How Thumb sucking Impacts Children’s Teeth

How Thumbsucking Impacts Children's Teeth

It is estimated that roughly 75% of all babies engage in thumb sucking. While the habit is completely normal, there are many parents who remain concerned about their kids’ propensity to do so, hoping they can convince them to quit. They often raise the questions of whether their children will be harmed by the habit, whether they should have already outgrown it, and whether their teeth are going to permanently damaged. To address this issues, we have compiled some answers about thumb sucking that may help.

Is Thumb Sucking Harmful?

The act of sucking, including the thumb, is known for its ability to soothe babies, even before they are born. Sucking comforts infants, as it is connected to their nursing instinct. A baby or young child who is feeling nervous or has been separated from their parents will often turn to thumb sucking as a means to reclaim a sense of calm akin to being close to their mom and dad.

Generally speaking, child health professionals do not believe thumb sucking is especially problematic for very small kids. But, it can be a thorny issue if the practice continues after the loss of baby teeth.

At What Point Should Thumb Sucking Stop?

There is no denying that it is crucial for children to have self-comforting mechanisms so that that can achieve greater independence, and thumb sucking is widely viewed as a harmless way of helping them do that. Furthermore, in the majority of cases, children cease the habit on their own without much parental intervention.

While some children will grow embarrassed about sucking their thumb around their peers, and some will discover new methods of self-comfort, if a child persists in the habit beyond age five, they may need some assistance in quitting. Positive reinforcement tends to be the most effective strategy for parents to use.

In the case of small children, a pacifier may be an option that mimics the effects of thumb sucking without damaging the teeth. Other children may respond well to the creation of a system of rewards they can earn if they go for long periods without any thumb sucking. A chat with the dentist about the possible harm extended thumb sucking can do to the teeth may also be a good motivator for kids to stop. Parents should attempt to create an atmosphere of safety in which self-soothing behavior of this sort is no longer needed.

The key is to avoid aggressive responses to thumb sucking, because they will only create an additional need for comforting behavior, and it is never good to give the impression that the child is engaging in something that deserves punishment by sucking their thumb. Curbing the behavior in a healthy way is additionally important, given that children tend not to wash their hands frequently, and protracted thumb sucking can introduce cold and flu germs into their bodies.

Impact of Thumb Sucking on Adult Teeth

When children fail to stop sucking their thumbs after the emergence of adult teeth, there are some relatively alarming dental issues that can arise. These can necessitate interventions that include orthodontic braces and sometimes even surgery.

Overbite, or a condition in which the patient’s top teeth protrude and cover the bottom ones when the mouth is closed, is one of the potential concerns. In such instances, kids will often need headgear, as braces alone may be insufficient to correct the issue.

Another potential consequence of thumb sucking is a so-called open bite in which their front teeth do not touch the bottom teeth when the mouth is closed. Such a scenario can produce major difficulties with chewing and swallowing food. Because it also causes the back teeth to come into heavier than normal contact with one another, broken molars and excessive wear can occur.

Other Concerns

Tooth displacement such as gapping and overcrowding are common problems seen in patients who spend a great deal of time sucking their thumbs in childhood, and corrective interventions are often required. Issues affecting the roof of the mouth, including a collapsed palate can lead to ancillary health worries such as sleep apnea. Finally, a crossbite can develop as a result of thumb sucking, and if not corrected, it can change a child’s facial structure for the worse.

Parental Vigilance Required

The bottom line is that during the very early part of life, thumb sucking does not pose a serious risk to children and can help them soothe their way out of stressful situations. However, when it continues longer than is typical, damage to the teeth can become so serious, that significant interventions are required. To learn more about whether your child’s teeth or mouth have sustained harm from thumb sucking, make an appointment with Hallgren Orthodontics today.

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