For Kids

How Does Thumb Sucking Affect Kids’ Teeth?

Jan 11 • 3 minute read

As babies grow, thumb sucking can become a concern for parents. You might wonder whether the habit will last or if your child needs help stopping. Though not all thumb sucking damages your kid’s teeth, active thumb sucking with lots of movement can affect their dental development.

How Thumb Sucking Affects Oral Health

Generally, thumb sucking is considered normal in children up to age two, but some children may continue to do so for longer periods. Keeping the thumb passively in the mouth is usually harmless. However, long-term vigorous thumb sucking may affect the development of your child’s smile.

1. Jaw Development

Your child’s jaw changes as they grow, and continuous thumb sucking can influence how the jaw and the teeth develop. This is due to the constant pressure from repeated sucking that causes the teeth to shift in an unnatural direction.

2. Misaligned Teeth

Long-term thumb sucking can lead to misalignment of the front teeth, and the most common alignment problems are open bites and overbites. In an open bite, the top and bottom front teeth do not come into contact with one another, even when the child closes their mouth. In an overbite, the upper teeth are pushed forward, causing an overlap with the bottom ones. Left untreated, dental alignment issues can hinder proper oral function, making it more difficult to bite and chew food.

3. Problems with Speech Development

Long-term thumb sucking can adversely affect your child’s speech by causing an overbite or open bite. Children who habitually suck their thumbs will consistently push their tongues forward against their teeth. This can coincide with poor tongue control, and the child may lisp or have difficulty with the R, Z, S, and L sounds.

Babbling and practicing different sounds are important for babies as they shape their mouths and use their facial muscles. Excessive thumb sucking prevents kids from practicing and developing these critical language skills.

How to Help Your Kid Stop Sucking Their Thumb

A child’s thumb sucking habits can increase the likelihood of dental or speech problems developing in the future. However, there are many things you can do to help your kid stop sucking their thumb. Here are some ways of encouraging your child to leave the habit behind:

1. Use Positive Reinforce

Praise and reward your child with a small gift or reward when they go a set period of time without sucking their thumb. Winning a reward will motivate them to stop sucking their thumb. Get creative; small toys and stickers are a good place to start.

2. Have a Discussion

Try talking to your child about their dental health using age-appropriate language. A conversation can help your child understand that it is important to stop sucking their thumb in order to protect their teeth. Your dentist can help you reinforce this idea at your child’s routine check-ups.

Because children often suck their thumbs in order to feel more secure, it can also be helpful to identify triggers that may be upsetting your child. In this way, you can find strategies to help them feel more secure without resorting to thumb sucking.

3. Use a Finger Guard

A finger guard physically stops your kid from sucking their thumb. These devices are designed to be child-proof and difficult for kids to remove without help. However, it can limit the use of their hand in activities such as eating or playing, so finger guards are often preferred for nighttime use.

Don’t Hesitate to Consult Your Dentist

Many children continue thumb sucking until they are two or older, and it usually resolves on its own. However, persistent thumb sucking habits can hinder children’s proper oral development, especially if they last beyond the age of four. Consult a dentist if your child is sucking their thumb while their baby teeth are developing to keep a closer eye on their dental development.

The post How Does Thumb Sucking Affect Kids’ Teeth? first appeared on Dental Signal.

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Christina S. Dawson, D.D.S., P.L.L.C.
Cosmetic & General Dentistry

Dawson Family Dentistry is dedicated to excellence in general and cosmetic dentistry, such as tooth colored fillings, crowns, veneers, and tooth whitening. Located in Lewisville, Texas, this office serves patients throughout Denton County and surrounding cities such as Flower Mound, Highland Village, Copper Canyon, Bartonville, and Argyle.

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