Thumb and finger habits quickly become a part of the child’s daily routine. However, 75 percent of children outgrow their detrimental oral habits by the time they enter kindergarten. These habits often correct themselves due to peer pressure without the need for any professional intervention.
The Negative Impact of Thumbsucking
Most dentofacial changes depend on the severity, frequency and intensity of the thumb or fingers present within the oral region. These changes may include the following:
- Anterior open bite
- Overbite or underbite
- Lingual migration of the mandibular incisors
- Movement of maxillary incisors in a facial pattern
- Distortion of speech and mastication tendencies
Dental professionals typically allow their thumbsucking patients to halt the progress of any further oral deterioration by spontaneous return to normal daily routine. If the patient does not show progress by the age of 4 -6, other methods of prevention and correction are applied to rectify any existing issues and preventing them from becoming more complex problems in the future.
Methods of Treatment
Counseling and reminder therapy are the most gentle and successful techniques used to correct thumbsucking issues. This approach is especially effective when dealing with older children who are capable of understanding the message that is being conveyed from the dental provider, a parent or a care taker. Both techniques are combined with each other as well as a visual aid in the form of a commercially manufactured device, mitten or a sock. It is crucial to emphasize to the child that the appliance is a reminder not a punishment.
In many cases, a reward system may be implemented to reinforce the therapies. A “contract” between the care taker and the child is drawn and signed by both parties. If the child discontinues the habit within a specific amount of time, they receive a reward agreed upon in the contract. The progress is monitored by placing appropriate stickers on a calendar. Should this method of correction fail, other techniques will be applied if the child is willing to stop the habit.
- The Quadhelix Appliance – Expands the arch and acts as a reminder not to place the fingers in the mouth.
- The Palatal Crib – Mechanically obstructs placing the thumbs within the oral cavity, but it does not expand the arch.
- The Kentucky Bluegrass Appliance – Fabricated with cylinder spins, it reduces sucking satisfaction.
- Pacifiers – Similar to thumbsucking, but it is less pronounced and guarantees to stop the habit in 100 percent of children by the age of eight.
Severe Cases of Sucking the thumb
Prolonged sucking of the thumb can lead to severe cases of other conditions such as bruxism or lip licking. Because of soft properties of enamel, the bruxism results in reduced tooth structure, gum disease and premature tooth loss. It may also cause oral joint and muscle aches and pains creating a chronic source of discomfort for the child. It may be corrected with the application of the plastic nightguard or day mouthguard to slow or stop the progress.
Lip licking leaves a ring around the lower lip, cracked skin and increased overjet. Both conditions may be detrimental in the proper development of functional and aesthetic conduct of the mouth. The affected areas may be controlled with the use of ointments and bitter–tasting creams.