Dr. Jennifer Vitarelli

Teeth Problems Caused by Thumb Sucking in Young Children

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex for toddlers. Typically, the young sucks on fingers, thumbs, pacifiers and other objects to make them feel happy, secure and learn more about the world around them. 

Some children even suck their thumbs to soothe themselves which helps them sleep. As much as it is soothing for young children, thumb sucking can harm the teeth and cause other oral problems.

Here are some problems caused by thumb sucking in children that parents must be aware of.

How Thumb Sucking Affects the Teeth of Children

  • When permanent teeth come in children, thumb sucking can cause problems in the growth of the mouth and as well as the alignment of the teeth. It can also change the way the roof of the mouth is formed leading to oral health problems.

Many parents believe pacifiers are a good alternative to thumb sucking but according to dentists, they can affect the teeth and mouth in the same way finger sucking does. 

  • The harm to teeth, gums, and overall mouth depend a lot on the intensity of the sucking. If the child comfortably rests their finger or thumb in their mouth, then it is less likely that they will develop oral problems in the future.

However, if a child sucks their finger, thumb, or hand vigorously, they are more likely to develop oral problems including problems with baby teeth.

Some of the long-term effects of thumb sucking are listed below.

Long-term Effects of Thumb Sucking

Vigorous thumb sucking can lead to many problems of the teeth and mouth because of the way repetitive pressure the thumb places on the teeth, the roof of the mouth and the jawbone. This can lead to – 

  • Changes in the shape of the jaw
  • Alignment issues with teeth
  • Problems with speech patterns
  • Reduced development of a lisp
  • Sensitivity on the roof of the mouth
  • Overbite
  • Other bite issues including teeth tipping inward and outward 

Most of these issues can be avoided if the child stops sucking thumb when the permanent teeth come in. Children who continue to suck their thumb for a long time are at risk of developing the side effects mentioned above.

  • Talk to your dentist to learn how to encourage your child to stop sucking their thumb. Here are some ways you can try encouraging them at home too.

Help Your Child Stop Sucking Thumb

Children love to be praised and acknowledged, based on this fact, here are some things you can do to stop thumb sucking in children.

  • Praise or acknowledge your child for not sucking thumb
  • Choose a method and make it interactive and fun for children
  • Visit a dentist and let them offer encouragement by explaining what could happen to their mouth if they don’t stop
  • Reduce anxiety in the child by providing other ways to comfort them

If these techniques don’t work for you then you may have to take special steps to ensure your child breaks the habit. You can cover their thumb with a bandage or put a sock on their hand at night. 

Visit one of our pediatricians if nothing works and they will gladly prescribe a bitter medicine that can be used to coat the tip of the thumb which prevents the child from sucking it. 

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