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Is Thumb Sucking Hurting My Child’s Teeth?

August 22, 2019

Is Thumb Sucking Hurting My Child’s Teeth?

Parents want what’s best for their kids, and caring for their teeth is one way to do this. A question parents often have is whether thumb sucking is hurting their child’s teeth. While most children outgrow this behavior before any damage is done, it’s important to acknowledge that thumb sucking can pose an oral health threat. Staying informed will help ensure your child enjoys healthy smiles into adulthood.

Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs?

Thumb sucking is a soothing, natural reflex for children. It is often seen in infants before birth, while still in the womb. Babies may continue this practice after birth, which helps them feel happy and secure, and may help them fall asleep. Some children continue thumb sucking into their toddler years to help cope with anxiety or stressful situations.

When Do Children Stop Sucking Their Thumbs?

Most children stop thumb-sucking between the ages of two and four, or by the time their permanent front teeth are ready to come in. If your child continues this habit past the age of four, it’s best to consult with your pediatric dentist.

How Can Thumb Sucking Affect Your Child’s Teeth?

After the permanent teeth come in, thumb sucking may affect your child’s oral health. The intensity of sucking is a significant factor in determining whether or not dental problems may result. Unlike passively resting a thumb in the mouth, active, consistent, or vigorous sucking may cause significant problems. This behavior can have long-term effects due to the constant pressure placed on the teeth, jawbone, and the roof of the mouth.

Vigorous thumb sucking often affects the alignment of a child’s permanent front teeth and the shape of the jaw and the roof of the mouth. Your child can potentially develop problems with the bite, meaning the likely need for orthodontic treatments down the road. Other long-term effects include changes to the mouth that may interfere with speech patterns, potentially causing a lisp.

How Can You Help Your Child Stop Thumbsucking?

There are a few things you can do to help. You may want to consider setting up a “big kid” reward system. Positive reinforcement is much more effective in dealing with this type of behavior than scolding. Be consistent in calmly redirecting and offer plenty of praise when your child is not engaging in thumb sucking.

Children suck their thumbs when feeling insecure or when in need of comfort. Focus on the causes of anxiety and find different ways to comfort your child. Try to determine your child’s thumb sucking triggers and address them. For example, engaging your child in an activity such as drawing or playing catch can deflect the attention off thumb sucking. It may also help to place barriers during sleep such as thumb shields, a sock on the hand, or using a mouth appliance prescribed by your child’s pediatric dentist.

Safeguard Your Child’s Smile By Talking to the Experts

For more tips on helping your child stop thumb sucking, your trusted team at Jet Set Smiles Pediatric Dentistry in Phoenix, AZ, is here to help. We will work with you to find solutions to safeguard your child’s smile. Call us today!