How can thumb sucking affect my child's teeth

How can thumb sucking affect my child’s teeth?

Babies have a suckling reflex that often extends past the first years of life. Thumb sucking is a natural extension of that reflex, often used by babies and toddlers when they feel insecure or require soothing to get to sleep or de-stress. While sucking on his thumb may help him deal with stressful situations, once his teeth come in, constant thumb sucking can affect his dental health.

Thumb sucking as a Normal Part of Childhood

Babies who aren’t provided with a pacifier will use finger-sucking or thumb sucking as a form of comfort at bedtime or during times of stress or discomfort. This is usually acceptable until the baby teeth start to come in. At this point, most babies have learned to use other methods of self-soothing. But it isn’t unusual for toddlers and preschoolers to suck their thumbs in place of a pacifier or bottle until at least four years old. After this, thumb sucking can start to cause problems.

Issues Relating to Thumb sucking

A child’s adult teeth begin to come in between the ages of 5-7. But thumb sucking can begin to wreak havoc on the mouth before teeth ever appear. Thumb sucking can cause changes in the palate (roof of the mouth) and jaw and can affect when the teeth erupt through the gums. The constant pressure can also change how the teeth line up when they finally do come through. It isn’t unusual for thumb suckers to develop bite issues,including an open bite that occurs when a space develops between the lower and upper teeth. This can make it difficult to chew. Finally, putting fingers of thumbs into the mouth exposes your child to germs that can increase his likelihood of developing infections or illnesses.

Long-Term Affects of Thumb sucking and When to Intervene

Children who continue to suck their thumbs over a long period of time face dental problems that can follow them into adulthood. Teeth can be pushed out, leading to overbites or underbites, and also the need for braces. Children can also develop speech problems when their teeth come in incorrectly or change positions.

The physical effects of thumb sucking can be aggravating and long-lasting. But the emotional impact of thumb sucking can be even more devastating. While peer pressure often stops school-age children from sucking their fingers or thumbs in class, others find the habit too hard to break and face backlash from bullies and teachers. Over time, the shame and guilt of thumb sucking can impact a child’s mental health.


Here are some tips for getting your child to give up thumb sucking before it causes permanent damage:


  • Offer a reward system for your child. This might include movie tickets, chore forgiveness or money and should be used only occasionally.
  • Be honest with your child. Younger kids may not understand the negative impact of thumb sucking, but older kids need to know the damage that their habit can cause over time.
  • Tackle anxieties that may be causing your child to use thumb sucking as a soothing device. Help him to find other ways to deal with stress.
  • Stay positive during slips. Even after going for some time without the thumb, she’ll probably revert to thumb sucking again at some point. Always praise your child for her progress.


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