Breaking a thumb habit is much much more difficult than breaking a pacifier habit for obvious reasons. Whereas a pacifier can be thrown away anytime, the thumb is always present and easy to access. Although my professional recommendation is to discourage both habits, my personal preference is always to try to swap the thumb for pacifier as soon as the baby starts to suck on it.
As mentioned in my previous entry, thumb or finger habit can cause distortions in the palate as well as the front teeth. Aside from cosmetic dental concerns, thumb habit is also unhygienic in that unnecessary bacteria is introduced from the hand into the mouth and then into the GI tract. For some children, thumb habit can even become a social barrier in situations where he or she gets made fun of in school.
Many parents express significant frustration when they have a hard time breaking their toddlers’ thumb habit. While there are some serious potential consequences that can result, studies have shown that as long as the habit is broken sometime before the time permanent front teeth come in, teeth distortions usually resolve spontaneously without any treatment. Since permanent teeth in the upper arch usually come in around age 7, pediatric dentists usually monitor the habits when the patient is young and encourage more passive modes of habit breaking. If a child still can’t stop sucking around 5 or 6 years of age, more involved and active treatments are recommended. If the habit still can’t be broken after the permanent teeth are fully in, orthodontic treatments are often required to correct the distortion.
Here are a list of different ways to try to break the habit. As every child has a different personality, one method may work for some but not others. I typically recommend trying more passive methods first before signing up for more aggressive treatments.
1. Verbal discipline urging the child to stop putting his/her finger in the mouth
2. Putting something over the finger such as a band-aid, glove, or sock
3. Paint something unpalatable over the finger to give it a bad taste. There is a special nail polish that can be purchased over the internet. I recommend lemon and orange peel. Make sure not to use anything spicy as a lot of children will forget and rub their eyes.
4. Calendar reward system: If habit stops for one day, the child gets a sticker. A small prize is given for three stickers in a row. A big prize is awarded for five stickers in a row, etc.
5. Acrylic thumb guard that can be purchased online to cover the thumb. It is attached to the hand with a velcro strap that’s more difficult to remove compared to a band-aid or glove.
6. Thumb appliance made at a dental office. This is a retainer that’s professionally fitted and gets cemented in the mouth until the dentist removes it. Metal projections from the appliance puts a physical barrier over the palate so it’s difficult to suck the thumb. This appliance is highly effective.
Thumb appliance made in a dental office.
For any questions concerning oral habits, feel free to contact Dr. Alice at Red Rock Kids Dental or email.