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Thumb Sucking and Dental Problems

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Thumb sucking is a behaviour which crosses species. Not only is it found in humans, but chimpanzees and other primates also partake in the habit. Thumb sucking in a baby is basically the breastfeeding sucking reflex; it usually disappears after about 4 months. Many parents often ignore the activity in older children accepting it as the child’s way of comforting himself or herself.

Children will continue to suck their thumbs during their early years because they are bored, tired, worried or stressed. Nipping this in the bud can help stop the behaviour; otherwise, if a child is still thumb sucking beyond the ‘growing out phase’, it could contribute to major problems in later life. Adults displaying the behaviour will almost certainly have connected psychological problems.

Dental Problems

Many parents in an effort to pacify their children and stop them sucking their thumb will give them a dummy. While on the surface this might seem reasonable, there are in fact similar dangers to thumb sucking. One particular problem is dental. It can hold back development.

Dental problems associated with thumb sucking are many and varied. For instance, children who are still sucking their appendage by age 3 are at risk of reshaping their jawbone. Bones do not fully harden till much later in life. As such, the jawbone is still soft and pliable at age 3.

Other associated problems include misalignment of growing teeth and narrow dental arches. Further, both upper and lower sets of teeth will be affected; upper teeth could tip upwards and flare out while the lower set is likely to move inward. Associated with this forced teeth movement is the affect on the palate.

Palate and teeth misalignment will invariably cause other related problems such as difficulties in chewing and swallowing. The latter should be watched as it also indicates misalignment of the tongue; a problem with this will cause speech impediments.

In adults it is now known that thumb sucking if left unchecked as a child can cause a range of other physical complications. For instance, it can cause the tonsils to collapse resulting in snoring. While the latter is often the butt of jokes, for the sufferer it is anything but.

Stopping the Behaviour

While the above may seem rather gloomy, stopping the behaviour before it gets out of hand is not that difficult providing you are patient. Rather than pressurising children to stop sucking their thumbs it is perhaps better to come from a different perspective, namely praise the child when he or she doesn’t suck. If the child is old enough to understand it is worth setting up a reward system; in short rewarding the child for not sucking their thumb.

Finally, it might also be worthwhile getting advice off the dentist before embarking on more drastic methods such as taping the thumb. Some advocate using pepper or nail polish as a kind of bitter pill. It can work but this should never be used on young children.

Looking for cosmetic dentistry? Talk to Harley Street Dental Studio

The Harley Street Dental Studio has a vast range of services to enhance your smile. For more information on any aspect of cosmetic dentistry contact us on 020 7636 5981.

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