How Thumb Sucking is Detrimental to Children’s Oral Health

February 27, 2024

As Children’s Oral Health Month, February is the month when dental professionals take the time to educate their patients about oral health concerns specific to children and help them establish good oral health habits in their children. Today, the team at American Dental would like to tell you about an issue that affects about 1 in every 8 children: thumb sucking.

While thumb sucking is a natural behavior that develops in the womb to help babies strengthen their mouth muscles in preparation for suckling, when it lasts beyond infancy, it can become a problem. Here’s more about thumb sucking, the issues it can cause, and how to prevent it:

When Should Children Stop Sucking Their Thumbs?

In most cases, children will stop sucking their thumbs on their own between the ages of 2 and 4. For some, however, the act of thumb sucking provides comfort in times of stress, and they may continue to do it well into their childhood. This becomes a problem around age 6, when the permanent teeth start growing in. If your child has not stopped sucking their thumb by the time the permanent teeth start erupting, it will need to be addressed to prevent oral health problems in the future.

Oral Health Issues Caused by Thumb Sucking

Most of the problems caused by thumb sucking relate to the teeth and their position in the mouth. Prolonged thumb sucking can cause the front teeth to move out of their proper position, and without correction, they will remain that way into adulthood. The most common issues caused by thumb sucking include crossbite, anterior open bite, and malocclusion. Thumb sucking can also affect the growth of the palate, causing malformations there. This can lead to difficulty chewing and speaking.

Preventing Thumb Sucking in Children

If your child won’t stop sucking their thumb, the first thing you should do is speak with a dentist about the issue. Your dentist can provide you with specific information about the health issues associated with thumb sucking and educate you and your child about them. Once they are aware of these potential problems, your child may want to stop thumb sucking on their own. If not, you can try other methods. First, try positive reinforcement, praising your child when they don’t suck their thumb. You can also try addressing the circumstances that make them feel stressed and turn to thumb sucking for comfort. Your growing child will want to feel like they have agency over their own bodies, so including them in these discussions is important. Of course, sometimes the habit can be hard to break, especially when your child sucks their thumb while sleeping.

For a more direct approach, you can try to prevent thumb sucking by putting a sock on your child’s hand at night. This may physically prevent them from putting their thumb in their mouth. Your dentist or pediatrician may also be able to recommend a bitter substance to coat the thumb, giving your child an incentive not to put it in their mouth. In severe cases, a mouth appliance can be worn at night as a physical barrier.

Family Dentist in ChicagoAt American Dental, we welcome people of all ages to our 8 locations, and we will be happy to talk to you and your children about thumb sucking or any other oral health issues you may be experiencing. Call (773) 897-3218 or click “Make an Appointment” to find a family dentist in River West Chicago or anywhere else in Chicagoland.

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