Dental Issues from Thumb Sucking

Young children frequently suck their thumbs, fingers or pacifiers in an effort to calm themselves. While this can provide comfort and security, it can also interfere with tooth alignment, bite, jaw shape and sensitivity. Furthermore, these comfort habits introduce dirt, bacteria and viruses into your child’s system.

Thumb sucking does not always result in damage to your child’s teeth or make them sick.  The keys to better outcomes are to try to reduce thumb sucking time, and have good oral health routine. So, when does thumb sucking become problematic?

Thumb sucking and dental problems

If your child is simply sticking their fingers in their mouth, that is unlikely to cause any harm to their teeth or mouth. However, vigorous sucking puts repetitive pressure on the teeth, jaw and roof of the mouth. This can lead to bite issues, such as an overbite, open bites and tipping the bottom teeth inward.

Vigorous, long-term thumb sucking can also change the shape of your child’s jaw and palate. This may contribute to speech issues, or interfere with tooth alignment.

Most children grow out of thumb sucking and pacifier use by the time they’re four, long before their permanent teeth erupt. However, if the habit persists after their permanent teeth come in, it can create significant dental issues. If your child is a vigorous thumb sucker and they’re approaching age four, it may be time to help them break the habit.

How to break the thumb sucking habit

Because thumb sucking is a way to self-soothe, breaking the habit can be distressing for your child. It’s important to choose age-appropriate methods that don’t cause them to dig their heels in. The more they want to stop, the more successful they will be. Take note of when your child is most likely to suck their thumbs. It often happens when they’re tired, hungry, sad or anxious. This can help you formulate a strategy.

Sometimes, all it takes is a brief discussion, especially if their friends and classmates have teased them about their habit. If they remain resistant, try these techniques:

  • Distraction: If your child sucks their thumb when they’re bored, have an activity they can do with their hands. If they do it when they’re hungry, try offering healthy snacks.
  • Thumb shields: Plastic or fabric thumb shields can act as a reminder not to suck their thumbs. Gloves, mittens and socks are also helpful to prevent overnight thumb sucking.
  • Positive reinforcement: Instead of nagging or lecturing your child, focus on when they’re getting it right. Consider offering small rewards, like a sticker chart or a hand stamp, when they avoid sucking their thumbs.
  • A visit to your Fioritto dentist: If you’re having trouble helping your child break the habit, your dentist at Fioritto Family Dental can speak to them about it. We have plenty of experience gently explaining the consequences of long-term thumb sucking—and why it’s much more fun to quit!

Your child should be visiting the dentist regularly after they turn one. To schedule your child’s next dental checkup, call Fioritto Family Dental today!