SmileLand Pediatric Dentistry

The Effects of Thumb Sucking

Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex that can help infants and young children feel calm and safe. Some children have been seen sucking their thumbs in the womb, and that habit can last through the child’s toddler years.

At the same time, thumb sucking can result in harm to a child’s teeth and jaw. What point should you as the parent intervene in this habit?
Read on to learn more about thumb sucking, as well as ways that we at SmileLand Pediatric Dentistry can help!

How Does Thumb Sucking Affect A Child’s Teeth and Jaw?

It’s possible that the habit will affect the roof of the mouth of the child. This can cause an imperfect bite and teeth misalignment issues that will ultimately require early orthodontic treatment.
Often, thumb sucking can cause an open bite, which is when the upper and lower teeth do not come together when your child bites down. This can result in a gap between the upper and lower teeth.
Sometimes, thumb sucking can push the front teeth & the bone surrounding them forward. In severe cases, it can create an opening big enough for the child to suck their thumb, even while their mouth is closed.
Thumb sucking can also result in a cross-bite, a scenario where a child’s upper teeth fall on the wrong side of the lower teeth when the child bites down.
In addition to dental problems, prolonged thumb sucking can also cause speech problems, chapped skin, calluses, and fingernail infections.
Will My Child Outgrow Their Thumb Sucking Habit?

Usually, children stop sucking their thumbs between the ages of 1-3 years old.

When And How Should I Intervene?

This is a tricky question. Generally speaking, if a child is still sucking their thumb past the age of 3, it’s time to step in to prevent dental complications.

Reward your child when they don’t suck their thumb. One way to do this is by creating goals and prizes for your child to achieve
Place a bitter-tasting liquid on the child’s thumbnail. This will remind your child not to suck their thumb and can be especially helpful at night. (There are some restrictions on using these liquids on young children please ask your pediatric dentist at SmileLand for further advice)
Have your child wear gloves or a finger splint. Similar to using a bitter-tasting liquid, this will discourage your child from sucking their thumb.
Provide them comfort. Some children suck their thumbs when they’re feeling anxious or frightened. Providing them with kind, reassuring words can comfort them in a way that thumb sucking usually does.

At SmileLand Pediatric Dentistry, we’ll talk with you and your child about the habit and together formulate a treatment plan if needed. We may recommend trying an over-the-counter thumb guard. If the child is sucking his or her thumb past the age of 5 or 6, we’ll likely recommend a dental appliance that blocks the habit when your child has the urge to suck. If your child’s permanent teeth have been affected by thumb sucking, we may refer you to an orthodontist for further analysis and treatment.