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How Thumb Sucking Affects Kids’ Teeth

For babies and toddlers, thumb sucking in itself is not an indication of a problem. It is natural, and in fact, it even has some benefits. For example:

  • Babies who suck their thumbs develop fewer allergies. That’s because exposure to a small amount of germs and bacteria can help the immune system develop more robustly, and reduces sensitivity to many common allergens.
  • Thumb sucking increases saliva production, which promotes a healthy digestive system.
  • Sucking helps babies to feel calm and self-soothe.
  • Teething babies can find some relief from the discomfort by thumb sucking, particularly at night.

However, sucking the thumb or fingers for too long can cause some issues with the teeth and mouth. Read on to learn more about some potential issues that could arise and how to prevent them.

Thumb Sucking vs Pacifier

The same problems can occur with sucking a pacifier as with sucking on the hands and thumbs. The issue is not what the child is sucking, but how intensely and how often they tend to suck.

Pacifiers are sometimes introduced in order to help babies self-soothe if they don’t have an inclination toward thumb sucking. This is fine, to a point, but the same guidelines need to be followed to prevent the dental issues outlined below.

Also, pacifiers can collect a lot of germs when they fall on the ground, so they need extra care to make sure they’re clean. One benefit of pacifiers over thumb sucking is that it’s an easier habit to break when the time comes; simply take the pacifier away.

How Old is Too Old for Thumb Sucking?

While most kids give up the thumb-sucking habit on their own by about age four, some persist for years and sometimes even into adulthood.

The majority of pediatricians do not see thumb sucking as a problem for babies and young children, and do not offer treatment to break the habit until age five.

See also: How to Kick the Thumb Sucking Habit

When Does Thumb Sucking Become Problematic?

Kids who suck their thumb frequently may develop dental problems when their permanent teeth start to come in. Thumb sucking can certainly affect baby teeth as well, but this is a less serious issue, as they will be replaced with permanent teeth anyway.

6 Possible Side Effects of Thumb Sucking

Some of the most common negative effects of frequent and vigorous thumb sucking are:

  • Development of a lisp or other speech impediments due to the altered shape of the child’s jaw
  • Misalignment of permanent teeth that need to be corrected with orthodontics
  • Gaps between the upper and lower teeth in places they should normally come together in a bite
  • Narrowing and increased sensitivity in the hard palate at the roof of the mouth
  • Overbite in the upper front teeth
  • Tilting in of the lower front teeth

In adults, these issues can cause symptoms ranging from the loss of self-esteem and confidence that comes with a misaligned smile, to discomfort and difficulty eating certain foods.

Treating these problems becomes more difficult and expensive when the permanent teeth come in, so it’s a good idea to help your child move away from thumb sucking before their baby teeth begin to fall out.

How to Protect Your Child’s Teeth

  1. Brushing and flossing with your child serves the double purpose of helping them to learn good dental hygiene habits and keeping an eye out for any potential dental problems.
  2. Encourage your child to eat less sugar and to brush twice a day to prevent tartar from building up.
  3. Children should go to the dentist every six months after their first birthday to keep their teeth healthy and to treat any issues before they worsen.

In addition, the earlier you notify your pediatric dentist of any thumb sucking related symptoms such as teeth growing in at odd angles or bite misalignment, the better a chance they’ll have of correcting it.

If you think that your children’s teeth could or might be affected by thumb sucking, make an appointment with our highly-recommended and experienced children’s dentist in Lafayette, LA, Gina Liggio Maestri, DDS Family Dentistry today. Our team is always happy to help your kids achieve healthy teeth from a young age.



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