Will a thumb or dummy sucking habit affect my child’s teeth?

What is a sucking habit?

A sucking habit is when a child sucks their thumb, finger, or dummy during the day and / or night. It is one of the most common habits in childhood, beginning by the age of 3 months and normally lasting for around 2 years.

Young infants commonly enjoy a sucking habit which fades after a few years, but 1 in 8 children aged 7-11 adopt a prolonged digit sucking habit.

Children with prolonged sucking habits tend to do it for two reasons – either for security and comfort, or as a learned behaviour. A prolonged digit sucking habit is more common in girls.

Dummy habits on the other hand tend to stop well before the adult teeth begin to erupt around the age of 6 years old.

What is the result of prolonged thumb sucking?

If a sucking habit continues beyond age 7, problems with the position of the teeth can occur. The extent to which the teeth are affected depends on how often the child is sucking, how hard they suck, and at what age they eventually stop. Sucking for more than 6 hours a day or night is most likely to cause problems with the teeth.

As a result of sucking, the teeth can develop a vertical gap, also known as an open bite, making chewing food more difficult. The upper teeth can begin to stick out, and the upper jaw begins to narrow, making the bite inadequate. Such problems are likely to create a need for complex orthodontic work later on.

How to stop a child sucking their thumb

A digit sucking habit is not an easy habit to stop. The sucking needs to stop during the day before it will stop in the night. The child also needs to want the habit to stop.

The best way to help them stop is through encouraging positive behaviour. Praise them with daily encouragement, use a reward system if you feel it appropriate. Avoid nagging, teasing or shaming your child and instead be positive and build up their self-esteem.

Remember that for many children, sucking their thumb is a comforting thing.

A bandage, glove or bitter-tasting nail varnish may also be used to deter the habit.

If breaking the sucking habit still proves difficult, we can also construct a habit breaker to make thumb sucking more difficult.

Orthodontic treatment following a sucking habit

If a sucking habit stops before the age of 7, the teeth and jaws will usually correct themselves with normal growth. If however it continues beyond the age of 7, the adult teeth can be permanently affected, resulting in the need for complex orthodontic treatment.

This treatment will only be fully successful if the sucking habit has fully stopped.

As with all habits, the longer the habit persists, the harder it is to break. The sooner a sucking habit is stopped, the lesser the effect on the person’s teeth.

Will dummy sucking affect my child’s teeth?

A dummy habit is usually less damaging as most children stop before the age of 7. Children who use a dummy are also less likely to become a thumb or finger sucker.

If you do opt to give your child a dummy, never sweeten the dummy as this risks tooth decay.

Need orthodontic advice following a sucking habit?

If your teeth have been affected by a sucking habit as a child, or you are concerned about your child’s teeth, why not come and talk to us at Quayside Orthodontics where our team of friendly experts are always happy to help.

What can I eat with a brace? Tips for eating and drinking while wearing braces

Protecting your brace and teeth from damage while on your orthodontic journey requires small but important adaptations to your diet. 

At Quayside, we are often asked what food people can or cannot eat with a brace and have outlined the advice we give, based on our years of experience, below. 

What can I eat with braces?

When you have your brace fitted you must be very careful with what you eat and drink. Braces are fragile and eating hard, sticky or crunchy foods can break the braces and damage your teeth. Broken braces result in additional visits to the practice and unnecessary delays to the length of your treatment.

Choosing foods that are softer and less chewy helps avoid breakages. Foods like soup, pasta, yoghurts, mashed potato and cheese are encouraged.  

Wearing braces doesn’t mean you can only eat these foods but the way you eat other food may need to change. Cut up food like sandwiches, apples and vegetables, rather than biting into them. 

If you really want to eat hard and crunchy foods like raw carrot, pizza crusts, nuts, biscuits, celery, chicken wings and spare ribs, make sure you cut them into small pieces and chew them on your back teeth.

Avoid sticky foods such as chewing gum or toffees for the duration of your orthodontic treatment as these get stuck in braces. 

What can I drink with braces?

When you are thirsty choose milk or unflavoured water to drink. Fizzy drinks and fruit juices are high in acid which can damage your teeth. If they are to be consumed as a treat, always use a straw and consume them at meal times.

Can you eat sugar while wearing braces?

A good balanced, healthy diet and excellent oral hygiene are very important during orthodontic treatment to maintain strong and healthy teeth. 

When you eat or drink anything, especially sugary items, the bacteria in your mouth produce plaque acid. Your teeth are then attacked by this plaque acid for up to one hour after eating or drinking sugary items. Food and plaque which are not removed may lead to nasty marks on your teeth and tooth decay. 

Think carefully about what you eat. Brushing well is more difficult with braces so avoid sugary foods while on your orthodontic journey for the health and appearance of your teeth.  

What happens if I break my brace?

If you do break your brace please contact us as soon as possible so we can mend it for you. This will help avoid prolonging your treatment any more than necessary.  

Top tips for looking after your braces and teeth

To sum up, soft foods, a good balanced diet and excellent oral hygiene are all vitally important to a successful orthodontic outcome.

Remember to:

  • Avoid crunchy, hard or sticky foods
  • Avoid fizzy drinks and fruit juice
  • Continue to visit your dentist for regular check-ups
  • Brush your teeth at least twice daily with a fluoride tooth paste 
  • Always use an orthodontic fluoride mouth wash.

Want to know more?

We at Quayside are here for you at every stage of your journey, helping ensure you get the absolute best from your braces. Get in touch if you have any questions on the topic. We are always happy to help.