Children’s Dentistry: The Dental Dangers of Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is a common method of self-soothing for children under the age of three. For most, this habit goes away without incident as language develops and the child can better express feelings and needs. But prolonged thumb sucking that persists into early adolescence can cause significant problems for teeth, gums, and jaws.

Thumb sucking while adult teeth are beginning to come in can cause misalignment that may require corrective dental or orthodontic procedures; the frequency and intensity of the sucking also plays a role. The repositioning of teeth also affects a child’s malocclusion, or the way the upper and lower teeth fit together. As adult teeth form, they can become crooked or list forward. This movement can cause gaps and possible gum damage if not corrected.

Another result of long-term thumb sucking is speech problems such as slurring, poor pronunciation, and tongue thrusting. These often require speech services in addition to dental procedures. As children continue to mature, speech problems affect social interactions and can lead to shyness or lack of confidence among peers.

What to do with a Thumb Sucker

If your child is a frequent thumb sucker, there are a number of ways to correct the habit. Because children find relief from thumb sucking, try to determine the source of anxiety or concern.

Placing a bandage on the thumb, especially at night when thumb sucking occurs more frequently, will serve as a visible and tactile reminder for children. If the behaviour persists and the child’s mouth is beginning to show signs of damage, schedule an appointment with your family dentist. This visit will identify and address existing problems resulting from thumb sucking and your dentist will also be able to help identify strategies to curtail the behaviour. Methods may involve over-the-counter topical applications applied to the thumb to make it taste unpleasant, to the installation of dental appliances.

Every mouth is unique and the dentist will need your input on determining the best course of action. If you are concerned with your child’s thumb sucking habit, contact us to schedule an appointment

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