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Long-term effects of thumb sucking

By Dr Maryanne Kariuki | July 13th 2013 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

By Dr. Maryanne Kariuki

Thumb sucking is one of the natural reflexes that develops in an infant as early as when they are in the womb.

This reflex may continue even after birth, and is considered normal, especially during the first year of life. Usually, many children will suck their thumb or finger due to the following reasons:

• When they are sleepy, hungry or tired.

• For comfort after crying.

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• To sooth their gums.

• For pleasure and relaxation.

• For security, especially when nervous.

Children who suck their fingers are categorised into two groups depending on their intensity of finger sucking:

1. Passive thumb sucker: This child just places the thumb in the mouth without undue pressure hence, causing no teeth or bony effects. Therefore, there might not be any defects on the dentition.

2. Active thumb sucker: Such a child will exert vigorous pressure while sucking her thumb. If this habit is prolonged, detrimental effects can occur as explained later.

Thumb sucking should diminish within the second year of life.

However, if it persists, the following can occur singly or in combination as it is often.

• Altered shape of the jaws: As the thumb presses on the roof of the mouth, the palate, which is the bone of the roof of the mouth becomes arch shape or V-shape to accommodate the finger.

• Open bite: Continued pressure on the teeth will drift the incisors outwards such that when the child closes their mouth, their teeth do not contact hence, an open bite.

This in turn affects their facial profile as their lips cannot sometimes even close.

• Speech problems: When the anterior teeth are not able to contact as well as the lips, the child will have difficulties pronouncing some words and letters hence, have speech defect.

• Crowding of teeth: Any forced movement of teeth and altering of the jaw shape will most often lead to crowding of the existing teeth or mis-alignment of the erupting teeth.

Therefore, it is necessary for parents to discourage this habit to avoid the above consequences on the child’s oral structures.




Thumb sucking infants womb
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