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Thumb-Sucking and Dental Damage: Is Your Child at Risk?

Mar 10, 2015 - 03:03 PM EST |  Posted under: Pediatric Dentistry

Is your child’s thumb always in his mouth? For a very young child, thumb-sucking is a productive and natural behavior. It allows your child to comfort or entertain himself, but it may lead to serious dental problems. Once children reach the preschool years, fewer resort to sucking their thumbs. The behavior is gradually replaced by others as the child becomes more self-assured and interactive. However, one out of five children past the age of five will still be sucking his thumb or finger. Many parents become concerned at this stage, and seek assistance from professionals to help eliminate the behavior.

Thumb-Sucking and Dental Problems

The length of time your child sucks his thumb and the intensity of the habit determine how much damage is done to the teeth and jaws. Frequent, forceful sucking can actually move teeth and reshape the jawbone. The upper front teeth tend to flare outward while the lower teeth recede inward. If your child is still sucking his thumb by the age of five when permanent teeth start to erupt, he may develop an overbite or other abnormalities. Problems with speech are also common. Fortunately, if treated in a timely manner while your child’s bones and teeth are still developing, the damage can often be reversed.

Treatment for Thumb-Sucking: Call Your Pediatric Dentist

When thumb-sucking threatens dental health, ask your pediatric dentist for help. One effective dental treatment for thumb-sucking is type of stainless steel oral appliance called a palatal bar or crib. Available in both fixed and removable varieties, these appliances are inserted into your child’s mouth to prevent sucking. Because the crib blocks access to the gums behind the front teeth and the roof of the mouth, your child no longer receives any gratification from the behavior, so he stops. Improvements in tooth position are usually seen within two weeks after the placement of a fixed crib. It takes up to six months for maximum results in cases where significant damage has occurred.

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