Thumb & Finger Appliances

Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontic Care in Chicago, IL

Little girl sucking her thumb

At Yummy Dental & Orthodontics, our mission is to help each one of our patients develop a beautiful, healthy smile that lasts a lifetime. As a premier pediatric dental and orthodontic practice serving patients throughout Glenview and the greater Chicago, IL area, we're proud to offer a variety of pediatric dental treatments for our patients. Whenever possible, we opt for prevention instead of treatment – and for some children, thumb and finger appliances are an important part of that preventive care.


Why Is Finger or Thumb Sucking a Problem?

Before we answer that question, we'll need to clarify a common misconception - thumb or finger sucking, by itself, is not a bad thing. The sucking reflex is a natural behavior for infants and babies, and can be a comforting image when a baby sucking his or her thumb! Unfortunately, if the behavior continues past age four, it can cause major problems in the development of your child's teeth. That's because if your child sucks their thumb past that age, the finger starts to exert a chronic pressure on the upper and lower front teeth. Over time, this pressure can actually cause these teeth to flare outward – causing a severe dental problem called an open bite.


An open bite is a malocclusion where the upper and lower front teeth don't meet when the mouth is closed. Without treatment, open bites can impair speech, biting, chewing, and jaw function, and they require significant treatment with braces to treat later in your child's life.


Managing the Thumb Sucking Habits

It should be noted that for most children, thumb sucking is never a problem. More often than not, the behavior fades away between the ages of two to four, acting as nothing more than a comforting reflex during infancy. If you notice your child sucking his or her thumb past the age of four, you'll want to try some strategies for gently discouraging the behavior:

  • Use a Pacifier: Pacifiers are much easier to take away than getting your child to stop sucking his or her thumb. If possible, give your child a pacifier during infancy. By forming the sucking habit on a pacifier, you make it easier to end the habit once the time comes.
  • Track Their Progress: If your child is trying to quit sucking their thumb but having a hard time, try to gamify the process. Track their progress and offer rewards when they hit certain milestones – a family outing to the park, a special movie night, or even a toy can all be great options for this.
  • Use Positive Reinforcement: In addition to tracking progress, praise your child when he or she attempts to stop thumb sucking. Remember that it's important to use only positive reinforcement for this habit – if you criticize your child and feel anxious, he or she will likely just revert to the comforting habit again.

Treating Thumb Sucking with Orthodontic Appliances

If the thumb sucking still persists, we can use early orthodontic treatment to stop the behavior and prevent developmental problems. We can talk with your child to help them understand the problems associated with thumb sucking and provide strategies for how to quit, and if it's still a problem, we can use an orthodontic appliance called a tongue crib to gently and painlessly stop the habit entirely. Treatment with a tongue crib physically prevents thumb sucking, and children will usually have broken the habit within a few months of wearing the appliance.


Schedule a Consultation with Your Glenview, IL Pediatric Dentist

Thumb and finger sucking can create major orthodontic problems if it persists for too long, but with early intervention and treatment, we can help your child break the habit and protect their dental development. If you have more questions about thumb sucking or think your child might need help breaking the habit, we encourage you to reach out to us at our contact page or schedule an appointment online at our Glenview or Chicago, IL office. No matter how persistently your child sucks their thumb, we'll work with them to help them break the habit – gently, painlessly, and tear-free!