thumb sucking Cute blond curly little boy sleeping on white couch. Tired toddler taking a nap wearing warm white pajamas sucking his thumb.

Effects of Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is a common habit among young children. Babies often suck their thumb or fingers due to their natural rooting and sucking reflexes. As children grow older, they may use the habit as a soothing technique. According to Mayo Clinic, many babies stop sucking their thumb on their own by around six or seven months. Children that continue this pattern into toddlerhood usually stop between two and four years old.

During infancy, thumb sucking is typically not a concern. However, as a child gets older, this habit can become problematic. Thumb sucking past the toddler years can pose certain dental and oral health risks. These risks increase the longer the child sucks on his or her thumb.

Overbite and Underbite

Some of the most common effects of prolonged thumb sucking is the development of an overbite or underbite. An overbite is a condition in which the upper teeth extend farther forward then the lower teeth. An underbite is the exact opposite of an overbite and is caused when the bottom teeth extend over the teeth on the upper jaw.

Both conditions create a misalignment which can cause discomfort or difficulty while chewing. The force of the thumb in the mouth can put undue pressure on the teeth which pushes them out of place, causing either an overbite or underbite.

Speech Impediment

Thumb sucking has the potential to alter the roof of the mouth and negatively impact the development of the teeth and palate. These changes can affect your child’s ability to speak correctly. It is not uncommon for it to cause certain speech impediments, such as a lisp or the inability to pronounce hard consonant sounds, such as “D” or “T.” Having a speech impediment can cause children to experience embarrassment and frustration, and can even lead to social issues in the long-term.

Frequent Infections

Up to 80 percent of all infections are transmitted by hands, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With millions of bacteria living on the hands and fingers, it’s safe to say you shouldn’t have them anywhere near your mouth. However, thumb sucking puts these harmful bacteria directly into the mouth resulting in frequent exposure. This drastically increases a child’s risk of developing infections.

Discouraging Thumb Sucking

It can be hard for children to stop sucking their thumb, especially if it has become a habit. It is important not to get angry or frustrated with your child as this can cause stress that only reinforces the habit. Instead, consider some of these tips:

  • Set realistic expectations. It’s not realistic to expect your child to stop sucking his or her thumb cold turkey. The goal is to gradually lessen the amount of time that your child engages in this habit. For example, you may only allow thumb sucking during naps or at bedtime.
  • Help your child understand. Children don’t know that thumb sucking has risks. It’s important to talk to them about the effects in words that they can understand.
  • Provide praise for a job well done. When your child is showing signs that he or she is trying to stop, provide praise. Children like to know that their parents are proud of them and will often keep up the behavior to receive positive attention.
  • Offer an alternative. For infants, this could be a pacifier that can be taken away to prevent excessive use. For older children, an alternative may be a soft blanket or favorite stuffed animal that the toddler can squeeze.
  • Create a reward system. Reward systems can be highly effective as they provide children with a source of motivation. Provide your child with a sticker or small prize when he or she goes a certain amount of time without thumb sucking.

Speak with a Melbourne, FL Dentist

It’s important to remember that no two children are exactly alike and that some kids will take longer to stop thumb sucking than others. If you believe that it is causing harm to your child’s teeth or mouth, speak with a Melbourne, Florida dentist about your concerns. For more information or to schedule an appointment with our family dentist, contact Artistic Touch Dentistry.