Almost all children engage in non-feeding sucking habits at some stage of their development. This can be regarded as normal behaviour. However, such habits can produce a malocclusion or increase the severity of an existing underlying problem.
If the habit persists beyond the time that the adult upper front teeth begin to erupt, malocclusion characterised by:
- Flared and spaced upper front teeth
- A gap between upper and lower front teeth (open bite)
- Backward inclination of the lower front teeth can gradually develop.
The degree of malocclusion is determined by the size and shape of the object being sucked, how often the habit is indulged, how long each session lasts and the amount of force generated.
Provided treatment to try and stop the habit is started before say 9 years of age, any unwanted tooth movements are entirely reversible in most patients.
A common and reasonably unobtrusive appliance used to control finger or thumb sucking habits and/or tongue thrusting habits is called a palatal arch.
This is an arch of stiff wire that sits inside the upper teeth and is soldered to orthodontic bands that are glued to the upper first molars. The appliance is worn all the time for 6-9 months and is surprisingly well-tolerated and highly effective.
This young lady sucked her thumb and was being teased at school. She desperately wanted to stop but simply couldn’t manage to control the habit by herself. The palatal arch shown above was worn for 6 months with the following result.
Before & After:
The palatal arch in place: