Little cute baby sleepingThumb sucking is a natural behavior for small children. It provides a sense of comfort. Usually this habit ends by the time your child’s permanent teeth come in (usually around age 4). Sometimes, it is harder for some children to stop than others. If your child is at the age where he or she should stop, and still continues the thumb sucking, major teeth and mouth problems can occur.

If your child rigorously sucks his or thumb during the early years, there can be damage done to baby teeth.

The biggest and most common tooth problem thumb sucking does is pushing teeth out of alignment. The crooked teeth alignment can make the upper teeth protrude, creating an overbite. Cross bite (when the top teeth sit over or inside the bottom teeth) can also occur. The overbite and cross bite can make it difficult for your child to properly pronounce certain words.

Thumb sucking can also cause either the bottom or upper or, in some cases, both jaws to become misaligned. The jaw misalignment can further impede speech, eating and sleeping. The roof of the mouth may also get malformed. The top of the mouth can also become irritated if the overbite is severe. When this occurs, the bottom teeth can scrape up against the roof of the mouth, causing damage to the area.

How You Can Help Stop Thumb Sucking

When your child is older and hasn’t stopped thumb sucking or if the thumb sucking is rigorous, it is important to halt the behavior before it causes further damage to your child’s dental development. The techniques depend on the child and his or age.

  • Praise your child for not sucking their thumb
  • Allow your child to choose his or her own method for stopping (for older children)
  • Visit your dentist and allow him to encourage and warn your child about thumb sucking
  • Cover your child’s thumb with a sock
  • Get a bitter-tasting medication from either your pediatrician or dentist specifically for thumb sucking

If these methods don’t halt your child’s thumb sucking, a mouth guard or other mouth appliance may be prescribed by your dentist. If the permanent adult teeth come in, your child may need braces in the future. This can be an expensive and inconvenient experience.

It is never too early to begin taking measures to help your child’s dental development. You can begin caring for their mouths as early as a few days after birth. Before your baby’s teeth come in, you can gently wipe the gums with a moist washcloth or gauze. When your baby’s first tooth comes in, we highly recommend you bring him or her in to see us. We can give you advice and suggestions on how to care for their teeth. As soon as teeth appear, tooth decay can happen.

We recommend you start using a small amount of fluoride toothpaste when brushing your child’s teeth as soon as teeth appear. From the age of 3-6, you can increase the amount of toothpaste to a pea-size.

Thumb sucking is a natural behavior for small children. It helps them interact with the world and it also brings them a sense of comfort. If the habit continues longer than what is natural or if your child’s thumb sucking is excessively vigorous, it can lead to undesirable dental issues and your child’s mouth may not develop properly. Crooked and misaligned teeth and jaws as well as an irritated and malformed palate can occur as a result of unchecked thumb sucking. There are methods you can adopt and employ to help your child stop the habit. Before your child’s teeth come in, it is important to start taking care of their oral hygiene. Keeping their mouths clean early on will help keep their teeth and gums healthy and strong.