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Is Thumb-Sucking Bad for My Child’s Teeth?

September 13, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — adampreece @ 10:46 pm
Smiling baby

Small children across the world suck on their thumbs to calm their anxieties. This behavior is beneficial as it can be an early step in your child’s learning to regulate their own emotions. While there is nothing wrong with it at earlier ages, after a certain point, it can cause significant dental health issues. Here’s some information from your dentist about what harm thumb-sucking can do if it continues after the toddler stage.

How Can Thumb-Sucking Hurt My Child’s Teeth?

Excessive thumb-sucking can also alter the way a child’s face and jaw develop. As the pressure in the mouth constantly shifts during the sucking motion the teeth can be pulled out of alignment. If your child is still sucking their thumb at the age of four, the habit can cause them to develop a malocclusion, or a misaligned bite. A few examples of these include:

  • Open Bite: This is the most common malocclusion that can result from excessive thumb-sucking. With an open bite, the front teeth of the top and bottom rows do not make contact when the mouth is closed.
  • Overbites: In an overbite, the upper teeth are too far forward from the bottom teeth when the mouth is closed. This causes issues with biting.
  • Overjet: In this malocclusion, the top front teeth project forward at an angle away from the bottom teeth.

How Can Thumb-Sucking Affect My Child’s Speech?

The thumb-sucking habit and the malocclusions it can cause can both contribute to a child developing speech difficulties. The frequent motion can teach the tongue to push forward through the teeth, resulting in poor tongue control. This can lead to a child speaking with a lisp. Furthermore, a child who constantly has a thumb in their mouth may be less inclined to practice speaking, missing out on critical opportunities to develop speech and language skills.

How Can I Help My Child Kick the Thumb-Sucking Habit?

A few things you can do at home to discourage thumb-sucking include:

  • Only allow your child to suck their thumb at certain times: Restrict thumb-sucking to a special location in the home or certain times of day. This can help your child learn to not depend on the habit.
  • Provide an alternative means of dealing with anxiety: You might give your child a security blanket or a stuffed animal to cuddle to help them self-soothe.
  • Help your child be aware of the habit: In many cases, children aren’t even aware of when they are sucking their thumbs. By pointing out when they do it, they can become more aware of the habit.
  • Praise them for sucking their thumb less: Give your child some affirmation for not sucking their thumb when they normally would.

Regular dental appointments are a crucial part of your child’s learning proper oral habits. During a routine examination, a pediatric dentist will inspect your child’s mouth for signs of developing issues. This allows them to give parents notice that they should be wary about how much their child is sucking their thumb as well as make preparations for orthodontic treatments later.

About the Author

Dr. Adam Preece earned his dental doctorate at Ohio State University before completing a two-year residency program in Pediatric Dentistry at Women and Children’s Hospital in Buffalo, NY. He is certified by the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry and has been on the staff at Children’s Health Dallas/Plano since 2010. His office in Garland, TX offers pediatric general, restorative, cosmetic, and emergency dentistry. For more information on helping your child quit thumb-sucking, contact the office online or dial (972) 364-7472.

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