How Thumb Sucking Can Harm Your Child’s Teeth

Child sucking their thumb

For children between the ages of 6 months to 4 years old, they may have a thumb sucking period as their primary baby teeth begin to appear. Thumb sucking during this time is considered a normal habit, but it should be limited by the time their teeth appear. Beyond this point, thumb sucking can potentially harm our child’s teeth. Because of the vulnerable and special time it is for your child’s teeth, keeping up with limiting their habits is essential for their oral health because it can affect the palatal roof of their mouth, causing overbites and misshapen teeth to form. But why does this occur? Malocclusion is a tricky condition for children. For orthodontists and pediatric dentists who consistently work with children, malocclusion has a high prevalence among children who suck their thumb than those who do not.

Why Is Thumb Sucking Harmful?

To understand why thumb sucking is harmful to your child, it’s essential to understand how the teeth form during their first few years. Teeth development occurs while the baby is in the womb, and within five weeks of gestation, their primary teeth appear inside the baby’s jaws. Their eruption stage, or teething stage, occurs when their about six months old. Often, due to the discomfort that the process brings, some children will begin to suck their thumbs to compensate for the pressure buildup. It’s important to keep up with your child’s proper hygiene during this time because sucking thumbs can expose them to various diseases, such as bacterial gastroenteritis and parasitic diseases.

Teething usually ends around eight weeks, and during this time, eruption cysts will develop and go away as the teeth begin to push their way through the gums. Once this process ends, thumb sucking can still be a habit that your child develops as a comfort form. How this affects their teeth, however, comes down to understanding the anatomy of tooth growth. Studies from Case Reports in Dentistry observe the effects that long-term thumb sucking has on children’s anterior teeth and found that thumb sucking creates absences in the development of the palatal ridge, which helps form the shape of the mouth to support the teeth. This study observed how treating the palatal ridge with an expander helped reform the dental structure of the patient’s mouths and helped them stop their thumb-sucking habit.

How To Break Your Child’s Habit

When left untreated, overbites developed from thumb sucking can cause them to become more vulnerable to cavities and gum disease at an early age and cause them to be more vulnerable to diseases when placing foreign objects in the mouth. To prevent this habit from developing, we suggest the following:

  • Positive Reinforcement – Positive reinforcement, such as establishing a reward system for good behavior, can help them reinforce their mind to stop the habit.
  • Recognizing Triggers – If you recognize their habit during a moment of stress, help support them by communicating with them to talk about how they feel and listen to their concerns.
  • Pacifiers For Infants – If your infant has developed a thumb sucking habit, you can use pacifiers to help them avoid sucking their thumbs
  • Gentle Reminders – During moments that they suck their thumb, using gentle reminders to stop this habit can help reinforce the rule you’ve established for them

If any of these dental tips don’t help, and you would like to learn more about how to help your child’s thumb-sucking habit, then speak with your dentist and schedule an appointment with them to help them learn about the positive effects of stopping this habit.

Dr. Mayuri Appareddy

Dr. Mayuri Appareddy
cares for medically complex and special needs children with experience and compassion. Her appreciation for the parent-child bond has led her to earn her degree in Doctor of Dental Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania and help children receive dental treatment in Richmond, TX at Kids 360 Pediatric Dentistry.

Dr. Mayuri Appareddy

Dr. Mayuri Appareddy
cares for medically complex and special needs children with experience and compassion. Her appreciation for the parent-child bond has led her to earn her degree in Doctor of Dental Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania and help children receive dental treatment in Richmond, TX at Kids 360 Pediatric Dentistry.

Skip to content