Finger sucking habit can cause malocclusion — Medical Experts

By Chidinma Ewunonu-Aluko

Dr Zakka Baraya, a Senior Registrar of Orthodontics unit, child oral health department at University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, says finger sucking habit in children can cause dental malocclusion which is the the teeth being not well arranged.

Baraya, Senior Registrar, Orthodontics Unit, Child Oral Health, UCH Ibadan, said this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)
on Tuesday in Ibadan.

He said that the pressure of sustained finger sucking might interfere with the arrangements of the teeth and/or eruption path of the teeth and make the cheek muscles flex,
which might alter the jaw shape and change facial appearance.

He added that “dental problems caused by finger sucking can result to speech problem, with the child or adult lisping, or the roof of the mouth becoming sensitive to touch and sensation.

“Also, the finger being sucked may introduce dirt and bacteria into the mouth, causing infection to the gum or even the tooth.

“The finger being sucked can also become deformed, the skin over the finger may dry out causing it to crack, bleed, or become infected too.

“Finger sucking is common in young children; and as they grow older, they stop it. In most cases, the habit ceases spontaneously between two and four years of age.

“Some adults can also pick up the habit after experiencing trauma during childhood; the behaviour is just to calm themselves down.”

He said managing children or adults that indulge in finger sucking should start by appropriately counselling the adult, children, and their parents.

He added that they should be educated on the habit and the complications it might lead to, hence the need to stop it.

According to him, behaviour modification therapy such as incentives for changing behaviour can be applied in both children and adults; the person is commended whenever he does not suck.

“If a child or adult sucks his or her finger in response to stress, one should identify the real issue and provide comfort in other ways.

“Another way is a reminder therapy in which a harmless unpalatable substance is applied to the finger.

“Some appliances are also available for breaking finger-sucking habits that can be recommended and fabricated by an orthodontist, examples are palatal cribs, palatal bars, cage appliances, and tongue rakes, which can be fixed in the mouth or be a removable appliance that makes finger-sucking uncomfortable for the child or individual.”

Also, a Consultant Paediatric Neurologist at UCH, Dr Joy Alejo emphasises that thumb sucking is a natural, self soothing behaviour which a person, especially toddler does to comfort himself/herself.

Alejo remarked that it made babies, children felt secured, safe but could become a little more excessive beyond the age of four, saying it is no longer usual.

She noted that it could extend to adulthood due to trauma, stress or anxiety.

"Sucking can cause hand blisters(bandage can be applied), ecsma, the teeth of the person can grow out of shape and give the person cosmetics problems," she said.

Alejo noted that replacing the thumb sucking with a different relief activity such as exercise, other activities that can engage the person when the urge comes could help.

"Also, a mental exercise that helps the person to look back and find the root cause of the sucking will help because once the problem is solved, it will be easier to deal with the habit.

"There is need for counseling too, for children, the hand can be tied with something that will make the sucking uncomfortable.

"For adults, the person can set small goals to decide not to suck daily, the person will get better each day following the goal and eventually stops the habit," Alejo said. (NAN)