Thumb sucking is a normal and healthy habit for infants to do. It gives infants and toddlers a sense of comfort and emotional security. However, if children continue to suck their thumb beyond the age of 4-5, it can cause a wide range of problems including harm to their oral health.
Damage to Teeth
Children who have a habit of thumb sucking may, unfortunately, end up damaging their teeth. Children with a habit of sucking their thumb with a lot of motion may damage their baby teeth; although this problem generally corrects itself when their permanent teeth grow in, it may affect the shape of teeth as well as the roof of the mouth.
Extended thumb sucking may cause children’s teeth to form an improper bite. For children with a proper bite, their upper front teeth slightly overlap their front lower teeth when their mouth is completely closed. But, for children who have an open bite, their teeth will not overlap at all. An improper bite can make it difficult to eat and chew properly and force the back teeth to wear down quicker due to the added pressure. In some situations, thumb sucking may also cause an overbite, which can result in the roof of the mouth being malformed. This habit may also lead to a space between teeth, often large enough to fit the tongue through, which can lead to additional problems.
One of the most common problems associated with thumb sucking is speech difficulties after the permanent teeth have grown in. Teeth that are misaligned as a result of thumb sucking can cause distortion when making certain sounds. Additionally, long-term thumb sucking can affect the thrust of their tongue, which affects their swallowing pattern.
Breaking the Habit
Fortunately, there are some things you can do to help your children stop this harmful habit, including:
- Be aware of triggers that may result in children sucking their thumb. For example, if they tend to suck their thumb when anxious, attempt to find out the cause of their anxiety and address it.
- Use positive reinforcements and rewards, such as praising children when they don’t suck their thumb, using stickers for each day children go without sucking their thumb or spend time doing an activity they enjoy.
- Thumb shields are a type of plastic or fabric guards that cover the thumb to prevent sucking.
If you have tried everything and nothing seems to work in breaking their habit of sucking their thumb, contact a pediatric dentist to discuss other options, such as a dental guard, which may help prevent them sucking their thumb as well as protect their teeth when they do. It is also important to schedule routine dental exams, especially for children who suck their thumb. Routine dental exams will allow your child’s dentist to closely monitor any changes in your children’s teeth as a result of thumb sucking.
If you are concerned about your children’s teeth due to sucking their thumb, contact us at Wright Smiles Pediatric Dentistry as soon as possible to schedule an examination.