How Thumb-sucking Affects Children’s Oral Health

February 14, 2023

Many children suck on their thumbs when they are young but grow out of this as they mature. But it’s common for parents to wonder whether thumb-sucking will affect their child’s oral health later on.

“Normal” Thumb-Sucking Behavior

To start, parents should know that it’s completely normal for their children to suck their thumbs. Young children use their mouths to explore. Many children even find thumb-sucking to be comforting. The American Dental Association (ADA) says that most kids stop sucking their thumbs around ages two to four. Some kids will still occasionally suck their thumbs after this if they are anxious or stressed or need to self-soothe.

When Thumb-sucking May Be a Concern

While thumb-sucking is completely normal, it can affect your child’s oral health in some cases. The biggest concern is if your child keeps sucking their thumb for too long.

There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Approach

It’s important to note that there is no single one-size-fits-all recommendation for thumb-sucking. Whether or not you need to stop your child from sucking their thumb will depend on their age and how often and intensely they suck their thumbs.

In most cases, you don’t have to worry about it until at least five years old. At that point, it can start to lead to a misaligned bite. Some experts suggest discouraging thumb-sucking before age five, as it will be easier for your child to stop completely.

The earlier you can prevent your child from sucking their thumb, the better. This would be the case if you notice any issues, such as changes to their bite or teeth. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, consult your child’s dentist. They can help you evaluate if you need to discourage thumb-sucking.

Potential Oral Health Consequences

Some possible negative effects of thumb-sucking for too long can include:

  • Overbite or overjet
  • Misaligned bite
  • Speech problems
  • Palate issues
  • Increased infection risk
  • Sensitivity in the mouth

How to Discourage Thumb-sucking

If your child is getting older or their thumb-sucking is affecting their teeth, you will want to gently discourage the behavior. Some strategies include:

  • Offering a healthy alternative, such as holding a toy, stuffed animal, or blanket
  • Avoid stressful situations for your child
  • Help your kid manage their stress and discomfort
  • Track behavior on a sticker chart and offer rewards for a certain number of days without thumb-sucking
  • Praise your child or offer rewards when they don’t suck their thumb
  • Cover their hand or thumb (with a sock or glove)
  • Explain how sucking their thumb can hurt their oral health (for older kids)

Dr. Dhiraj Sharma may also suggest bitter medication or a thumb-sucking guard. In some rare cases, they may even suggest a dental appliance that discourages it.


You shouldn’t worry about your child sucking their thumb, as long as they are younger than five years old. Once they pass this age, you will want to discourage thumb-sucking. You should also discourage it and consult your child’s dentist if you notice the behavior affecting their oral health, no matter how young your child is.

If you are concerned about your child’s dental care, contact us for general dentistry in Everygreen Park.


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