavity.

What Should Parents Do?

The foremost step in helping the children get rid of this habit, is to make him realize that this habit is damaging for them, and they must discontinue it. Some other steps that can help, include:

  • Praise Your Child - whenever your child makes an attempt at quitting this habit, he or she must be praised and encouraged.
  • Find the Cause- it has been observed that children often suck their thumbs when they are nervous, bored or feeling insecure. Try to find the actual cause of this habit, and make efforts to eliminate it.
  • Indulge Your Child - for older children, the issue should be discussed with them, and they should be allowed to choose a method for stopping, of their liking. This will boost their ego, and encourage them to get rid of this habit.
  • Consult Your Dentist - dentists are trained in the management of para-functional dental habits, such as thumb sucking. They can, not only help the parents in creating a management plan that is best suited for their child, but also keep a track of the child's progress during therapy.

If none of the above methods work, the child's hands can be bandaged as a reminder of getting rid of this habit. However, it is imperative that the parents discuss this with the child's dentist before undertaking any corrective measures of this kind.

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