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Is Thumb Sucking Bad? How Thumb Sucking Affects A Child’s Teeth

Is Thumb Sucking Bad? How Thumb Sucking Affects A Child’s Teeth

Three-quarters of all infants suck their thumbs.

There is nothing abnormal or wrong about children sucking their thumbs, yet parents all over the world worry constantly about their children’s thumb-sucking habits.

Is thumb sucking bad? Are they too old for it? Will sucking their thumb at night cause irreparable damage to their teeth?

For those concerned parents, we’ve put together a handy guide to answer any concerns they may have about tooth damage and thumb sucking.

IS THUMB SUCKING BAD?

Thumb sucking is something babies find comfort in before they’re even born. Many new parents are surprised to see ultrasound pictures that show this behavior.

Suckling is a comfort mechanism. It is linked to the natural urge babies have to nurse.

When infants and young children are anxious or away from their parents too long, they rely on thumb sucking to help them relax. It reminds them of the bonding time they spend with their parents.

Most healthcare professionals agree that thumb sucking isn’t a problem for younger children. However, it can become problematic if your child continues to be an aggressive thumb-sucker once their adult teeth start to come in.

WHEN IS THE RIGHT TIME TO DISCOURAGE THUMB SUCKING?

Children need to be able to comfort themselves to build independence. Thumb sucking is a non-destructive way of accomplishing it.

Most of the time your child will stop sucking their thumb on their own.

Some children notice the social stigma attached to the habit and stop. Others find ways to self soothe which don’t involve thumb sucking.

If your child’s thumb-sucking habit is aggressive and lasts after they turn five, then it is time to intervene.

It is best to use positive reinforcement to curb this behavior.

  • For younger children, try using a pacifier that will cause less damage in the long run
  • Create a fun reward system that gives your child something they enjoy for each day they go without sucking their thumb
  • Set easy time restrictions, like no thumb sucking before bed
  • Keep track of how many days they go without sucking their thumb by putting their favorite stickers on a calendar
  • Go on a fun field trip to the dentist to simply talk about how thumb sucking will affect their teeth
  • Make sure your home is a safe place where they won’t feel the need to suck their thumb to self-comfort
  • Gently remind them not to suck their thumb

Being aggressive will only force them to suck their thumb more because they need comfort. It also makes your child feel like they’re doing something wrong when thumb sucking is a natural behavior.

One serious concern about thumb sucking is that kids are notoriously bad about hand washing. Thumb sucking could cause them to contract a cold or flu quickly, which will spread to the rest of your family.

DENTAL PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED WITH PROLONGED THUMB SUCKING

If children continue to suck their thumb once their adult teeth start to come in, it can lead to a few somewhat serious dental problems.

Many of these problems will sort themselves out if the child stops sucking their thumb before their adult teeth finish coming in. However, some of them will require medical intervention ranging from braces to surgery.

OVERBITE FROM THUMB SUCKING

An overbite is when the top teeth stick out and cover the bottom teeth when the child’s mouth is closed. Extreme overbites can cause a child’s jaw and face to look misshapen.

Thumb sucking, once their adult teeth start to come in, pushes the top teeth out. In many cases, this problem has to be fixed with headgear because braces won’t work.

Untreated overbites can lead to breathing problems, inability to chew properly, and damage to a child’s other teeth.

OPEN BITE FROM THUMB SUCKING

An open bite is when the child closes their mouth and the front teeth don’t touch at all. This lack of contact can cause biting, chewing, and swallowing problems.

Not only does it cause biting problems, but open bites cause the child’s rear teeth to clash together more often. This constant contact can wear down the child’s molars or lead to broken teeth.

Children with an open bite often develop a lisp or other speech impediment, as well.

CHANGES IN TOOTH ALIGNMENT

Thumb sucking can displace a child’s incoming adult teeth in quite a few different ways.

  • Overcrowding – Thumb sucking can change the shape of the upper dental arch. When this happens, a child’s adult teeth don’t have the room they need to grow in properly. As the adult teeth come in, they shift to find space, leading to a crooked smile.
  • Tooth Gaps – The forward pressure from thumb sucking can cause spaces to form between a child’s front teeth as they grow in.

DAMAGES THE ROOF OF THEIR MOUTH

Children’s palates, the roof of their mouth, remain soft until they’re around six years old.

Constant pressure on this soft spot can cause the palate to collapse. A collapsed palate can lead to serious breathing problems like sleep apnea.

Another concern is a crossbite. This occurs when the roof of a child’s mouth is pulled down due to aggressive, prolonged thumb sucking.

This type of crossbite causes the upper back teeth to collapse in toward the tongue. Children with uncorrected crossbites of this nature look like part of their face has sunken in.

CONCERNED ABOUT YOUR CHILD’S TEETH? CONTACT YOUR DENTIST

Is thumb sucking bad? Not if parents carefully monitor their child’s teeth.

We all want to do what is best for our kids. Sometimes that means finding ways for them to self soothe that won’t eventually lead to serious tooth damage down the road.

What happens if you can’t get them to stop before their adult teeth come in?

If you are worried about tooth damage, take them to visit a pediatric dentist.

Children’s Dental & Orthodontic’s pediatric program is designed to make sure your child feels safe anytime they visit us.

Don’t hesitate to contact us and schedule an appointment to make sure your child’s teeth are healthy.