Facts each parent should know about thumb sucking.

Are you worried about your child sucking their thumbs? Well you are alone. I have been asked a few times by the parents what can happen if the habit has not stopped. I am hoping that with this blog, we can educate parents about the effects of thumb sucking, so armed with the knowledge they can prevent a permanent aesthetic or functional problem in their children’s dentition.

 Thumb or finger sucking is a common cause of Anterior Open Bite (AOB). Anterior open bite (AOB) is present when there is no incisor contact and no vertical overlap of the lower incisors by the uppers.

30% of one year olds suck their thumb, the incidence reduces to 12% at 9 years and 2% by 12 years. Most persistent suckers are female.

The effect of thumb sucking depends on the age of the person and the intensity, frequency and duration of the habit. Open bites produced in the primary dentition are of little consequence as they resolve spontaneously once the child gives up the habit. The open bite caused by Thumb (finger) sucking is frequently asymmetrical, being greater on the side where the digit is inserted.

The thumb or finger effectively acts as a barrier to the incisors erupting and the longer the child sucks the finger, the greater the effect will be. Children who suck their thumb or finger for 6 hours or more each day, particularly those who sleep with a finger or thumb between the teeth all night, can develop a significant gap at the front. The incidence of AOB also varies according to age and ethnic group. In the UK the reported incidence in children is 2–4%. The prevalence in adults is 4%.AOB is more common in Africans and Afro-Caribbeans (5– 10%).

Cessation of the sucking may allow an open bite to close naturally, although this could take years. If habits persist after growth has finished, the open bite will often remain. The best time to stop the habit, is before the permanent teeth start to arrive.

Timing for managing sucking habits

  1. Primary dentition ‘No treatment’ is thought to be indicated. Just discourage the habit and the front gap should resolve when the habit stops.
  2. Early to mixed dentition We advise parents to encourage their children to give up the habit using simple aide-memoir or a daily reward.
  3. Late mixed dentition (around the age of 10) If a simple advice has not worked, a deterrent appliance can be fitted. The child will also require referral for an orthodontic assessment whether any treatments should commence.
  4. Permanent dentition (around the age of 12) Spontaneous correction of AOB is unlikely. Referral to an orthodontic treatment is indicated.



Patients seek treatment mainly for cosmetic reasons. However, there may be functional problems such as difficulty cutting the food and problems with speech, such as a lisp. Although closure of an AOB may help with eating, there is little evidence to show that it helps with speech.

As ever, prevention is better than cure. So by knowing when and how to act, you can save your child from a life time of problems or at least a lengthy course of orthodontic treatment. Here are some general ideas for the parents:

  • Bad-Tasting Products :One commonly recommend way to discourage thumb sucking is by covering the thumb with product that tastes bitter, spicy or otherwise icky. Make sure the product is not harmful or too strong. Check with the chemist when purchasing such products.
  • Plasters :Covering thumbs with plasters can also deter children from thumb sucking, especially if the bandages are brightly coloured or feature a favourite character.
  • Distraction: If it’s during the day, try to distract him/her with a toy or activity as children often suck their thumbs when bored, providing distractions can help break the habit.
  • Set an End Date :Consider setting a specific date to end thumb-sucking.
  • Pictures of Germs: Pictures of germs can also deter thumb sucking. You can get a book or look at websites that have pictures of germs. Tell the child that every time they suck their thumb they eat those germs.
  • Thumb Guard :If your child’s thumb sucking is already negatively impacting her teeth, your dentist may suggest inserting a preventative appliance in her mouth.

At Caspian dental Clinic, help is hand. If you need to discuss your child’s habit, call us on 01923254979. We are simply excellent.

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