Does Thumbsucking Affect Your Child’s Teeth?

Thumbsucking - when it's ok and when it's not

What Every Parent Should Know About Thumbsucking

It’s helpful for parents to remember that toddler thumbsucking is perfectly normal. Children pick up this habit while in the womb as a means of providing comfort and security. Part of the reason for this is that the sucking motion is a natural reflex in newborns that helps them feed. As your child grows older, they may pick up thumbsucking as a substitute for sucking on a bottle. Most children can also develop a need to suck on their thumb to self-soothe as they navigate a new experience or environment, such as starting childcare. 

When should you start worrying about your kids sucking their thumb?

Most kids outgrow the thumbsucking habit when they’re six to seven months old. Others stop naturally when they’re a little older: two to four years old. It’s only when thumbsucking extends beyond four years that it has the potential to become problematic. This is usually because that’s around the time permanent teeth begin to erupt. 

However, there’s an exception to the thumbsucking age rule: when a child is an aggressive thumbsucker, meaning they continuously and vigorously suck on their thumb for long periods of time, you’ll need to address this at a younger age.

What are the side effects of thumbsucking on teeth?

Prolonged sucking of the thumb can cause changes in your child’s palate (the roof of the mouth), affect their jaw development, and influence the way their teeth line up in the mouth. These dental issues usually correct themselves once your child breaks the habit, but the longer and more vigorously your little one sucks on their thumb, the more likely these dental issues will follow them into adulthood. If your child rests their thumb passively in their mouth, however, it’s possible little damage will occur to their teeth.

How can you help your child stop sucking their thumb?

A couple of home treatment measures can help your child break the habit of sucking their thumb. However, parents should also be aware that most of these methods are only effective if your child also wants to give up thumbsucking. In most cases, the more attention you give to the behavior, the more persistent it becomes. So if at any time your child resists giving up the habit, it’s best that you obey their wishes and only reach out to your North Platte pediatric dentist if the habit continues past the age of four or you notice changes to your child’s primary teeth.

Here are other ways to help your child stop sucking their thumb:

Identify thumbsucking triggers.

Does your child suck on their thumb when they’re bored, tired, anxious, or hungry? Knowing what prompts them to put their thumb in their mouth can help you provide comfort in other ways, such as with a hug or reassuring words. You might also want to engage them in an activity that uses their hands, like arts and crafts or hand games, to keep your little one’s thumb away from their mouth. 

If you’re not sure what triggers thumbsucking in your child, talk to them about it and come up with creative ways together to help them break the habit. This can sometimes be as simple as reading your little one a story before bed to help them sleep at night.

Use positive reinforcement.

Offering praise or specific rewards for not sucking their thumb can also be an effective way to help your little one kick this childhood habit. You can use intangible daily gifts, like a hug, taking time to read their favorite story, or an extra 15 minutes of TV time, to motivate your child to stop sucking their thumb.

Offer physical reminders.

A tongue depressor taped over the thumb or a mitten worn over the hand can both serve as physical reminders when your child tries to put their thumb in their mouth. You can choose to put these shields on your child while they’re awake or only during the times they’re most likely to suck on their thumbs.

Can pediatric dentistry help with thumbsucking?

If any of the home measures listed in this article don’t work and you feel frustrated about your child’s sucking habit that’s gone past the age of four, you can always schedule an appointment with a pediatric dentist for their expert insight. 

Our dentists have the experience and expertise to treat childhood habits that affect teeth. Plus, aren’t most of us more receptive to advice that doesn’t come from our parents? Sometimes all your child needs is a little urging from a dental health professional to help them do the very thing you’ve been telling them all along!