When to See Your Dentist About a Thumb Sucking Appliance

Thumb sucking is a normal behavior that children should outgrow between two and six years of age. By the age of six the behavior has developed to a habit and begins causing permanent damage. While the permanent teeth are working their way out, if the habit is not, a thumb sucking appliance may be required to avoid further problems in child’s oral development.

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The most common dental complications caused by digit sucking are:

Open bite – The thumb pushes the upper front teeth forward (buck teeth, protrusion), and the lower front teeth backward (retrusion).
Posterior crossbite – When the upper arch is narrowed, and the lower wider, the posterior teeth are not properly aligned when biting.
Narrowing the upper arch – Because the thumb is constantly pushing the palate up, it narrows the upper arch. This can lead to an unsightly appearance.
Holding back the growth of the lower jaw – As the upper jaw is thrust forward the growth of the lower jaw can be slowed.

Schedule an appointment with the pediatric dentist to determine the severity of this issue. If your child hasn’t stopped by 7 or 8 years old the dentist may recommend you see an orthodontist about the thumbsucking appliance. The orthodontist will take some some x-rays, photos and dental impressions in order to make a custom-fabricated appliance that will fit your child’s mouth. It will only take a few days for the custom fit appliance to be ready for installation. The child will then be monitored for approximately 6-12 months.

The orthodontist will explain the purpose of the thumb habit appliance. This is for the benefit of the parents to completely understand and accept this kind of therapy.

Wearing the dental thumb sucking appliance doesn’t cause pain, but it will be uncomfortable and your child will experience some difficulties talking and eating.There may be some sorenessaround the upper back teeth for a whileand of course the effects are immediate. Falling sleep and finding comfort at times when the child would usually suckmay be tough the first few days. Your child will be advised to be careful with sticky and hard foods, which would ideally be avoided. When it comes to hygiene, dentists recommend brushing teeth as normal and using mouth rinse or plain water in the morning and before going to bed.

Non-nutritive sucking is a comforting habit for the child. It soothes and is always there when needed. If you choose to try of the appliances below, be prepared to offer some extra attention and emotional support.

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What are common types of thumb habit appliances?

1. Thumb retainer – This is the simplest removable appliance and similar to the retainers that patients get after wearing the braces.Your child has to wear it during the night and the couple of hours during the day, for example, during her favorite activities like watching TV or reading. This device only works if your child is willing to quit. If you have any doubts about how well your child will cooperate, this device could be a waste of money.

2. Thumb crib – This appliance is suggested if your child is a more tenacious thumb sucker. It is a metal appliance fixed on the upper molars. The soldered wires prevent your child from pressing the palate while thumb sucking. Most children wear the thumb crib for 9-12 months, which is enough not only to stop thumb sucking, but also to perform minor front teeth straightening that came out of alignment.

3. Bluegrass appliance – This is an appliance alternatively designed for those kids who do not respond to classical palatal crib. It helps breaking the habit of digit sucking and tongue thrusting. It has a spinning roller that stops the thumb from making the contact with the gums. It also works by offering an alternate behavior that children don’t take as punishment. The roller doesn’t touch the palate. This thumb habit appliance is attached on the upper molars and extends behind the upper front teeth where it helps them to return to their normal position.

4. Rake appliance – If your child has a tongue that rests in the inadequate position which makes the front teeth move forward, then this appliance is the best choice. It extends frontally and pokes the tongue. It also causes a real discomfort if your child tries to suck the thumb, literally “hurting” it to stop thumb sucking. Ouch!

Even though all these appliances do a great job in the most cases, they are not cheap. Their cost varies from $250-$800. This is one of the reasons why we highly recommend you first start with preventive therapy to stop thumb sucking as soon as possible. Aside from the cost, it would save you time, too. With the dental thumb sucking appliance you should see your dentist every month in the beginning so she can check on progress.

To learn more about the cost and aggravation of a thumb habit appliance click here.