Thumb and Finger Appliances

 Child sucking thumb.

Is there any image as sweet as that of a sleepy baby sucking its thumb? Finger or thumb sucking is a completely natural way for babies and toddlers to soothe and comfort themselves. But as your child grows older, there comes the point when this habit becomes socially awkward and detrimental to oral health.


Most children stop thumb or finger sucking between the ages of two and four years. If the habit continues after the primary (baby) teeth have erupted, it can drastically change the jaw's growth patterns and cause significant misalignment of the teeth. It may be hard to believe that such a benign habit can actually move teeth and bone, but there are several reasons why this occurs.

How Thumb and Finger Sucking Impacts Oral Health

Children's jaws, rich in blood supply and growing rapidly, are relatively soft and flexible, especially in kids under the age of eight. The constant pressure of a thumb or finger can deform the soft bone around the upper and lower front teeth. Children who are particularly vigorous thumb suckers can even change the growth patterns of the teeth and jaws.

If the habit persists, it can result in the upper front teeth flaring out and the lower ones moving back and inward. It can also stunt the lower jaw's growth while causing the upper jaw to thrust forward. This can result in misalignment of the teeth, an anterior open bite (where the front teeth fail to close together), or the collapse of the upper jaw, causing a crossbite. It is crucial to stop the behavior at an appropriate age before damage occurs.

How Your Children's Orthodontist Can Help

Thumb and finger sucking can be a difficult habit to break. Through the years, parents have tried various home remedies, such as having the child wear gloves, coating their digits with a bitter-tasting substance, and even trying to reason with their toddlers. Sometimes it works, but the allure of thumb sucking is very difficult to control in other cases.

Fixed palatal crib.

If your child's thumb or finger sucking habit persists past the age of three, and you've been unable to tame it, then it may be time for you to visit either our Stillwater or Woodbury orthodontist office for a consultation. Your children's orthodontist will determine if your child can benefit from a "habit appliance," such as a fixed palatal crib or a removable device. This crib isn't for sleeping — it's a small metal appliance worn inside the mouth attached to the upper teeth.


A palatal crib's semicircular wires keep the thumb or finger from touching the gums behind the front teeth. By simply preventing this contact, the thumb sucking habit's enjoyment disappears, and your child will have no reason to continue the behavior. In fact, the device is so successful that it often works the first day it's worn.

Using a Habit Appliance

The first step to getting a habit device is a thorough examination, which may include taking X-rays, photographs, and dental impressions. If the appliance is recommended, a palatal crib will be custom-fabricated to fit your child's mouth and put in place at a subsequent appointment. Afterward, your child will be periodically monitored until the appliance is removed. Orthodontic treatment with the appliance will typically take several months.

Although wearing the crib isn't painful, your child may experience some soreness in the upper back teeth for a few hours after it's first installed. He or she may also have a little trouble falling asleep for a day or two afterward. Plenty of extra attention and TLC are usually all that's needed to make everything all right. While the appliance is being worn, it's best to avoid chewing gum and eating hard, sticky food that might cause it to come loose.

A Word About Tongue Thrusting

Like thumb sucking, tongue thrusting is a normal behavioral pattern in young children. It's part of the natural infantile swallowing pattern, which will usually change on its own by the age of six. If the pattern doesn't change, however, it can lead to problems similar to those caused by thumb sucking, including issues with tooth alignment and skeletal development. Fortunately, this problem can be successfully treated with a habit appliance similar to a fixed palatal crib.

Make an Appointment with Your Stillwater and Woodbury Children's Orthodontist Today!

If you have questions about habit appliances or would like to schedule a visit, contact Woodbury and Stillwater children’s orthodontists at Henseler & Kocian Orthodontics. You can also complete our online appointment request form. Let us help with your child's thumb or finger sucking before it becomes an issue with their oral health. 

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Thumb Sucking - Dear Doctor Magazine

How Thumb Sucking Affects The Bite Thumb sucking can actually block the front teeth from erupting fully and can also push the teeth forward — sometimes more on the side where the thumb rested. How far out of position the teeth end up will depend on the number of hours per day the thumb was in the child's mouth and how much pressure was applied. When the pressure exerted by the thumb in the mouth is particularly strong and occurs over a long period of time, the forces can potentially influence growth of the jaws... Read Article