Thumb Sucking: How it Affects Your Child’s Oral Health | Smile Line Dentistry

Thumb Sucking: How it Affects Your Child’s Oral Health

Thumb sucking is a common and instinctive way for many infants and young children to self-soothe. In fact, some babies start sucking their thumb or fingers while still in the womb. Typically, children tend to naturally outgrow this behaviour between the ages of two and four.

However, the question remains: is thumb sucking harmful to your child’s oral health? This article delves into this topic, examining the potential side effects of thumb sucking and its possible impact on your child’s oral health and teeth alignment.

What’s The Harm In Thumb Sucking?

It is crucial to help and encourage your child break the habit of thumb sucking before their permanent teeth start to come in. The effects of thumb sucking can contribute to the following:

  • Speech difficulties: Persistent thumb sucking can lead to delayed speech development or speech impediments, potentially resulting in difficulties with pronouncing sounds like S, Z, L, and R, leading to a lisp or other speech issues.
  • Narrowing of the palate: Engaging in this habit can lead to the development of a narrower and elevated palate, impacting the overall structure of the mouth.
  • Malocclusions: Malocclusion refers to a incorrect relationship between the upper and lower teeth, which can manifest in different ways such as a crossbite, an open bite, or an overbite to name a few.
  • Dental misalignment: Extended thumb sucking exerts pressure on the teeth, causing them to shift from their natural positions and often results in dental misalignment, potentially leading to an open bite.
  • Changes to jaw development: Thumb sucking can impact the growth and alignment of the jaw, which can lead to problems with chewing and jaw positioning.
  • Dental problems: Consistent thumb sucking can lead to wear and tear on the teeth, increasing the risk of dental issues like enamel erosion and a higher susceptibility to cavities.
  • Social and emotional implications: In certain instances, ongoing thumb sucking can give rise to social and emotional difficulties, including teasing from peers and issues related to self-esteem.

How To Help Your Child Stop Sucking Their Thumb

Overcoming the thumb sucking habit can be more challenging to address since it can serve as a sleep aid and comfort mechanism, especially at nighttime. Nevertheless, there are strategies available to assist your child in discontinuing thumb sucking.

  • Positive reinforcements: Provide your child with praise and encouragement, highlighting their achievements and progress.
  • Distraction techniques: Offer alternative activities or toys to engage your child’s hands and distract them from thumb sucking.
  • Use bitter nail polish or thumb guards: Consider applying a safe, non-toxic bitter nail polish to discourage thumb sucking, or explore the option of using thumb guards that cause discomfort when they try to suck their thumb.
  • Set goals and rewards: Set attainable milestones for your child to stop thumb sucking and offer rewards as they successfully reach these goals.
  • Replace thumb sucking: Encourage your child to replace thumb or pacifier sucking with a healthier alternative, such as holding a blanket or their favourite toy.

Thumb sucking is an instinctive and natural reflex that often starts even before birth. Many children find comfort in thumb sucking or sucking on a pacifier. In most cases, thumb sucking naturally subsides with time. However, if the habit persists beyond age three, it can potentially cause oral damage and complications for your child’s mouth.

Contact Smileline Orthodontics & Kids Dentistry to discuss thumb sucking and more at your first appointment! Keep smiling!