How Thumb Sucking Damages Oral Health

It’s very common if not a given that a child will suck on their thumb or a pacifier at some point in their childhood. This is a natural reflex that is ingrained in them from birth. Sucking their thumb can bring them comfort and is a method of self-regulation to soothe themselves when they get upset, sleepy, or bored. 

When your baby sucks their thumb, they feel secure and safe. It’s understandable then, why this habit is so hard to break. Read on to find out why and when it can become a problem.

Consequences of Long Term Thumb Sucking

When thumb sucking is forceful or prolonged, it can increase your child’s risk of serious dental issues. This is especially so when thumb sucking continues past the age of 4. Common issues caused by thumb sucking include:

  • Crooked teeth
  • Changes to the roof of the mouth
  • Overbite
  • Overcrowded teeth
  • Speech problems
  • Abnormal tongue position
  • The lower teeth tilting inwards
  • Open bite
  • Social problems as the child gets older
  • Skin issues with the thumb 

When Should My Child Thumb Sucking?

Most children naturally stop thumb sucking between the ages of 2 and 4. It’s important to wean your child off of this behavior before they turn 4 to prevent issues with the roof of their mouth and the development of their permanent teeth. 

The most effective tool to stop the behavior is using positive reinforcement. Offer praise and support instead of condemnation or scorn. Telling your child to stop thumb sucking or yelling at them for doing so is only likely to prolong the behavior. 

Instead, offer rewards to your child when they successfully abstain from sucking their thumb. Increase the rewards the longer they can go without sucking their thumb. Try to replace the habit with some other means of soothing them. 

You can also apply something that tastes very bitter to their hands so that every time they suck their thumb it is very unpleasant. Try to figure out why your child is sucking their thumb. Are they hungry, tired, or upset? 

Try creating a chart and giving your child a sticker for each day they don’t suck their thumb. Once it’s been a week, take them for something they’ve been wanting like a trip to the park.

Dental Help in Columbia for Thumb Sucking

If you’re struggling to stop your child’s thumb-sucking behavior, you may need the help and guidance of a dentist. Pediatric dentists are trained in child development and child psychology, so we’re great at offering child-friendly explanations to your child about the consequences of their thumb sucking. 

We can also assess their tooth and jaw development to determine if any problems are occurring and how we can mitigate them. Once the permanent teeth start to come in and thumb sucking hasn’t stopped, your child may orthodontic treatment. Contact us at Tiny Tooth Pediatric Dentistry today to schedule a consultation with Dr. Su Kim

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