Is Thumb Sucking Bad for Your Child’s Teeth?

thumb sucking

The impulse to suckle is of paramount importance for infants, who must breastfeed or bottle feed for several months before the introduction of solid foods. Because of this strong instinct, it’s normal for kids to suck on pacifiers, fingers, thumbs, and other items into toddlerhood and even beyond, although at some point, the act of sucking becomes more about comfort than necessity.

Thumb sucking isn’t necessarily bad for infants, but as teeth begin to erupt in a child’s mouth, this activity can prove extremely detrimental to oral health. Many parents don’t see the harm in letting kids self-soothe with thumb sucking, but unless you want serious problems down the road, you’ll need to put the kibosh on this bad habit sooner rather than later. Here’s what concerned parents need to know about the potential problems associated with thumb sucking.

How Can Thumb Sucking Affect Oral Health?

In infancy and early toddlerhood, thumb sucking can be a real boon to beleaguered parents since it helps many young children to reduce anxiety and even drift off to sleep at night. As teeth begin to erupt, however, thumb sucking can become a problem that leads to misaligned teeth and even jaws.

This can begin as early as the formation of baby teeth, but it will almost certainly occur if children are still sucking their thumbs when permanent teeth start to grow in. Thumb sucking, especially vigorous sucking, can also lead to changes in the roof of the mouth.

All of this can cause teeth to erupt unevenly and disrupt bite patterns. Down the line, such issues may require the use of braces to properly alight teeth and jaws, or even oral surgery in extreme cases, all of which you and your child would probably rather avoid.

Tips to Curb Thumb Sucking

Most children will stop sucking their thumbs or other objects on their own between the ages of two and four. If they don’t naturally stop, entering school may cause them to succumb to peer pressure and give up the activity. If not, you will need to find ways to put a stop to thumb sucking before permanent teeth begin to emerge.

The best way to do this is by addressing the stresses and anxieties that cause your child to want to suck a thumb, and finding other coping mechanisms. You should also practice praise when your child avoids thumb sucking, rather than scolding for slip-ups. If these methods don’t seem to be working, consult with your child’s dentist for further advice.