Habit Appliance

Habit appliances, also known as habit breaking appliances, bluegrass appliances, tongue cribs, thumb cribs, or palatal cribs,  are specialized dental appliances that are used to break detrimental dental habits in children. Most commonly, habit appliances are used to discontinue behaviors such as finger or thumb sucking. Habit appliances still allow the child to place their finger or thumb in their mouth, however they make it more uncomfortable, which eventually discourages the child from continuing this behavior. Habit appliances work best when parents help reinforce the treatment as well. 

Did You Know?

About 95% of babies practice finger or thumb sucking during their first year of life. This number drops down to about 6-10% of toddlers using pacifiers or thumb sucking by the time they reach the age of four. While the American Dental Association notes that thumb sucking has some self-soothing benefits at a younger age, they recommend that children discontinue this behavior after the age of four. Continuing to participate in detrimental habits could cause your child to suffer from long-term effects later in life. 

Frequently Asked Questions: 

Does my child need a habit appliance?

Close up of a boy sucking his thumb

Your child may need a habit appliance if they fall into the 6-10% of children who still suck their fingers or thumbs by the time they reach the age of four. By the time they turn four, you and your child’s dentist should start weaning them of this habit to avoid dental health problems. 

Your child may also need a habit appliance if you have begun to notice that their upper and lower teeth are not meet up properly or if they have an open bite. Other possible habits that may require a habit appliance include: biting or sucking on the lower lip, tongue thrusting, teeth grinding, and excessive pacifier use. To find out if your child needs a habit appliance, schedule a consultation with Lifetime Dental Care today. 

How does finger sucking cause dental problems?

Model of child's teeth with an open bite

Until about the age of 8, children’s jaws are actively growing. Because of this, they are rich in blood supply, which allows them to be relatively soft and flexible. When your child sucks their thumb or fingers, this exerts a constant pressure on the jaws. This constant pressure can cause the jaws to deform the bones around both the upper and lower front teeth. It can also change the growth patterns of the jaws and the teeth, causing a number of possible issues including: protrustion of the upper teeth, an open bite, misaligned teeth, collapse of the upper jaw resulting in crossbite, or decreased growth in the lower jaw that results in an overbite. To correct these issues later in life, orthodontics and even surgery may be required. 

What are the benefits of habit appliances?

There are many benefits of habit appliances including: 

  • Minimally invasive, effective, and relatively quick treatment
  • Helps your child learn how to stop detrimental habits
  • Works even when your child is sleeping, distracted, or stressed
  • Decreases the risk of developmental problems and problems affecting teeth alignment

How do habit appliances work?

Habit appliances work by taking the enjoyment out of finger sucking. In preventing the fingers or thumb from being able to contact the roof of the mouth, no pleasurable feedback is obtained. Without pleasurable feedback, the child will quickly discontinue to habit because they are gaining nothing from it. 

What should my child expect during habit appliance treatment?

During your child’s habit appliance treatment, their appliance will be placed on the roof of their mouth. It will be a fixed appliance that has anchor bands cemented to the child’s back teeth. The specific design of your child’s appliance can vary depending on their needs, and some may have a tongue bead or other attachment that sits just behind their front teeth. The first few days your child has their appliance, they may have trouble speaking clearly, however this should get better once they have adapted to the appliance. 

During treatment, your child will simply wear this appliance and you will come into our office about once a month to monitor their progress. Most people notice their children making changes during the first few days, but the total treatment time depends on how severe their habit is. Although it generally takes one month to break a habit, some children may need longer. 

During your child’s treatment, you will want to keep a calendar or diary of how many days your child has gone without using their finger or thumb. You will want to bring this to each appointment so we can discuss it. It may also be helpful to offer your child rewards for their progress. 

Will habit appliances be painful for my child?

The first few days after having their habit appliance placed, your child may experience some soreness while they adjust. During this time, it is recommended to feed them a soft diet and to use over the counter pain medications if needed. Once they have adjusted, their appliance should cause them no further discomfort. 

It is also important to note that your child may be irritable in the days following their appliance placement. This is not normally due to discomfort, rather it is due to the fact that they can no longer indulge in their pleasurable habit. Once they learn other ways of soothing themselves, this irritability should begin to fade. 

How do I care for my child’s habit appliance?

Orange mouth guard with a clear case

To care for your child’s appliance, you will need to make sure they clean the appliance with their toothbrush after each meal and before bedtime. Additionally, if your child’s appliance has an acrylic buttom, you will need to floss under it or rinse with a warm salt-water mixture (1 tsp. Salt to ½ cup of water). 

To avoid damaging the appliance, your child should never be permitted to “play” with their appliance using their fingers or tongue. This can result in the appliance becoming loose or damaged. Additionally, your child will need to temporarily avoid sticky candies and excessively hard substances. 

To maintain your general dental routine, schedule a consultation with one of our dentists at  Lifetime Dental Care today! Lifetime Dental Care serves residents of Woodbridge, VA and the surrounding areas. 

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