Thumb sucking is a natural reflex for babies. The habit begins in the womb and often continues until the child is somewhere between the ages of two and four. Children may engage in thumb sucking behavior to relieve stress, feel more secure, or soothe themselves when they are hungry, anxious, or bored.

A dentist can make recommendations on treatments and strategies to prevent children from sucking their thumb. An orthodontic dental laboratory may introduce devices to help children stop this habit, especially if they are nearing the age when permanent teeth begin to replace primary ones.

Effects on Oral Health

Thumb sucking forces repetitive pressure on a child’s teeth, jawbone, and roof of mouth. It can also expose a child to various dirt, bacteria, and viruses.

Teeth – Active thumb sucking can damage primary teeth. This is usually of little consequence once permanent teeth set in. However, persistent, continuous, and vigorous thumb sucking can still cause the misalignment of permanent teeth and affect a child’s jaw or the shape of their mouth.

Mouth – Thumb sucking can result in bite-related issues like overbite and open bite. Overbite occurs when one’s front teeth extend out from the jaw and mouth. It can impact speech patterns and teeth alignment, as well as contribute to the development of a lisp.

Jaw – The shape of the jaw can be changed with rigorous thumb sucking. This action puts a strain on a child’s roof of mouth, often forcing it to develop a high and narrow shape.

The issues that arise from thumb sucking will likely be resolved by the time permanent teeth come in. However, a child who continues to suck their thumb is at increased risk for the listed side effects.

Treatments for Thumb Sucking

Most children cease thumb sucking after the age of four because of a natural inclination to stop. Parents can also talk to their child and try to convince them to drop the habit. The process will go easier if the child is willing to stop.

Parents should identify and address their child’s thumb sucking triggers to get in front of the habit. If a child wants to stop the habit, parents can give them gentle reminders to stop. In addition, a child can be given thumb shields. These are soft plastic or fabric thumb guards that can be worn at all times or only when the child is likely to suck their thumb.

Should these methods remain ineffective, parents can ask a dentist to talk to their child about the negative effects of thumb sucking so they are aware of the damage this action can have. There are also orthodontic devices available to disrupt a child’s ability to thumb suck. Depending on the intensity of the habit and the child’s willingness to change, devices can be removable, non-removable, or contain other features.

Pacifiers

A child may develop a pacifier sucking habit instead of a thumb sucking one. This habit risks the same damage to oral health that thumb sucking can cause. However, this habit is usually one that is easier to break as a child cannot suck a pacifier that is kept from them.

The thumb sucking habit of a child can affect various aspects of their oral health and lead to problems that require corrections in the future. Parents must be proactive about seeking the appropriate solutions to arrest this habit early on.