There are many reasons a child may start sucking his or her thumb: seeking comfort, managing anxiety, and pure habit just to name a few. It is a completely normal habit that can sometimes start before a baby is even born. However, if it continues past the age of four, it can cause long-term problems for the teeth and mouth.

In an ideal bite, the upper teeth will grow to overlap the lower teeth. However, the pressure of thumb sucking can lead to abnormal tooth eruption and unwanted effects on jaw growth. In order to prevent the negative consequences of thumb sucking, it’s important to take this habit seriously and intervene at a young age.

Negative Effects of Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking can have many negative effects on your child’s teeth. It causes a repetitive pressure on the teeth, jawbone and roof of the mouth, and it may cause the following issues:

  • Overbite — where the front teeth protrude out from the jaw.
  • Open bite — where the teeth don’t overlap at all when you bite together.
  • Shrinking of the airways, which alters breathing patterns and causes sleep-disordered breathing.
  • Changes to your jaw or face shape, also affecting alignment of the teeth.
  • Development of hindered speech patterns such as a lisp.
  • A sensitive roof of the mouth.
  • Poor swallowing patterns.
  • Improper teeth positions.

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How to Stop Thumb Sucking

Most of these issues will resolve on their own or won’t develop at all if thumb sucking stops before permanent teeth come in around the age of six. However, here are a few tricks to help prevent long-term issues:

  1. Give positive reinforcement that encourages your child to choose to stop sucking their thumb on his/her own. Punishment, scolding and other types of negative reinforcement will most likely lead to the child continuing the habit out of defense.
  2. Hold your child’s hand when he or she gets the urge to suck his or her thumb. Or, put a soft blanket or stuffed animal in the hand when trying to suck his/her thumb. Oftentimes, thumb sucking provides emotional comfort, so making your child feel safe and comfortable should help.
  3. Cover your child’s hand with a bandage during the day in order to prevent him/her from sticking their thumb in his/her mouth.
  4. Take your child’s thumb out of his/her mouth after falling asleep at night.
  5. Consider a orthodontic appliance called a “thumb crib.” If your child is struggling to stop sucking their thumb, talk to any of the doctors or staff at our orthodontic offices about a thumb crib. We secure this appliance to the upper teeth to help children stop sucking their thumb, while also training the tongue to stop going in between the upper and lower teeth.

Thumb sucking is a natural habit for most young children. If your child doesn’t stop sucking their thumb naturally after age four, it can cause long-term damage to their teeth and mouth. If you’re having a hard time helping your child stop thumb sucking, consider talking to your dentist or seeking out an orthodontist to help.

Don’t hesitate to reach out to us here. We’re happy to help find a solution and prevent long-term issues with the teeth and mouth.

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