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Baby sucking thumb

How Thumb Sucking Effects Your Children’s Teeth

Thumb sucking is one of the most common habits among children because it calms and soothes them. But did you know that thumb sucking and pacifier use can have a negative impact on their teeth and overall oral health? If a child reverts to thumb sucking often, it can harm their teeth long-term. Read on to discover how thumb sucking and pacifier use affect your child’s teeth and overall oral health.

Why Do Children Suck Their Thumb?

Babies are born with a suckling reflex for the intent of nourishment. Because of the positive association and endorphins created with sucking, babies will often transfer the action to other things such as thumbs, fingers, pacifiers, sippy cups, and similar items to receive the same pleasurable sensation. It is also a calming habit that helps the child feel relaxed, similar to having a “safety” item like a blanket or stuffed animal.

How Thumb Sucking Affects Teeth

Many children subconsciously find that the habit quells boredom or soothes them when they are tired, sick, or experiencing a stressful moment. Ending a thumb sucking habit before your child’s permanent teeth erupt is important, though some of the effects of vigorous sucking may have already occurred.

Effects of thumb sucking can include the following:

  • Palatal narrowing, which occurs when the roof of the mouth doesn’t grow to full size because of the forces of thumb or pacifier sucking
  • Improper tooth alignment and eruption of the teeth
  • Malocclusion and bite issues such as an open bite
  • Modified swallowing action of the tongue and altered breathing
  • Callouses on the fingers or thumb
  • Poor speech development

The longer the habit continues, the more damage can be done. Encouraging your child to stop sucking on a finger or thumb may be all you need to do to help your child quit the habit during the day. (Positive reinforcement and love go a long way!) However, nighttime habits can be more difficult to correct, but there are still ways you can help your child stop thumb sucking.

Pacifier vs. Thumb Sucking

As your child gets older, eliminating the habit is dependent on the child wanting to stop. Pacifier use may be easier to eliminate since it can be taken away. Typically I recommend getting rid of the pacifier at 18 months or earlier by setting a date on the calendar and eliminating day and nighttime use. Once your child starts talking while holding the pacifier between the teeth or lips, the tongue actions relating to speech and swallowing can develop incorrectly. This is why it’s important to monitor your child’s pacifier use and to set a date for weaning them off the pacifier.

How to Stop Thumb Sucking

Your pediatric dentist can help give specific ideas for helping your child stop thumb sucking. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Praise and reward your child for refraining from sucking their thumb.
  • Identify the cause of the thumb sucking (sometimes anxiety or boredom) and work to eliminate the cause.
  • Some children suck their thumb as they fall asleep. Have your child wear mittens to bed and play soothing music to help them sleep.
  • Be patient and try not to get discouraged; thumb sucking is often difficult for children to overcome.

Overall, thumb sucking is a natural habit for babies and toddlers, but can contribute negatively to their oral health if continued for too long. Talk to your child’s pediatric dentist about thumb sucking habits and how to stop the habit before it damages the growth and development of your child’s mouth. Request an appointment below to get started with our caring pediatric teams!

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