Thumb Sucking

Whether done for comfort, due to anxiety, or out of habit, thumb sucking in children can lead to dental problems later in life. Many parents may wish to address thumb sucking at an early age before it becomes a problem, and they would be right to do so.

Parents need to understand how thumb sucking affects their child’s teeth and what can be done to address the issue before it impacts the child’s teeth long-term.

Does Thumb Sucking Harm A Child’s Teeth?

If an infant sucks their thumb, it may not result in any dental problems. However, as a child ages and thumb sucking occurs, it begins to become a concern because it can affect their permanent teeth alignment and their bite.

One major concern that parents should have about thumb sucking is its ability to lead to an open bite where the front teeth do not erupt fully and may be pushed forward. Because the teeth are pushed out of position, they may begin to come in crooked. This becomes a greater concern if the thumb sucking continues as permanent teeth begin to come in, usually around age five. Thumb sucking into adolescence may result in braces or other dental work that is otherwise preventable if thumb sucking is stopped before it leads to lifelong consequences.

Additional problems that may result following persistent thumb sucking include:

  • Overbite
  • Pronunciation problems following language development
  • Misaligned jaw
  • Malformed roof of the mouth

How Do I Stop My Child From Thumb Sucking?

While many parents may try to force their child to suck their thumb, it is ultimately the child’s decision to stop. Many outgrow thumb sucking as they get older and can better communicate their feelings or develop other coping mechanisms. However, for children that continue to suck their thumbs, there are some options parents can consider.

First, it is important to be supportive and adopt positive reinforcement techniques that encourage your child to choose to stop thumb sucking on their own. Negative reinforcement, such as scolding or punishments, will only lead the child to begin sucking their thumb again or continue to out defense of the habit.

If the child is responsive and has expressed an interest in stopping the habit, parents can cover the finger or thumb with a band-aid during the day and take the thumb or finger out of their mouth after the child falls asleep.

Older children who struggle with thumb sucking may benefit from having a dental appliance called a “tongue crib” which discourages thumb sucking. The appliance is cemented to the upper teeth, behind the upper and lower incisors, and not only helps the child stop thumb sucking, but it trains the tongue to stop going between the upper and lower teeth, a frequent tick that thumb sucking may produce calling tongue thrust.

Conclusion

Parents’ concerns about thumb sucking are substantive, but stopping the habit is possible and can prevent major dental issues later in a child’s life. For help, contact your dentist for tips and advice.

If your young child has not visited the dentist yet, schedule an appointment today and get the answers you seek about building proper dental habits, breaking habits like thumb sucking, and more!