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Thumb Sucking & Other Childhood Habits

A baby is born with a natural sucking reflex.  However children who habitually suck their thumb after the age of 1 will affect the way their teeth, jaw & face grow. In this section when we talk about thumb sucking, the effects are also seen in children who suck their fingers, lips, dummy or pacifier, sippy cup, bottles, blankets, pencils or are habitual nail biters.

Effect of habitual sucking on a child’s face

Growth studies have shown that a thumb sucking habit alters normal growth and development.

  • Having a thumb, finger or dummy in the mouth means that the tongue is in a low position in the mouth
  • The abnormal tongue position along with having something in the mouth creates abnormal pressures in the upper and lower jaws
  • As the front teeth may not come together, this can lead to an open bite
  • As facial muscle pressures are not balanced with pressure of the tongue narrowing of the upper jaw can occur
  • A crossbite may occur having a disproportionally narrow upper jaw and the lower jaw may have to move sideways and forward for a child to bite properly
  • Over time children who thumb or finger suck have protruding front upper teeth and their lower teeth are tipped backwards.
  • There may be spaces between the upper and lower front teeth that correspond to the shape of their thumb or finger.
  • The lower jaw is prevented from growing forward because of the forces from the sucking.

If not corrected early, permanent effects can occur on the development of the jaw and face.

Previously dental advice was to wait till the permanent teeth have come through before addressing the problem. New research now shows that those young children who thumb suck have an increased risk of developing abnormal bites (like a posterior cross-bite) by the age of 5.  When a child sucks their thumb, the position of the tongue is lowered and there is increased force applied on the jaw and teeth through the muscles of the checks.  This can lead to the under development of the upper jaw resulting in a narrow high palate.

Narrow high palate can affect the structure of the nasal and sinus passages and this in turn means more difficulty breathing through the nose.  Having a narrow palate is a known risk factors for the development of sleep disordered breathing.

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Our Approach

Our approach uses a combination of strategies. We have trained with leading myofunctional therapist Sandra Coulson who is also known as the “The Thumb Whisperer” and with Rochelle Mcpherson.

After an assessment of your child, we then embark on a behaviour modification program.

We would like to work with your child to help beak this habit. Your child needs to feel that he or she is not criticised for their habit and need to be motivated to address their habit for this approach to work.  The following video may be useful to show your child the problem of the habit and help to change their habit.

We welcome the opportunity to work with your child. Book a thumb sucking consultation at the dental gallery Point Cook, with our Oral Health Therapist, Lydia.