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Dr. Elliott A. Schwartz
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Certified Specialist in Children's Dentistry

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How Thumbsucking Affects Your Child's Oral Health

 

Thumb sucking is a common habit amongst babies and infants. Young ones often suck their thumb to soothe themselves, explore their surroundings, and communicate. It's perfectly normal for your child to engage in thumbsucking, as they develop the natural reflex to do so since birth - many even start in the womb!

According to the Canadian Dental Association, the majority of children stop thumb sucking on their own between the ages of two and four. Although most infants naturally grow out of it at an early age, some can't break the habit as easily. If your child is still thumbsucking when their permanent teeth start to erupt, you may want to start helping them break the habit before it starts to affect their oral health.

Can thumbsucking harm infant dental development?
What signs should you watch for?

Here's what you need to know about thumbsucking and your child's oral health.

Thumbsucking at an early age has little to no effect on your child's developing mouth. But if your child is sucking at an age where their mouth is filling up with permanent teeth, misalignment and growth problems may occur. The pressure of a thumb or pacifier inside your young one's mouth could interfere with normal tooth eruption and even jaw growth, as some thumb-suckers develop an 'open bite'. Normal bite development occurs when the upper teeth grow to overlap the lower teeth. Thumb sucking can disrupt this process, meaning your child's teeth may not overlap properly when they bite, resulting in an open space between their upper and lower teeth.

Thumb sucking is definitely something you should keep an eye on, although there's no need to worry too much before your child starts to develop permanent teeth. Most kids will break the habit on their own and the age at which they stop varies, so you don't want to panic and intervene too soon - it's just good to keep in mind!

What you can do while you wait for your child to grow out of thumbsucking is monitor their thumb-to-mouth behaviour. If the sucking is gentle and they mostly rest their thumb inside their mouth, it's less likely to cause damage. On the other hand, if your child seems to be sucking their thumb aggressively, that pressure inside their mouth may lead to oral health issues.

If your young one has reached a certain age and needs help breaking their thumb sucking habit, here are some tips that can help you guide them through it:

  • Be supportive by praising your child when they don't suck their thumb. A positive approach to the issue will work way better than punishing them for a naturally soothing habit.
  • Place a band-aid on your child's thumb overnight to help them remember to avoid sucking and get used to falling asleep without feeling the need to do it.
  • If you notice that your child tends to suck their thumb when they are anxious, focus on helping them find an alternative to relieve the anxiety.
  • Create a diversion when your child seems to be sucking aggressively or for a long sitting.

Wait until the time is right to intervene in your child's thumb sucking habits in order to avoid causing stress or making the problem worse. It's only a cause for concern in some cases, depending on your infant's behaviour, age, and teeth development. If you're worried about your child's thumb sucking habits or have any questions, you can always contact us to put your mind at ease!