Open bites or front teeth not overlapping can be caused by habits with fingers, lips or the tongue placed between the teeth but how should we treat them? Habits can often be corrected early with minimal intervention. We prefer to see the habit reducing as the adult incisors erupt, about age 6, but even those at ages 9-10 stopping the habit results in improvement of the #openbite. Many children stop themselves by age 6 as they interact with their peers and decide it is not as socially acceptable.
Those that persist beyond age 6 we suggest initially trying reminder and reward strategies as in this case on the right. Remind the child in a non-threatening manner and set a goal e.g. praise them when they have refrained and perhaps have a small reward if they have stopped for a week (to involve the child in treatment). Reminders can be physical such as a sock, mitten or hand puppet at night. An elastic elbow support over the elbow to make it harder to bend the elbow to suck the thumb could be considered. Thumb ‘paints’ work for some but others will simply suck it off. If these attempts do not work, then a more intrusive reminder such as a thumb crib/habit appliance can be fixed in place by an orthodontist. Some persist due to emotional issues and the habit is a comforting device so when the child is upset, they are more likely to suck and it is more difficult to correct as the underlying cause is still present. Scolding them will simply make this worse.
A long held concept is that a tongue thrust swallow is the cause of open bites but it is actually an adaptation to an open bite (to swallow you need a seal at the front and so the tongue is placed between the teeth). We swallow about 600-1000 times per day for 1 second each (~10-17 minutes per day) which is not enough time to cause the open bite, it takes hours to move teeth not minutes. However, ‘habits’ such as thumb sucking or forward resting posture of the tongue between the teeth can be of sufficient duration to cause an open bite. Some may need help with exercises to retrain the tongue to position itself correctly and a Speech Pathologist can help with this. If these strategies are not working, then consult your orthodontist to consider placing a thumb or tongue crib as a final resort.