Thumbs up for thumbs out – why your children with thank you for making them break the habit this Christmas

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Runa Mowla-Copley, who has a background in paediatric dentistry and orthodontics, reveals why getting your kids to quit thumb-sucking habit is important for their smile.

I think the New Year, with its resolutions, is a great time to address breaking a bad habit. If your child has a prolonged thumb-sucking habit and he or she is aged six or seven, with adult teeth beginning to erupt, this is an ideal time to stop the habit before the adult dentition becomes more established and a malocclusion (bad bite) develops.

The effects of thumb sucking are dependent upon the duration and frequency of the habit. A child sucking his thumb vigorously all night, for example, generally develops a more severe malocclusion than the child who sucks his thumb quite passively for half an hour at bedtime to help him fall asleep. Classic dental adverse effects from thumb sucking include:
• An anterior open bite where the top and bottom front teeth don’t meet at rest
• Protrusive upper front teeth
• A narrow upper dental arch
• A crossbite, where the top back teeth bite in reverse with the lower back teeth
• The lower front teeth can tilt back into the mouth
• A lisp may develop in older children due to the lower position of the tongue during thumb sucking.

Exact statistics on the number of thumb suckers vary, depending which study you read. However, approximately 45% of toddlers have a digit-sucking habit. This figure reduces as children reach school age.

It's a very common childhood habit and often starts in utero. It’s comforting and calming for a young child.

A positive attitude and encouragement are both key in helping to stop the habit. With younger children, reward charts can help. Sometimes a few words from the dentist can make a huge difference to the child. Highlighting the habit – and its effects in the mouth – within a professional environment resonates very positively with many thumb suckers. If all else fails the dentist or orthodontist may consider fitting a habit breaker. This is usually a fixed orthodontic appliance fitted to the upper molar teeth. I would generally consider these after the age of seven, when a persistent habit can start causing damage to the bite.

If your home remedies do work. Treat your little ones to my book, Charlie’s Thumb. It’s available at www.amazon.co.uk and at www.breakthumbsucking.com. There is also a reward chart to download.
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