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How Much Does Thumb Sucking Affect My Child’s Teeth?

How Much Does Thumb Sucking Affect My Child’s Teeth?
Author: Posted: September 23rd, 2021 Category:

Sucking is a natural reflex that starts in the womb, but it can wreak havoc on your child’s mouth and teeth if they continue to suck their thumbs after turning four.

Most children suck their thumbs at one point or another. If your child continues to suck their thumb after the age of four or after their permanent teeth start erupting from their gums, they may face many dental problems, from malocclusion to jaw shape changes.

The Effects On The Teeth And Mouth From Thumb Sucking

Though thumb sucking is perfectly normal, it can negatively impact your child’s dental health. When your child is young, their oral tissues are malleable, and sucking exerts force on these tissues. Consequently, thumb sucking can result in several issues, including:

Bite Changes

If your child’s top teeth cover their bottom teeth when their mouth is shut and their front teeth protrude over their lower jaw, your child has an overbite. Both of these types of dental malocclusion can affect your child’s smile, face shape, and ability to speak clearly or cause difficulty eating.

If your child’s top teeth cover their bottom teeth when their mouth is shut and their front teeth are protruding, extending upward and out over their lower jaw, your child has an overbite. If your child has an open bite, their top and bottom teeth won’t meet when they close their mouth because their upper and lower teeth are slanting outward.

Having an overbite or an open bite isn’t the end of the world. However, if your child has an extreme malocclusion, they will likely need an orthodontic treatment like braces to correct their bite.

Crooked Or Crowded Teeth

If your child vigorously sucks their thumb for many years, their permanent teeth might come in misaligned or crowded. Often, long-term thumb sucker’s lower teeth tilt toward the back of their mouth. Luckily, braces, retainers, or clear aligners can remedy this.

Jaw and Mouth Shape Changes

Your child’s upper jaw may extend from their face further than usual and the roof of their mouth might begin to narrow due to the pressure placed on the roof of their mouth while thumb sucking.

Not only can the narrowing of the jaw and palate affect your child’s teeth alignment and facial shape, but it can also affect your child’s speech patterns. Your child’s tongue may not sit normally, which can lead to the development of a lisp or difficulties pronouncing hard consonant sounds.

Speech therapy can help address these impediments, but your child may need oral surgery to fully resolve any speech difficulties. In less severe cases, your child may need braces or expanders to fix their bite, correct jaw or palette changes, and improve their speech.

Why Children Suck On Their Thumbs

Sucking is a natural reflex that starts in the womb — but it doesn’t end there. Babies suck their thumbs (and pacifiers, fingers, or teething toys) because it makes them feel secure and relaxed. Many babies use this form of self-soothing to help them fall asleep on their own or handle stressful situations. Sucking also helps young children regulate their emotions and facilitates their transition from infant to toddler.

Getting Your Child To Stop Sucking Their Thumb

For children who don’t have permanent teeth yet, thumb sucking is pretty harmless. However, if your child is still sucking their thumb after their baby teeth have started to fall out, it’s time to get them to stop. Here are a few ways you can stop your child from sucking their thumb to prevent long-term damage:

  • Place a medical finger glove or thumb shield over their thumb
  • Bandage their thumb
  • Talk to your child (or have their dentist talk to them) about the damage thumb sucking can cause
  • Use positive reinforcement
  • Replace thumb sucking with a new coping method like listening to music
  • Gently remind them to stop sucking their thumb whenever you notice they’re doing it
  • Use a crib device

For further information, you can consult with a dentist at Espire’s Norman, Oklahoma office. Not only will our experienced dentists and staff members be able to recommend strategies for stopping your child from sucking their thumb, but they can also discuss methods of correcting any problems caused by thumb sucking. Contact us today!