Thumbsucking and Its Effects on Teeth

For the most part, thumbsucking is a normal childhood habit that resolves itself on its own between the ages of 2 and 4. However, in some cases, children will continue to suck their thumbs past age 5, which is when this habit can become problematic. 

Here’s everything you need to know about your child’s thumbsucking habit, including the effects of thumbsucking (on teeth) and how to stop thumbsucking!

What causes children to suck their thumbs?

Thumbsucking is actually a self-soothing technique babies pick up – often before they’re even born! It’s natural and normal for babies to suck their thumb in the womb. It makes them feel safe and secure.

This habit is part of a child’s natural rooting and sucking reflexes that help them with breastfeeding. Thumbsucking is normal in babies and toddlers, as is sucking on a pacifier. Babies tend to break this habit naturally around 6 or 7 months of age, or around the ages of 2 to 4.

Children who continue to suck their thumb or suck on a pacifier past age 5 are at risk of developing a number of different dental conditions. 

What are the effects of thumbsucking on teeth?

Poor bite conditions, specifically open bites and overbites, are often caused by thumb-sucking. 

As a child sucks their thumb, the thumb applies force to the back of the front teeth, causing the teeth to shift outward. When the teeth begin shifting outward, the top and bottom teeth will not meet properly, causing a bite misalignment (or malocclusion). 

Children can also create buck teeth from thumbsucking, as the pressure of the thumb pushes the teeth outward. 

When the jaws are not aligned properly, normal functions, like eating, chewing and even breathing, are more challenging. Bite conditions can also lead to speech impediments and self-esteem issues, and progressed damage from thumb-sucking may require dentofacial orthopedics to realign the bite and facial structure! 

The main problem with thumbsucking into the childhood years is when the permanent teeth begin to erupt. Continuing the thumbsucking habit while the permanent teeth are emerging can have a significant impact on how they develop.

How to stop thumbsucking

Fortunately, there are few ways to help your child kick the thumbsucking habit. Here are some ideas:

  1. Understand the root of the habit. Take notice of what causes your child to suck their thumb. Do you notice this habit when your child is bored? Scared? Tired? Once you identify the trigger of their thumb-sucking, you can introduce healthy habits to replace this habit. Maybe a new toy or stuffed animal provides an alternative sense of security for your child! 
  2. Use a foul-tasting substance. There’s nothing like a foul substance to make thumb-sucking undesirable! Assure that the substance is non-toxic and won’t harm your child if ingested, of course. (Some of our patients have tried applying Mavala to their child’s thumb, and it works wonders!)
  3. Consider using a thumb sucking guard. Using a thumbsucking guard, you can help your child leave their thumbsucking phase in the past. These devices feature plastic guards that cover the hands, making the thumbs unavailable to the mouth. A thumbsucking guard, along with an informative discussion and some emotional support can help your child from breaking the habit!

One of our highly-experienced doctors in Northwest Florida can work with you and your child to develop a plan that puts an end to their thumbsucking habit, and treats or prevents any damage to the teeth or jaw bone positions.

Your team at Fishbein Orthodontics is here to help! Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions. We’re proud to be a leading family orthodontist with 8 locations in Pensacola, Navarre, Pace, Crestview, Ft. Walton, Niceville, Cantonment and Perdido

If your child still sucks their thumb, or you’re concerned whether they have dental damage, we encourage you to request a complimentary consultation with us.