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How Thumbsucking Affects a Child’s Teeth


Thumbsucking is safe for younger children, but can cause serious oral health issues if it goes on for too long.

Talk to your dentist if you have questions about your child's thumbsucking.

Some researchers estimate that up to 2.4 million children actively suck their thumbs. Thumbsucking is a natural and normal activity for children. Just after birth, sucking on a thumb or pacifier helps an infant develop the muscles needed to nurse. Thumbsucking often makes a child feel comforted and secure, and it often helps a child fall asleep. Despite these benefits of thumbsucking, this is a habit that should be stopped between the ages of 2 and 4 because it can cause serious oral health repercussions. In fact, according to the American Dental Association, it’s safe for a child to suck his or her thumb only until their permanent teeth come in.

When a child’s permanent teeth come in, sucking can impede proper growth and it can adversely affect the alignment of the teeth. Thumbsucking also brings about changes in the roof of the mouth.  According to pediatric dentistry experts, the intensity of a child’s sucking has a lot to do with the damage to his or her mouth. A child who sucks more aggressively is more likely to have deformed teeth requiring braces in the future. In some cases, a child’s teeth are so affected by thumbsucking that it can affect his or her speech.

So, how do you get your child to stop sucking his or her thumb? Positive reinforcement works well, especially as many kids use thumbsucking as a way to cope with insecurity and anxiety. If you notice your child sucks his or her thumb more when they are stressed out, try to eliminate as many of those stressors as you can. If your child is a bit older, it may be helpful for him or her to have a chat with your dentist to explain how thumbsucking can hurt their teeth and to offer encouragement. If these methods don’t work, try putting a bandage on the offending thumb to remind your child not to suck.

American Dental Society, Thumbsucking

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