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The Effects of Thumb Sucking on Your Child’s Teeth

by Youth Dental

girl sleeping

As a parent, it is natural to be concerned about your child’s oral health. One common behavior that can have a lasting effect on your child’s teeth is thumb and finger sucking. While it is a natural reflex and form of comfort among young children, it can have an adverse effect on the development of their teeth. Let’s look at how this habit affects the development of baby teeth, primary teeth, and permanent teeth. 

Baby Teeth Development

Thumb and finger-sucking habits start in infancy, usually as a way for babies to soothe themselves in stressful situations or when they are feeling tired. This behavior can affect the development of their baby teeth, causing them to come in crooked or misaligned. If this persists over time, they may require early orthodontic treatment or corrective braces once they are older.

Primary Teeth Development

Once the baby teeth start to fall out and primary teeth begin appearing, it is important that thumb-sucking habits stop. Prolonged thumb sucking can cause malformations to the roof of the mouth, which will affect how the permanent adult teeth come in later on down the line. It may also result in an incorrect bite alignment between upper and lower jaw structures, which could lead to more serious problems with their permanent dentition if not addressed early on.

Permanent Teeth Development

If your child continues thumb sucking past the age of 6-7 when their permanent teeth begin to come in, it can cause severe dental issues such as misaligned bites, gaps between front teeth, or even protruding front upper teeth (buck teeth) and lower teeth due to excessive pressure against them over long periods of time. 

Long-term thumb-sucking habits can also alter facial development leading to changes in cheekbone shape or growth of certain muscles associated with these habits, making them difficult to break later in life when these issues become more apparent.

Affected Speech Patterns

In addition, if your child sucks his or her thumb or fingers beyond age seven, they may be at risk for developing speech impediments caused by improper tooth alignment. This is because the incorrect alignment of tongue placement causes difficulty in properly producing certain sounds like “th” or “s” that require proper tongue placement against the upper and lower teeth. 

Breaking The Habit

Fortunately, most children will stop sucking their thumbs or fingers naturally as they grow older without any intervention from their parents. However, if your child has not stopped by the age of four or five, it is important to help them break this habit as soon as possible to minimize potential damage to their dental health

Here are some strategies you can use:

  • Offer positive reinforcement and gentle reminders for not engaging in thumb/finger-sucking behavior; praise your child each time they resist the temptation!
  • Create a daily sticker chart of rewards that your child can work toward if they go a certain number of days without engaging in thumb/finger-sucking behavior; this will give them something to strive for and keep them motivated!
  • If you feel like your child needs additional guidance breaking this habit, consult with your pediatric dentist, who may have more specific recommendations tailored to your little one’s needs.
  • Place socks over your child’s hands at night so that it is physically impossible for them to suck their thumbs/fingers while sleeping. Make sure these socks are comfortable enough so that they won’t wake up in discomfort! 

Healthy, Happy Smiles

Thumb and finger-sucking habits are incredibly common among babies, toddlers, and young children — but prolonged periods of thumb/finger-sucking could potentially put a strain on developing teeth structures which could lead to misalignments later on down the line. 

As parents, it’s important to be aware of how long our children engage in this activity and intervene if necessary so that they don’t suffer any negative dental health implications due to prolonged periods of thumb/finger sucking. If you ever need advice on how best to proceed with helping your little one break this habit feel free to contact us here at Youth Dental and Vision — we’re always here to help!

To schedule an appointment with one of our skilled and compassionate dentists, call (720) 575-1250 or complete the online booking form. At Youth Dental & Vision, kids under two years old are eligible for a free dental check-up! Visit us in Aurora, Denver, Thornton, and Hampden.

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