How do you stop a thumb or finger habit?

A child sucking their fingers or thumb can produce some drastic changes to the growth of the jaws.  This can be a very hard habit to break.  Due to the child being emotionally attached to sucking their thumb or finger and it’s easily accessible, many people have tried to come up with ways to break this habit.

Some have tried socks on their hands, nail polish that tastes bad and rewards for stopping.  Many people have failed and the child continues to suck their thumb or fingers.

Some of the problems with this habit is that it can change the growth of the child’s jaws.

1.  The lower jaw growth can be stunted in its forward growth.
2.  The upper jaw can grow too far forward creating a large overjet.
3.  Also, the upper jaw can become narrow in the posterior width resulting in a posterior crossbite.
4.  The upper incisors can become protrusive.
5.  The patient can develop an anterior open bite.

All of these items will diminish somewhat if the child stops their habit early.  If you see your child start to suck on their fingers or thumb, try to distract them from it by providing a pacifier or a nursing bottle filled with water.  These items will not produce any detrimental forces that the thumb or finger habit creates.

If we can stop the child from sucking their thumb or finger, the teeth will erupt and the anterior open bite will disappear slowly.  In other words, the teeth will start to erupt the way they should have when the finger habit is stopped.

Sometimes a child, when they start school  will stop their habit because of peer pressure.  Sometimes they do not.  One of the appliances that an Orthodontist can use to break the thumb or finger sucking habit is a thumb habit appliance or thumb crib.

A thumb crib is a wire that is attached to the upper first molars that is in the way and the child has a hard time using his thumb or finger.  There is nothing that is sharp with the thumb habit appliance (thumb crib).  It doesn’t hurt.  It is just in the way.

The majority of the time, the thumb crib will be enough to stop the thumb habit.  You will have better success if the child really wants to stop the habit.  Once the child has stopped the habit, we leave the appliance in place for three months before we remove the thumb crib.  That is usually the right amount of time to break the habit.  The thumb crib is a good appliance for breaking a the thumb or finger  habit.

If your child has a thumb or finger habit, call your American Association of Orthodontic Specialist for a consultation appointment.

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