Sucking is a natural instinct for babies – the first contact a baby usually has with sucking is at their mother’s breast to drink breast milk, which contains a protein that is converted into serotonin in the brain and creates a sleepy, tired and relaxed feeling. Children who become attached to thumb sucking as they get older still get a physiological payoff every time they do it, and there are very few ways to mimic this amazing sensation.

However, prolonged thumb sucking can lead to complications in the development to the child’s teeth and jaw. It can cause an anterior overbite and very high narrow palate development which impacts on dental arch development. It can impact breathing and dental alignment of the teeth and can cause teeth to be pushed outward or inward by the pressure of the fingers or the thumb. After age five, continuous thumb sucking will affect the alignment of their newly erupting teeth. But luckily, at around age four or five children, are bright and receptive and are often ready to stop their sucking, making it a great age to begin a formalised program.

Any mechanical or aversive approach to stopping children under five from sucking their thumb can result in withdrawals, including bad behaviour and transfer to another habit like nail biting or cheek chewing. When children become ‘hooked’ on the feelings of calm and relaxation, and continue to suck their thumb or finger beyond the age of four, it’s become a habit. Despite negative feedback from Mum/Dad/Aunty Jill/Perfect-Stranger-in-the-Street, there is a mood-enhancing, hormonal pay-off for the child that far outweighs the most disapproving reactions.

There are ways to bring children ‘down’ from those hormonal highs gradually, rather than the typical cold-turkey methods that have been rejected by many children. How? We replace their thumb with their tongue. The tongue is designed to sit in the palate at rest, and also helps to develop a healthy upper arch in growing children. Our specially designed program includes a detailed and thorough assessment of the underlying issues that may have contributed to the development of the thumb sucking habit. Finally – an orthodontic AND kid-friendly approach to giving up the thumb!

Imola Foster

Imola Foster  

Imola has been working in private dental practices since 1996 and has graduated as an Oral Health Therapist from Griffith University. She is passionate about providing all preventative and hygiene services to patients, treating children and adults alike. She focuses on maintenance and prevention, good oral health and general health, education and excellence in service. Imola also runs a Thumb Sucking Cessation program in the centre's dedicated children’s area and is a passionate advocate for early intervention and professional help for families of young children with non-nutritive sucking habits such as thumb, finger or dummy sucking // www.gcdenturecentre.com.au