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Thumb Sucking and Other Sucking Habits

Thumb SuckingInfants suckle to survive. They begin to associate sucking with milk, warmth, pleasure, and security. As the infant becomes older, the thumbs or pacifier can provide that same feeling of comfort and security. Whereas most children begin to grow out of the sucking stage around age two to three, others have a more difficult time letting go of the habit. Thumb sucking, finger sucking and other sucking habits after the age of FIVE is just a habit. Nothing more, nothing less. However, the psychological effects can cause a low self-esteem, speech problems, embarrassment from being teased, and frustration between a parent and child. There are also other forms of sucking and habits that are unattractive such as nail biting, chewing on a sleeve or other object and sucking or biting on their arm.

Prolonged non-nutritive sucking habits may cause a child to develop dental problems and even disfigurement and scarring of the fingers being sucked. Thumb/finger/pacifier and even bottle sucking can cause a child’s teeth to become improperly aligned and/or push the teeth outward (crossbite, malocclusion). An important role of the tongue is to mold the shape and width of the hard palate (roof of mouth). If the thumb or pacifier replaces the tongue, many times a narrow high vaulted palate will develop. Excessive sucking of the thumb, finger, tongue, lips, pacifier/or nail biting habits can promote a low forward jaw position or a protrusion of the lower jaw. Problems in speech and swallowing can result due to the low muscle tone and poor tongue posture. Cosmetic problems and/or appearance can be affected as a result of poor tongue placement and increased freeway space (open-bite). A malocclusion usually can correct itself when the child stops thumb sucking at an early age. However, as a child gets older the prolonged effects of the sucking become ingrained and the habit becomes more difficult to eliminate. Children who suck their thumbs frequently or with great intensity after the age of four or five or those who continue to suck prior to or during the eruption of the permanent teeth are at a greater risk for dental and/or speech problems. The longer the thumb sucking continues the more likely orthodontic treatment or braces will be needed to correct any resulting dental problems. Certified Orofacial Myologists are trained to perform Habit Elimination Therapy using positive behavioral modification techniques. These techniques make therapy easy, rewarding and fun. There are no negative appliances in the mouth and the therapy usually consists of 3-4 sessions. Most important, it boosts your child’s self-esteem. 

Recent research examining various populations found that 38% of all individuals are affected by orofacial myofunctional disorders, with an incidence of 81% found in children exhibiting speech/articulation problems. (Kellum, 1992;Maul et.al, 1999)





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