Thumb sucking - What are the dangers?

P J Theodorou Orthodontist | Orthodontist

Dr. J is an orthodontist with a passion for creating smile transformations for all of his patients so they can experience the benefits of a happier and healthier smile. Our doctor had a vision that he wanted to create a practice that is a welcoming space for all potential patients and is staffed with a knowledgeable team... more

Thumb sucking is considered a behavior known as a non-nutritive habit that stops between the ages of 2-4 years of age. It is closely associated with self comfort and security in the majority of children. 

If it continues past that age and the child does not outgrow it, then it may very well lead to a dental and skeletal malocclusion. In other words a bad bite with displaced teeth. 

More specifically let’s look at the main malocclusion that develops - anterior Open Bite:

Here you can see a big space between the upper and lower teeth. “Officially” it is called an open bite because of the open space and there is no contact between the upper and lower front teeth when they are biting together.

[Insert attached actual patient picture here] 

But how is this caused?

One word: “Moulding”. The thumb fits nicely in the arch of the roof of the palate. The contact pressure of the thumb “moulds” the soft bone of the jaws. This has 2 effects: 

#1 it pushes the arch of the palate up causing the sides to become narrow and buckle leading to a Cross Bite. That is when the upper jaw is more narrow than the lower jaw in the front.

#2 it pulls the upper jaw outwards causing an overbite.

What if I don’t see an orthodontist to treat it? 

#1 You want to avoid having severe facial deformity until adulthood. At that point the bone hardens and you will require jaw surgery to correct it. 

#2 Improvement in facial esthetics before puberty has a positive impact on the psychosocial development of many young children. 

#3 Improvement in speech. With a wide open space you will have a lisp and unable to pronounce certain words that require a tight seal. 

#4 Improved eating habits. You cannot cut food with your front teeth so this will affect you socially and digestion. Say goodbye to pizza. 

When is the best age to see an orthodontist to correct the habit?

Between the ages of 7 - 9 you have a golden opportunity to make a big difference in your kid’s life. The American Association of Orthodontists (AAO) recommends that children have their first check-up with an orthodontist at age 7. 

What type of treatment Can an orthodontist provide at age7?

This type of treatment has a few names but  they all are focused on correcting a problem before it gets too big! 

•Early Treatment (since it starts at age7

•Or Interceptive Treatment (as it “intercepts” problems before they become worse)

•Or Phase I (as Phase II would be full braces around the age of 12) 

Here is link to my website taking about the topic: