How to stop thumb sucking

How to stop thumb sucking

What is a thumb sucking habit?

It is a habit where a child places his thumb or one more finger inside the mouth and sucks it. The sucking action exerts pressure on the teeth and the soft developing bones of the face. Constant pressure from thumb sucking can cause the facial bones and teeth to move from their position, causing a facial deformity and misalignment of teeth. Therefore, you need make effort to stop thumb sucking in your child.

Thumb sucking is a normal childhood behavior and is not a concern for up to 3-4 years of a child’s life.

Moreover, a few children exhibit finger-sucking. However, it is relatively less common than thumb-sucking. 

When does thumb sucking start? 

It is common for infants and toddlers to suck their thumb because it brings happiness, a sense of security, warmth, and being wanted.

Newborn Thumb sucking is quite common and is seen as early as 29 weeks in the mother’s womb.

4-6 months old thumb sucking often coincides with the appearance of the first pair of baby teeth erupting. The irritation in the gums causes the child to put his fingers in the mouth to ease the irritation and shift their attention.

Children who don’t get enough breastfeeding and are bottle-fed satisfy their instinctive suckling habit with a pacifier or thumb sucking. Moreover, kids using pacifiers for prolonged duration are less likely to develop thumb sucking.

Thumb sucking up to the age of two years causes no permanent damage to the teeth and face. Continuous thumb sucking after age 3 or 4 needs to be stopped as it can be detrimental to the growing bones and erupting permanent teeth. 

For the first 3-4 years, the damage to the teeth is temporary and is confined to the front region, provided it is stopped before six years of age. 

Thumb sucking for a minimum of 4-6 hours, continuing for over a year, produces positional changes in teeth and jawbones. 

What are the effects of thumb sucking?

Effects of thumb sucking on the face and teeth

A habitual thumb-sucker child has typical thumb-sucking teeth and facial appearance that results from placing thumb for prolonged periods daily for over a year:

  • Narrow upper jaw: Narrowing of the upper jaws occurs due to constant pressure from cheek and lip muscles contraction during thumb sucking, forcing the jaws inwards and preventing their growth and expansion. 4-6 hours of daily force for over a year is enough to cause tooth and bone movements. However, the lower jaw growth often remains unaffected. 
  • Buck teeth and anterior open bite: During thumb sucking, the thumb placed between the upper and lower front teeth moves the upper front teeth forward and the lower front teeth inward. The thumb pad resting against the edges of the upper teeth also pushes them into the bone opening the bite. This process creates an open bite between the upper and lower front teeth when the jaws are closed, known as an anterior open bite. 
  • Deep palate (roof of the mouth): The two (right and left) palatal bones form the roof of the mouth and are joined in the midline by an immobile joint. An intervening fibrous tissue keeps the saw tooth-like edges of the palatal bones in place during the early years of life. This palatal joint fuses (calcifies) between 11-16 years (11-13 in girls and 14-16 in boys). Constant pressure from the thumb opens the joint and causes the roof of the mouth to deepen at the area where the thumb pad is placed.

Thumb sucking blister on the thumb

The thumb of the thumb-sucking child appears red with a blister due to constant exposure to saliva in the mouth. Because of the prolonged exposure of skin to moisture, the only treatment required is keeping the finger/thumb dry and clean to prevent any infection, allowing it to heal. 

Speech difficulties in thumb suckers 

Lisp is commonly seen in children who have a habit of thumb-sucking. These children have difficulty making s and z words.

Anterior open bite and forward positioning of the upper teeth in a thumb sucking child causes them to place their tongue forward in the space between the upper and lower teeth. This forward positioning of the tongue is known as tongue thrust and is an abnormal tongue position. Typically, the tongue rests behind the lower teeth. 

When we speak, our tongue articulates with upper teeth, front palate, and lips to make different sounds. The lisp is produced when the tongue moves too forward to produce ‘s’ sound and makes a ‘th’ sound instead. 

S sound is an unvoiced sound produced when the tip of the tongue is brought near the roof of the mouth, and the air is pushed past the tongue to make a hissing sound. On the other hand, the z sound is produced by the same tongue articulation, but is a voiced sound, heard by the vibration of vocal cords. 

Therefore, anterior open bite and the forward positioning of the upper teeth impact your child’s speech. Intercepting the problem at an early age with an orthodontic treatment, habit breakers, and speech therapy can help with your child’s speech and appearance. 

what are the Reason for thumb sucking in babies 

Following are the reasons for the babies sucking their thumb or fingers:

  • The sucking action gives them a sense of safety and joy. 
  •  Kids also start thumb-sucking when their teeth are erupting as it eases the irritation caused during teething. 
  • In infancy, stimulating the mouth lining through sucking brings pleasure and satisfaction to the baby and is accomplished through breastfeeding. At such a young age, the mouth is considered an oro-erotic zone. Therefore, the babies who don’t get enough breastfeeding and are bottle-fed start thumb-sucking to eliminate their desire for breastfeeding. 

Prevalence of thumb-sucking – how common is thumb sucking?

The percentage of thumb-sucking habits decreases with the increase in age and it is more common among girls than boys. According to a study on the Swedish population, 82% of children possess it during the first five months of their life. 

In another research, 72% of the US children between the age of 2-5 years had thumb-sucking habits. 

Another study conducted in 2014 shows the finger or pacifier-sucking habit in about 48% of children at four years of age and 12.1% of children older than seven years. The practice continues in 1.9% of 12-year-old children.

According to a recent study, 45% of 3-4.5 year-olds showed digit sucking, 13.6% in 6 yr old, and 5.9% of children of 7-11 years. 

Moreover, it becomes difficult to quit a thumb or finger sucking habit past the age of 4-5 years, so parents need to take it seriously early in their child’s life.

What are the Easy ways to stop thumb sucking 

There are several ways to end or discourage thumb sucking at an early age:

Phycological therapy

 It involves diverting the child’s attention towards play or toys and motivating them to discontinue the habit. For that, you need to be more affectionate to your child. 

Reminder therapy

The reminder therapy aims to reminds the child when he takes his thumb to the mouth. This therapy is helpful in children who are motivated to quit the habit, but involuntarily do it. Thumb-sucking habit, like other habits, becomes autonomous and requires conscious reprogramming to stop the practice. Reminder methods forbid them and train their mind not to take the thumb to their mouth.

The “reminder” must be neutral and not perceived as the only form of punishment. 

The following measures can be used to reminder or agents that help them stop thumb sucking: 

Femite

You can use femite to help your child get rid of thumb-sucking. Femite is used to treat skin infections and contains bitter-tasting Denatonium benzoate. Even a few parts per million of denatonium benzoate makes it so bitter and its thumb application forbids the child to take his thumb to the mouth. 

Thumb-sucking nail polish

Bitter-tasting nail polishes containing Denatonium benzoate are also available over the counter and effectively stop the child’s habit.

It can be used to stop thumb sucking in both children and adults. In stubborn nocturnal thumb sucking, some children don’t respond well to this method and involuntarily do in thumb sucking while asleep.

NIPIT and stopper

NIPIT hand stopper is a flexible elbow guard wrapped around the elbow to restrict movement. This elbow guard also remind the child not to take his thumb to the mouth. It is comfortable to wear and allows unrestricted child’s hand movement while playing. However, it limits the range of elbow movement past 100 degrees.

The child can still bring his hand to the mouth with the guard around the arm but with great effort. Most children willing to give up the habit respond well to this therapy and stop thumb sucking. 

Elbow guard with a musical device

Some elbow guards have a musical device installed facing the elbow that turns on the music whenever the child bends his hand to take it to the mouth. The guard doesn’t allow the elbow flexion enough to take the finger to the mouth.

Thumb sucking guard

A thumb guard is a highly effective and inexpensive way to treat your child’s thumb sucking. 

Best thumb guard for thumb suckers : Tguard Aero thumb is an FDA-approved thumb guard for thumb suckers. Dentists, orthodontists, and pediatricians have recommended it for 20 years. The device covers the sucking digit and is strapped on the wrist to secure it in place. They are flexible, lightweight, airy, and don’t allow moisture buildup on the covered areas.

The child can take it to the mouth, but the device prevents the formation of suction. The child eventually loses the motivation and stops thumb-sucking. The results are seen within 30 days. Most people report their child quitting the habit within seven days. 

Thumb sucking glove 

Thumb sucking glove is also a cheap alternative to prevent the formation of suction upon digit sucking.  

Reward therapy

Reward therapy is another way to motivate your child to quit thumb sucking. You can incentivize your child with a present they like upon discontinuing the habit. Ask the child to stop thumb-sucking for 3 or 5 days initially and then work your way up. For a young child, it may be challenging to comply if asked to discontinue the habit for more than five consecutive days. 

Start slowly. It takes 21 to 40 days to make or quit a habit. Start with 3 to 5 days and increase it if your child complies. The reward shouldn’t be costly. It should be a toy or anything that motivates your child.  

Appliance therapy

Thumb-sucking appliances are given when the child doesn’t respond to other methods. It requires a customized appliance fabricated in the lab on your dentist’s recommendation. The devices are either fixed or removable.

Habit breaker appliances: Fixed palatal crib and hay rake are bonded to the upper teeth, while the removable devices are delivered with clasps on the molars. They have fence-like features that cover the mouth’s roof and make the thumb placement uncomfortable. 

Bluegrass appliance is another device that has a Teflon roller to hinder thumb placement.

Jaw expanders: Quad helix or hyrax expanders widens the upper jaw in children with narrow upper arches and posterior cross bites that develop from thumb sucking. They also work as a habit breaker and prevents child from putting his thumb/finger in the mouth.

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