Thumb Sucking and Your Child's Teeth


As harmless as thumb sucking appears, it can lead to problems with the teeth.

thumb sucking

Thumb sucking is a popular habit among small children. The reflexive nature of the practice is so natural that thumb sucking often begins before birth. Still, as natural and seemingly harmless as thumb sucking appears, it can lead to problems with the teeth.

Kids usually stop sucking their thumbs at some point between the ages of two and four years old. However, some children continue the sucking until it is time for their permanent teeth to become present.

Once the permanent teeth erupt, sucking can cause issues with proper dental alignment. It can also initiate changes to the roof of the mouth that may impact the structure of your child’s upper palate.

What determines the severity of the dental issues that may arise from thumb sucking?

Two factors usually contribute to the dental outcome of thumb sucking:

  1. Intensity: If a child sucks his or her thumb very forcefully rather than passively, the youngster is more likely to experience dental health issues from the action.
  2. Longevity: The longer a child sucks his or her thumb, the more apt the little one is to experience repercussions from the sucking. Children who stop sucking early in toddlerhood are less likely to experience alignment problems from the action.

How can you stop the sucking?

Suggestions from the case study of young Johnny, a four-year-old early dental care patient who had become dependent on sucking as a soothing or coping mechanism, may help. Johnny’s parents believed his habit could be broken, but didn’t know where to begin. Here are some of the ADA-approved tips from Johnny’s dentist that helped him overcome the habit:

  • Praise: Johnny’s dentist recommended praising the child whenever he refrained from sucking his thumb. This positively reinforced the proper actions.
  • Alleviate Triggers: Johnny’s parents had indicated that he sucked his thumb whenever he felt anxious. Thus, it was also recommended that the parents remove the anxiety-causing factors and offer other forms of comfort to the child.
  • Cover the Thumb: It was suggested that Johnny’s parents place a bandage over his thumb or a sock over his hand at night to prevent him from sucking in his sleep.

Johnny’s parents adhered to the dentist’s advice, and currently, the youngster no longer sucks his thumb.

If you have a child who regularly engages in thumb sucking and you are concerned about the effects on his or her oral health, schedule an appointment with our office.