Habit appliances are sometimes utilized in order to assist a child who wants to stop a habit, such as thumb sucking, but needs some additional motivation. It is important to note that if your child sucks his or her thumb or has other soothing habits, this is a natural, comforting habit in children, and often working through the reasons behind the habit will often stop the habit from pursuing. However, oral habits can lead to dental problems if the habit is not discontinued at an appropriate age.
WHEN DOES THUMB SUCKING BECOME A REAL ISSUE?
Evidence shows that children who cease the habit by roughly age 3-4 tend not to display any permanent skeletal effects, however this relies heavily in part to not only the duration, and frequency, but also the force of thumb sucking. For example, the child who is sucking their thumb aggressively, and audibly for hours on end, will have a very different skeletal outcome to those who are passively resting their thumb in their mouth right before bedtime. This is why consulting your pediatric dentist early on is crucial in preventing any permanent skeletal discrepancies like open bites or crossbites.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO AS A PARENT?
We see a decline in thumb-sucking in school aged children due to the social implications surrounded by the habit. However, if your child is still sucking their thumb into age 5,6 + make sure you encourage your children in a positive manner. Children at this age must make a conscientious effort to drop the habit, and many times cannot be forced to change. Informing your child that their habit could cause permanent damage to their teeth and developing jaw, in conjunction with positive reinforcement charts often does the trick. Once children have approached an age where they are motivated to stop, but need a helpful reminder, an oral habit appliance can be placed. This is typically done around age 6 or older.
An example of an oral habit appliance is the Bluegrass appliance that will gently stop the overall suction pattern. It is a fixed retainer that is placed in the child’s mouth.