What You Need To Know About Thumb Sucking And Your Child's Teeth

25 November 2014
 Categories: Dentist, Articles


Children suck their thumbs, fingers or pacifiers from the early stages of infancy. Many even begin sucking their thumbs in the womb—it's a natural and healthy reflex during a child's first years. It's soothing and helps children fall asleep and comfort themselves when they're upset. But prolonged thumb sucking, especially after permanent teeth erupt, can cause serious oral problems for your child. If you're concerned about these behaviors in your child, read on to learn more about what causes thumb sucking behavior and what you can do to help your child stop.

When do children outgrow thumb sucking?

Most children outgrow this habit by age five. However, permanent teeth begin to erupt between 4 to 6 years old, meaning that thumb sucking into the preschool and kindergarten years has the potential to affect the alignment of the teeth. You should begin working with your child to help them stop sucking their fingers after 36 months of age.

Why do older children continue to suck their thumbs?

Thumb sucking continues to soothe some older children, which is why they continue the behavior. You may find that your child sucks his thumb when he's tired, bored, worried or stressed. If it happens only occasionally, it's not that big of a deal. However, vigorous or frequent thumb sucking should be addressed with your pediatric dentist.

How does thumb sucking affect a child's mouth?

In a healthy mouth, the top front teeth slightly overlap the bottom teeth, and the top and bottom teeth meet in a closed bite. Gaps occur with prolonged thumb sucking, resulting in many of the following problems:

  • It reshapes the jawbone, which is still soft and pliable in young children.
  • The teeth grow out of alignment.
  • Lower teeth move inward and upper teeth are pushed outward, resulting in crooked teeth.
  • The growth of the palate is affected, causing poor tongue placement and resulting in problems chewing, swallowing and speaking.
  • Overbite or open bites develop.
  • Skeletal deformities result, causing problems with the child's self-confidence and self-image.
  • Children are prone to germs and infections.

How can parents help their children break the thumb sucking habit?

If your child does not stop sucking his thumb between the ages of two and four, you should begin helping your child break the habit before permanent teeth come in. Here are some tips for doing just that:

  • Set up a reward chart to record their progress, and offer incentives for finding alternatives to thumb sucking.
  • Eliminate sources of anxiety or discomfort to get rid of the need for thumb sucking.
  • Put a bandage on the end of the thumb to deter sucking.
  • Have your child wear gloves while sleeping.
  • Don't punish your child if he slips up, as this negative attention will just reinforce the need for thumb sucking.

If your child is preschool aged or older and still sucking his thumb despite attempts to curb the behavior, talk about it with a Dentistry For Children & Adolescents professional. The dentist may refer you to an orthodontist who specializes in bad bites. Your child may be fitted with a device that discourages thumb sucking and retrains the tongue. The dentist may also recommend orofacial myofunctional therapy (OMT), which involves exercise routines that retrain the tongue and other facial muscles to improve swallowing and chewing.

Although it's a difficult habit to break, you can help your child stop sucking his thumb. And with the myriad of dental and oral treatments available today, you can rest assured that his bite can be corrected. He'll have beautiful teeth and a healthy mouth with the help and guidance of a pediatric dentist and an orthodontist.