Thumb Sucking. Does it cause the need for Braces in Children

Thumb Sucking. Does it cause the need for Braces in Children

Dec 20, 2023

Thumb sucking is a prevalent behavior observed in many children and can cause anxiety for parents. Typically, children tend to outgrow this habit by the time they reach the age of two to four. Nevertheless, there are cases where children persist with this behavior for an extended period, potentially resulting in orthodontic complications that may require the intervention of braces.

Understanding Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is not instinctive but rather a reflexive, self-soothing behavior. This habit is prevalent among babies and young children, with the frequency and intensity varying among individuals. While it is generally harmless in early childhood, continued thumb sucking past the age of five can potentially alter jaw growth and cause misalignment of the teeth.

Orthodontic Problems Linked to Thumb Sucking

Continued thumb and finger sucking beyond the age of five can lead to several orthodontic issues, including teeth alignment issues and changes in jaw shape.

Teeth Alignment
One of the most noticeable signs that a child sucks their thumb is a change in the alignment of their front teeth. The sucked thumb can cause the upper front teeth to protrude forward, while the constant pressure from the hand in the mouth can cause the lower front teeth to tip forward.

Jaw Shape

While less common than teeth alignment changes, thumb sucking can also alter a child’s jaw shape. The upper jaw can narrow, resulting in a mismatch with the lower jaw. This misalignment can lead to a cross-bite, where the upper and lower teeth don’t fit together properly.

An open bite can also occur with thumb sucking, where the upper teeth don’t overlap the bottom teeth when the back teeth are together. The thumb creates an opening between the top and bottom front teeth, preventing them from meeting.

Impact on Speech

A child’s speech can be impacted by misaligned teeth or an open bite. Straight front teeth are essential for pronouncing some letters correctly. If a child has protruding front teeth or an open bite, they may develop a lisp, which, without speech therapy and orthodontic treatment, can linger into adulthood.

Changes in Face Shape

The shape of our jaws influences our facial structure. An overbite, where the front teeth are pushed forward to accommodate the thumb, can alter a child’s face shape. However, orthodontic treatment with braces can rectify these changes.

Factors Influencing the Severity of the Problem

The severity of orthodontic problems caused by thumb sucking is determined by three main factors: duration, frequency, and the type of sucking.

If the thumb sucking habit is short-lived or the child doesn’t suck their thumb for extended periods, it is unlikely to cause permanent damage to their teeth or jaw.

Some children suck their thumb for short periods during the day, while others do it continuously, even in their sleep. High-frequency thumb sucking poses the most risk of causing damage.

Type of Sucking
Not all thumb sucking is the same. Children who let their finger rest in their mouth can do less harm than those who suck harder. The more force a child applies while sucking their thumb, the greater the potential for damage.

Thumb Sucking vs. Using a Dummy

Parents often wonder whether they should have introduced their baby to a dummy instead of allowing them to suck their thumb.

However, a dummy can also cause jaw and teeth alignment issues if used for long periods. Research indicates that significant dental problems can occur in long-term dummy users after the age of five, but ideally, the dummy should be discarded before the child turns three. No specific dummy shape or brand is superior at reducing teeth and jaw risks.

When Should Children Stop Thumb Sucking?

Until the age of five, thumb sucking is unlikely to permanently alter a child’s jaw shape. While their baby teeth may be slightly misaligned, the greater concern is the jaw, which would require orthodontic treatment to correct any alignment issues.

After the age of five, the child’s jaw shape is more likely to be impacted, and their teeth are more likely to be misaligned. Hence, it is a good idea to help your child break the habit by their fifth birthday.