Dental Problems Your Child Might Face Due To Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is quite natural for young children. It’s a normal reflex action kids often do when they feel insecure or require to soothe themselves or de-stress. In fact, sucking on their thumbs may help them to cope with stressful situations. They’ve been doing it since their time inside their mother’s wombs and will continue to do so in the first few years after birth.

Aside from the calming and soothing effect they have on young kids, three decades of long research has shown that thumb sucking may also make them less prone to allergies later in childhood. Hence, once the teeth come in, constant thumb sucking can impact your kid’s oral and dental development. Considering the importance of dental care for your kids, you might want to get ahead of this potential problem.

While simply resting their thumbs inside their mouth every so often doesn’t do any harm, actively sucking on them with plenty of motion may cause dental and oral issues, which you may have to address later.

Here’s what thumb sucking can do to your child’s teeth and mouth, along with recommendations on helping your kid break the habit to avoid the said effects.

Misaligned Teeth

When children suck their thumbs vigorously and excessively, the teeth are subjected to repetitive pressure that could cause their upper and lower teeth to misalign, a condition known as malocclusion.

Malocclusion is divided into three categories:

  • Class 1 Malocclusion — The upper teeth slightly overlap the lower teeth, but the bite is usually normal. It’s the most common type of malocclusion.
  • Class 2 Malocclusion — A condition in which the upper teeth sharply overlap the lower teeth are classified as Class II, commonly referred to as an overbite.
  • Class 3 Malocclusion — An underbite, a condition in which the lower teeth are exaggeratedly overlapping the upper teeth that fall under this category.

Malocclusion can cause a variety of problems for your child. One is that incorrect alignment of teeth and jaws can complicate biting and chewing food. Furthermore, it may even affect your child’s speech. Another harsh reality is that malocclusions affect the overall appearance of the teeth, which could eventually lead to self-esteem issues. So, if your child’s thumbs sucking habit leads to malocclusions, you will need the help of an orthodontist to fix it using orthodontic appliances.

Narrower Upper Palate

Excess thumb sucking will give your child’s upper palate a messy shape and make it narrower. Eventually, the narrowness of the upper jaw will render it unable to rest on the lower jaw the way it should. Your child’s tongue won’t even have proper space to rest in the upper palate.

Effects on Facial Structure

As your child ages, the orofacial complex, which includes the teeth, jaw, mouth, and facial muscles, also develops.

The malocclusion that occurs due to the persistent pressure caused by constant thumb sucking can also impact the development of your child’s overall facial structure.

The severity of the malocclusion will dictate how your child’s facial muscles will adjust to allow him or her to bite, chew, or speak effectively. The more severe the misalignment, the bigger its effect on your child’s facial structure and appearance.

Ways to Wean Your Child Stop Thumb Sucking

Talk To Your Child

Sometimes, it’s easier to get older children to stop habits like thumb sucking by simply talking to them about it.

Ask your child if they’ve been teased about it in school. If your kid says yes, explain to him or her that the only way the teasing would stop is for them to give up their thumb-sucking routine. Peer pressure is a powerful thing, even among preschoolers. It’s even possible for children to automatically stop sucking their thumbs once their classmates say something about it.

Identify & Address The Triggers

Feelings of boredom, hunger, or anxiety, among other things, usually push kids to suck on their thumbs. Address these issues whenever you can. Distracting them with other activities that will keep their hands occupied, such as playing with blocks or doodling, might also work.

Use Nothing But Positive Reinforcement

When you’ve identified your child’s triggers, and you notice that he or she no longer resorts to thumb sucking to cope, shower your kid with praise. You can even reward your child with fun stuff like stickers if you want.

Conversely, never scold your child when you catch him or her thumb-sucking again. If this happens, remind your child about it as gently and calmly as you can.

Seek the help of a dental professional

If your child still sucks thumbs despite all your efforts, you might want to seek a dental professional’s help.

For example, a dentist might be able to recommend strategies or even talk to your child about the adverse effects of thumb sucking.

Meanwhile, a pediatric orthodontist can provide orthodontic devices that can render children unable to indulge their thumb-sucking habit.

Kids, in general, outgrow the habit eventually. Some children quit thumb sucking when they’re between the ages of 2 and 4, although some kids may take longer to do so. Given that science says that thumb sucking can lower a child’s allergy risks, you might want to leave it alone during your kid’s early years.

However, if your child continues sucking his or her thumbs at a much older age, intervention is already necessary, if only to prevent its adverse impact on your child’s dental, oral, and facial development. It has to stop at some point, and we could only hope that the tips shared above will help break that habit.

Dr.-Megan-Peterson-BoyleAbout the Author

Dr. Megan Peterson Boyle is the lead cosmetic dentist with Dental Studio 101 in Scottsdale, Arizona. She is focused on providing anxiety-free cosmetic dentistry services including invisalign, dental implants, dental crowns, and cosmetic fillings. She enjoys spending time outdoors with her friends and family.

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All information published on this website about health, diagnosis process, and remedies are for informational purposes only. This website is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease and is not meant to be a substitute or replacement for any medical treatment. Please visit healthcare professionals for your specific health concerns.

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