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Thumb Sucking & Teeth

Thumb sucking is a common way to self-soothe for many children—but over time, thumb sucking and pacifier use can have a negative impact on oral health. But is it really a big deal? Keep reading to learn more about the effects thumb sucking has on your child’s teeth and oral health. 

Why is my Child Thumb Sucking?

It’s natural! Babies come into the world with a suckling reflex. This produces positive endorphins that the baby associates with sucking. This pleasurable sensation can become a calming habit to help your child feel relaxed. Often this habit is transferred to other things like thumbs, fingers, pacifiers, and other “safety” items like blankets and stuffed animals.

How does Thumb Sucking Affect Teeth?

The longer the behavior goes on, the more severe the impact can be on a child’s oral health. Here are the main issues caused by thumb sucking:

  • Palatal narrowing can occur when the roof of the mouth doesn’t grow to full size because of thumb sucking or pacifier use
  • Improper alignment and eruption of teeth
  • Malocclusion and bite issues
  • Modified swallowing action of the tongue and altered breathing
  • Finger or thumb calluses
  • Speech development issues

Is a Pacifier Better than Thumb Sucking?

In some respects, it may be easier to stop the use of a pacifier since it can be taken away. But there are negative aspects of pacifier use as well. If a child begins talking with a pacifier between their teeth or lips, the tongue movements for speech and swallowing can develop incorrectly. It is recommended that you monitor your child’s use of a pacifier, and get rid of it by 18 months or earlier. 

How Can I Stop my Child’s Thumb Sucking?

A conversation with your child’s pediatric dentist is a great place to start, but here are a few practical ways to get started:

  • Verbal praise & affirmation when your child refrains from thumb sucking.
  • Consider the reason for thumb sucking (most likely boredom or anxiety) and work to eliminate the source.
  • If bedtime is when your child sucks their thumb, try having them wear mittens and play soothing music to help them sleep.
  • Patience is a virtue! Try not to be discouraged if the habit proves harder to break than you anticipated.

It’s especially important to stop this kind of behavior before permanent teeth come in, but the sooner the better. Though it may strike terror in the hearts of many parents to take a babies soother away, It may be as simple as giving your child verbal encouragement. The daytime habits tend to break a bit more easily, but often the nighttime can take longer to conquer. Remember that positive reinforcement and love go a long way.

If you have questions about thumb sucking or how to break the habit, it’s best to consult your dental professional. The goal is a healthy mouth for your child and to prevent developmental damage. Contact our office today and request an appointment with a team that cares about you and your child!