Why a Family Dentist Discourages Thumb Sucking

family dentist Vista, CA

Your family dentist may have noticed your child's thumb sucking habit during your routine checkup and advised against it. While it may seem like the only way to pacify your child, your dentist has a good reason for discouraging the behavior. It is advisable to correct the habit from an early age before it results in dental issues later in life. Parents need to understand the negative impacts, side-effects and what they can do to resolve the issue.

How thumb-sucking affects a child’s teeth

Thumb sucking is how many children respond to boredom and stress. If a toddler sucks their thumb, it may not cause dental issues. Usually, children tend to quit thumb sucking once their teeth start erupting. Sometimes, the child may have developed other coping mechanisms as they learn to speak and communicate their feelings. However, if the habit continues as the child ages, it becomes a concern, since it can affect their bite and the alignment of their permanent teeth. Some studies show that thumb sucking can have adverse effects on a child’s jaw as early as two years.

One of the major concerns of thumb sucking is how it causes open bite, a bite misalignment when the front teeth fail to erupt fully and get pushed forward. Since the teeth are forced out of position, they start to erupt crookedly. This becomes a major problem if the thumb sucking persists until when the permanent teeth start coming in, often between ages five and seven. Thumb sucking in teenagers may lead to needing braces or other orthodontic treatment that could be prevented if the child stops the habit before it results in lasting consequences.

Other problems that persistent thumb sucking may cause include:

  • Pronunciation problems or speech impediment
  • Malformed mouth roof
  • Misaligned jaw
  • Overbite
  • Skin problems (around the thumb)

How to stop a child from thumb sucking

Many parents make an effort to stop the habit for their child, but it is ultimately up to the child to stop. Some kids outgrow the habit as they grow older. However, the parent can consider some options if their child continues to suck their thumb. There are many methods to discourage the habit in children before it causes oral issues.

First, parents must be supportive and use positive reinforcement methods to encourage their child to stop thumb sucking independently. Scolding and punishing the kid will not do any good, and the child may continue the habit regardless. If the child is receptive and expressed willingness to stop the habit, parents can use a band-aid on the finger or thumb during the day or remove the finger from their mouth when they sleep.

Final note

As parents try to help the child stop thumb sucking, they must remember that the habit is not a sign of developmental or physiological issues. The child may require the help of the family dentist to quit the habit. Since the behavior is a subconscious response, children may require support and guidance to stop the habit when they reach the proper development stage. 

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