Thumb Sucking and Tongue Thrusting

If your child is currently or has a history of sucking on his fingers/thumb or tongue thrusting, he will most likely develop bite issues (particularly an open bite, a condition when the upper and lower anterior teeth do not close fully together) as well as potential speech impediments.

Tongue thrusting can cause an open bite from a very early age, as babies swallow with their tongue thrusting forward. As their teeth start erupting, the tongue will stay behind the teeth and the lips will stay closed for swallowing, called the swallowing transition. If a child does not establish the swallowing transition, the tongue will push against the teeth and disrupt complete tooth eruption. If a child sucks on his thumb, the behavior has a similar effect as not developing the swallowing transition, because the thumb rests against the teeth and pushes the teeth forward, causing the teeth to not come together and touch in the front.

Other Causes of Tongue Thrusting Include:

  • Mouth breathing and nasal congestion
  • Being “tongue-tied”
  • A large tongue
  • Anatomical or physiological abnormalities
  • Other hereditary factors concerning the oral cavity
  • Enlarged adenoids

Correction of tongue thrusting has about a 75% success rate with tongue exercises that retrain the muscles. A patient may also use a tongue crib to discourage thumb-sucking.

To Correct an Open Bite May Require:

  • Headgear and braces—this method is the most common method, and the pressure applied to the teeth starts to close the bite. Eventually the anterior teeth are aligned after the bite is sufficiently closed
  • Magnets and bite blocks—these devices move the jaw in a particular position to force the teeth into a closed bite. These are placed in the posterior jaw position
  • Surgery is required primarily in adults to correct an open bite, as their jaw is past the growth phase. Surgery places the jaw in a new position, and braces are placed to align the teeth

Correcting an open bite can be time-consuming, so ideally the treatment would be done at an early age. Also, discourage your child from sucking on thumbs or fingers. Dr. Anthony Lovrovich can help guide you through the process.

4540 Sand Point Way NE, Suite 140
Seattle WA 98105-3941

Tel: (206) 525-7000
Fax: (206) 525-0479

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