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Effects of Thumb-Sucking on the Two Front Teeth

Thumb-sucking may seem cute and harmless—until years later, when the orthodontist bills start arriving. Prolonged, vigorous thumb-sucking can have permanent effects on a child's front teeth. Help your little one drop the habit before his permanent teeth make their appearance.

RELATED: Is Thumb-Sucking Harmful?

A Source of Security

Rooting and sucking are natural reflexes that babies may begin in utero. Once on the outside, infants and toddlers suck their thumbs as a means of calming and soothing themselves. Thumb-sucking can make little ones feel secure in unfamiliar settings or when their parents are away. It can help them self-regulate when they're upset. Some children suck their thumbs when they are tired and use the sucking reflex to help them fall asleep.

Tooth Misalignment

While thumb-sucking may be harmless, it can become a problem if it persists beyond ages 2 to 4. Thumb-sucking can cause misalignment of the permanent teeth, causing the front top teeth, the incisors, to move up and outward and the bottom incisors to move back and inward. This changes the child's physical appearance, and can also cause speech issues and chewing difficulties.

Jaw Malformation

Because a child's jawbone is soft and pliable, prolonged thumb-sucking can affect its shape. When the upper and lower jaw are misaligned, this can cause the upper teeth to be on the inside of the lower teeth when biting down. This is known as a cross bite. In addition to the aesthetic effects of the misaligned teeth, a cross bite can also lead to problems with chewing, swallowing and nasal passages.

The Crib Solution

If your child's thumb-sucking persists and damage to the front teeth is possible, a dentist or orthodontist may offer a solution. A device called a fixed palatal crib can be placed on the front teeth and left on for nine to 12 months. The crib's wires make thumb-sucking difficult and also less pleasurable, which helps extinguish the habit. The crib is used before the permanent teeth are fully in place.

RELATED: 10 Questions to Ask a Pediatric Dentist

Dropping the Habit

Children may stop sucking their thumbs on their own, simply outgrowing the habit. For those who persist with the behavior beyond the toddler years, peer pressure may motivate them to stop. Others may require a more deliberate effort to encourage them to drop the habit. Use positive reinforcement such as praising or rewarding your child for not sucking his thumb.

Image via Hoby Finn/Photodisc/Getty Images

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