How Does Thumb-Sucking Affect Teeth?


Do you have a little one who sucks their thumb for comfort? Thumb-sucking is a natural reflex for children, especially youngsters who have only recently stopped nursing or bottle-feeding. Toddlers and even preschool-aged kids often suck their thumbs or fingers as a soothing tactic to fall asleep or feel secure.

While you might find your child’s habit endearing, it can become more of a problem as they grow — not just behaviorally, but also physically. Thumb-sucking can cause a variety of problems as a child’s teeth grow in — some of which can even affect tooth placement and mouth shape. But how serious is the habit, and how can you get your kids to stop?

To make sure you’re setting up your little one for the best future oral health, here’s what you need to know about the effects of thumb-sucking on teeth.

How Does Thumb-Sucking Affect Teeth?

Thumb sucking can have many consequences as children grow. When permanent teeth come in, sucking can cause issues with tooth alignment and the proper growth of a child’s mouth. Kids that suck their thumbs more aggressively can even develop problems as early as their baby tooth stages.

Thumb sucking can alter the posture and position of the thumb, which affects dental arch growth and can lead to other long-term consequences, including:

  • Jaw or palate narrowing
  • Poor swallowing patterns
  • Improper tooth positioning
  • Poor breathing patterns
  • Face shape alteration
  • Speech issues

Many children will stop sucking between the ages of two and four — by the time permanent teeth are ready to come in — but sometimes the habit can continue longer or cause long-term dental issues anyway.

How Can You Get Your Child to Stop Thumb Sucking?

Even though sucking may be a comfort to your little one, it’s important to make sure they stop this behavior soon — the earlier, the better. Here are a few ways to protect your child’s oral health by discouraging their thumb sucking habit:

  • Begin weaning your child off the behavior as early as possible. Start by introducing them to more solid food as young as six months — this will help engage them orally, so they move away from the urge to suck.
  • Encourage your child’s comfort level. Kids often suck their thumbs as a self-soothing technique in moments of anxiety or discomfort. You can help them ease off the behavior by replacing the soother with another item — like holding hands or holding a security blanket. It’s also a good idea to address the source of anxiety itself, helping your child feel more comfortable in specific situations or environments. Gradually, these strategies will help your child wean off the habit.
  • Praise your child when they do not suck their thumb and gently encourage them to stop.

Another option is seeing a dentist to help determine any damage — and maybe help correct any early oral dysfunction. If you’re looking for a family-friendly dentist, Dental Choice may be able to help. Contact us today or request an appointment to learn more.




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