Craig S. Karriker, DMD, P.A.- 400 South Granard Street, Gaffney, SC 29341, (864) 487-0710

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By Craig S. Karriker, DMD, PA
June 20, 2021
Category: Oral Health
Tags: thumb sucking  
ThumbSuckingandTongueThrustingCouldCauseaPoorBite

There are many things to be concerned about with your infant. Thumb sucking shouldn't be one of them—at least not yet. Practically universal among young children, the habit normally fades by age four with no real harm.

If it persists beyond that age, however, it can lead to a poor bite (malocclusion). Late thumb sucking may also have a connection with another problem—the inability of a child to transition from an infantile swallowing pattern to an adult pattern.

A baby while swallowing thrusts their tongue forward to help create a seal around a breast or bottle nipple during nursing. This normally changes about age 4, though, to a positioning of the tongue against the roof of the mouth when swallowing. But if they don't transition and continue to thrust the tongue forward, it can place undue pressure on the front teeth and cause them to develop too far forward.

The result may be an open bite, in which a gap exists between the upper and lower teeth even when the jaws are shut. An open bite can also happen with late thumb sucking, but instead of the tongue, their thumb presses against the teeth.

As to thumb-sucking, parents should encourage their child to stop the habit beginning around age 3, if they haven't already begun to do so. The best approach is to use some form of positive reinforcement such as praise or treats. The sooner the habit ceases after age 4, the lower their risk for developing an open bite.

You may also need to be alert to continued tongue thrusting while swallowing, which may still continue even after they no longer suck their thumb. In that case, your child may need orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT), a series of exercises directed by a trained therapist to retrain the muscles involved with swallowing. This therapy could further help a child properly transition to an adult swallowing pattern.

Open bites can be corrected orthodontically later in life. But by being alert to your child's oral habits, as well as the way they're swallowing, you and your dentist may be able to intervene and eliminate or at least lessen the development of this type of problem bite.

If you would like more information on how to manage thumb sucking, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”

By Craig S. Karriker, DMD, PA
March 14, 2016
Category: Oral Health
Tags: thumb sucking  
ThumbSuckingOneofManyFactorstoConsiderWhenTreatingaPoorBite

It’s true — thumb sucking beyond age 4 can cause bite problems for permanent teeth. But prolonged thumb sucking is just one of a number of possible contributing factors for a bad bite (malocclusion). A dentist must identify all the factors involved when a bad bite is present — their involvement is essential for a successful treatment outcome.

A fairly benign habit for infants and toddlers, thumb sucking is related to an “infantile swallowing pattern” young children use by thrusting their tongues forward between the upper and lower teeth when they swallow. Around age 4, though, they usually transition to an adult swallowing pattern in which the tongue rests on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. Thumb sucking stops for most children around the same time.

Thumb sucking beyond this age, though, can put increased pressure on incoming permanent teeth pushing them forward. This could lead to an “open bite” in which the upper and lower teeth don’t meet when the jaws are closed. The tongue may also continue to thrust forward when swallowing to seal the resulting gap, which further reinforces the open bite.

Before treating the bite with braces, we must first address the thumb sucking and improper tongue placement when swallowing — if either isn’t corrected the teeth could gradually revert to their previous positions after the braces come off. Besides behavioral incentives, we can also employ a thin metal appliance called a “tongue crib” placed behind the upper and lower incisors. A tongue crib discourages thumb sucking and makes it more difficult for the tongue to rest within the open bite gap when swallowing, which helps retrain it to a more normal position.

An open bite can also occur if the jaws develop with too much vertical growth. Like thumb sucking and improper tongue placement, abnormal jaw growth could ultimately cause orthodontic treatment to fail. In this case, though, surgery may be necessary to correct the jaw structure.

With all these possible variables, our first step needs to be a thorough orthodontic exam that identifies all the cause factors for your child’s specific malocclusion. Knowing if and how thumb sucking may have contributed to the poor bite will help us design a treatment strategy that’s successful.

If you would like more information on the causes of poor tooth position, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “How Thumb Sucking Affects the Bite.”

By Craig S. Karriker, DMD, PA
March 12, 2014
Category: Oral Health
KnowWhattodotoEaseYourChildOutoftheThumbSuckingHabit

Thumb or finger sucking is a normal activity for babies and young children — they begin the habit while still in the womb and may continue it well into the toddler stage. Problems with tooth development and alignment could arise, however, if the habit persists for too long.

It’s a good idea, then, to monitor your child’s sucking habits during their early development years. There are also a few things you can do to wean them off the habit before it can cause problems down the road.

  • Eliminate your child’s use of pacifiers by eighteen months of age. Studies have shown that the sucking action generated through pacifiers could adversely affect a child’s bite if they are used after the age of 2. Weaning your child off pacifiers by the time they are a year and a half old will reduce the likelihood of that occurring.
  • Encourage your child to stop thumb or finger sucking by age 3. Most children tend to stop thumb or finger sucking on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. As with pacifiers, if this habit continues into later childhood it could cause the upper front teeth to erupt out of position and tip toward the lip. The upper jaw also may not develop normally.
  • Replace your child’s baby bottle with a training cup around one year of age. Our swallowing mechanism changes as we grow; introducing your child to a training cup at around a year old will encourage them to transition from “sucking” to “sipping,” and make it easier to end the thumb or finger sucking habit.
  • Begin regular dental visits for your child by their first birthday. The Age One visit will help you establish a regular habit of long-term dental care. It’s also a great opportunity to evaluate your child’s sucking habits and receive helpful advice on reducing it in time.

While your child’s thumb or finger sucking isn’t something to panic over, it does bear watching. Following these guidelines will help your child leave the habit behind before it causes any problems.

If you would like more information on children’s thumb-sucking and its effect on dental development, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Thumb Sucking in Children.”