Damage To Teeth From Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is a normal behavior that begins early in life and may continue well into childhood. Dental problems don’t always occur but it’s good to be aware of the issue that can develop from children sucking their thumbs.

Little girl in polka dot dress sucking her thumb and playing with her brown hair

Why Children Suck Their Thumbs

Thumb sucking stems from the natural instinct to nurse, but through learned behavior it becomes a self-soothing mechanism. Some toddlers may temporarily drop the habit, then return to it after a period of change or stress. Other children may rely on thumb sucking to self-soothe until they learn an alternative method.

When Do Children Stop Thumb Sucking

It varies from child to child but some stop by the time they are 6-7 months old, while it’s normal for others to stop between the ages of two and four. If your child continues the behavior after that age, there is no cause for alarm, however. Forcing them to stop or modify the behavior too soon can cause them additional stress, and actually reinforce the urge to self-soothe.

Dental Problems Causes By Thumb Sucking

As children’s mouths develop and teeth start coming in, thumbs and pacifiers can cause malformations, misalignments, sores, and other dental issues. Over prolonged periods of time, potentially severe problems can develop. Some of these include roof narrowing, jaw misalignment, slanting or crooked teeth, mouth sores, and tooth decay.

Thumb Sucking Habit Breakers

When your child’s permanent teeth begin to appear, it’s a good idea to start trying to break the habit. There are several ways to approach this with your child so it feels like a positive experience for them, and isn’t embarrassing or belittling.

  • Talk with them about how the habit can affect their teeth and oral health. Explain in plain terms the risks involved, and when they stop sucking their thumb, the risks go away.
  • Discuss potential triggers and together find alternative behaviors. If stress or anxiety is a trigger, for instance, provide a special stuffed animal “friend” to hug instead.
  • Use positive reinforcement at all times – praise them when you see they aren’t sucking their thumb.
  • Create a reward system with your child and set attainable goals. Find out what things they might like as a reward and incorporate that into the process.
  • Offer gentle reminders and always praise good behavior. Scolding, criticizing, and ridicule will only reinforce the need for comfort.

Talk with your pediatric dentist about the stages of your child’s oral health and development to find out when thumb sucking should be a concern. As always, Kids Dental Specialists are here to help if you would like to schedule an appointment.

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