Lawrence Dinkes, D.D.S., shares when your child should stop sucking her thumb to prevent bad oral health, as well as when you should be worried about grinding teeth, and what a bluegrass appliance is.
At what age should I be concerned with my child sucking her thumb or grinding her teeth?
You can’t get anywhere until the child is at least 2. Then, you should try to limit the amount of time it’s happening. You have to cut the frequency of the habit before you can try to eradicate it. So whenever your child sucks her thumb, she has to go to bed for 15 minutes, like a timeout. Within approximately three months, she will only be sucking her thumb in bed.
However, that doesn’t always work. We do have some things we can place in the mouth starting at age 4½ that will give the child some support in terms of ending the habit. My favorite is a bluegrass appliance—a non-punitive means of stopping the habit. A bluegrass appliance is a little bead that is attached to two braces on the teeth. The child will play her tongue against that—it’s much more fun than sucking her thumb. So she’ll start playing with the bluegrass appliance and within a few weeks will stop sucking her thumb. We generally leave the appliance in for 6 months, and when we remove it, there’s nothing for her to go back to. The thumb habit has lost its appeal, and the appliance is gone.
We don’t really react to grinding until after the 6-year molars have erupted. Ninety percent of children who grind stop at that point because the eruption of the 6-year molars makes grinding teeth uncomfortable. We only intervene in children older than 6 who persistently grind their teeth.
Lawrence Dinkes, D.D.S., founder of Commerce Park Children's Dentistry and Orthodontics which has locations in Bridgeport and Huntington, CT