Dental Consequences of Thumb Sucking

Dental Consequences of Thumb Sucking

Thumbsucking: it’s a natural response for some children. As children grow, sucking their thumbs, fingers, pacifiers and other objects can simulate the comforting feeling of nursing, and help them fall asleep and feel soothed.
Unfortunately, thumb sucking does have some long-standing effects on children’s’ teeth and can cause damage to the jaw if it persists too long. Here’s what you need to know about the unintended consequences of this habit:

How Does Thumbsucking Affect a Child’s Teeth?

While most children stop sucking their thumbs before primary teeth begin to erupt, children that persist beyond this point may start to see some effects on their teeth. Here’s what parents and caretakers should be aware of:

Thumb Sucking Should Stop by Age 4

If your child hasn’t stopped sucking his or her thumb by the time they turn four, it’s time to start discouraging the practice. According to the American Dental Association, thumb sucking after this point could cause permanent damage to the teeth or result in them to be misaligned, causing the need for braces.

Thumb Sucking Is Normal

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex for children. Apparent in children in the womb, thumb sucking provides comfort and relaxation as a baby grows. Some kids will also use it as a coping mechanism when they feel anxious or become separated from the people they feel safe with.
As long as thumb sucking does not persist after the primary teeth come in, it can be an effective way for children to self-soothe and even induce sleep.

Thumb Sucking Can Cause Bite Issues

If not discouraged early enough, thumb sucking can create ongoing pressure that will start to make changes to a child’s mouth. Some of these changes may include jutting front teeth, an open bite, or lower and upper front teeth which do not touch. In some cases, these issues can even expand to affect the secondary and permanent teeth.
If you as a parent see signs of this beginning to happen, it’s essential to take the child to a pediatric dentist for a consultation. This dentist will be able to evaluate the damage and make a recommendation to repair it.

There Are Steps You Can Take to Discourage Thumb Sucking

If your child is continuing to thumb suck beyond the point when he or she should, there are things you can do to discourage it. For example, when the child is an infant, you can offer a pacifier. A pacifier, unlike a thumb, is easy to take away when it comes time to wean it. If your child is older, you can also establish a reward chart to help him or her learn to stop thumb sucking, and take the child to the dentist so they can learn more about the positive results that come with stopping the habit.

Oral Health Starts Young

While thumb sucking is a natural part of a child’s development, it’s also a habit that can damage their teeth. With this in mind, it’s essential to discourage the habit as early as possible and seek out additional help if it becomes clear your child wants to continue thumb-sucking past age four or so.
When you curb this habit early, you can protect your child’s teeth, help teach them healthy dental habits and ensure the health and wellbeing of their mouths for years to come.

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