Thumbsucking: Avoiding Future Problems

Dr. Randall Moles

Although many young children suck their thumbs, most stop at an early enough age to avoid permanent dental problems.  There are, however, a handful of young patients who continue to suck their thumbs beyond the age of five or six.  Our goal is to identify these patients early and treat them before their thumbsucking habits lead to severe malocclusions.

Chronic thumbsucking causes large open bites and posterior crossbites-- that is, the constriction of the upper back teeth.  Depending on the patients' ages, the length of time they have been sucking their thumbs, and the consistency and force with which they suck their thumbs, the effects on the rest of the mouth and teeth can change.  But if we identify our thumbsucking patients before the maxilla is completely formed-- usually before the ages of 8 or 9-- many of the occlusal problems caused by thumbsucking can self-correct.  If these patients go undetected, however, the dental malocclusion caused by thumbsucking may require complex orthodontic treatment.

The American Association of Orthodontics recommends that all children be seen by an orthodontist by age 7, and thumbsuckers may be referred as early as age 6.  Our office uses a habit-training technique that works successfully for about 90% of our patients.  For the few patients whom we cannot motivate to stop thumbsucking, we use fixed appliances, such as thumb cribs.  And you'll be happy to know that the appliances that we use do not have spurs or other designs, which can cause patients discomfort.