Is thumb sucking bad for my child’s teeth?


As a parent, you may be wondering how your child’s thumb sucking, pacifier use, or finger sucking can affect their teeth. These habits are a natural reflex for small children. It helps them to feel more secure and happy, and may help them fall asleep at bedtime. After all, your child has probably been sucking her thumb since she was in the womb!

However, there will come a time when you might need to encourage your child to break these habits, as prolonged thumb sucking may cause issues with the proper growth of the mouth, alignment of teeth, and changes to the roof of the mouth.

Kids who rest their thumbs in their mouths are less likely to disrupt proper oral development than those who vigorously suck their thumbs.

Here are a few summary bullet points to help you navigate this issue:

1. When should my child stop sucking her thumb?

Kids usually quit thumb sucking between the ages of 2 and 4 years old, or by the time the permanent teeth are ready to erupt. If this habit doesn’t go away on its own, you can encourage your child to wean herself off of thumb sucking, pacifier use, or finger sucking.

2. How can I encourage my child to stop sucking her thumb?

We recommend positive reinforcement rather than negative reinforcement. Since thumb sucking and similar behaviors are done to create security in a child, negative reinforcement might be counter-productive by creating a more stressful environment. Here are a few ideas to consider:

• Praise your child for not sucking.

• Children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure or needing comfort. Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and provide comfort to your child.

• For an older child, involve her in choosing the method of stopping.

• Your dentist can offer encouragement to your child and explain what could happen to her teeth if she doesn't not stop sucking.

• Reward your child when she refrains from sucking during difficult periods, such as when being separated from her parents.

• A friendly reminder for your child can often help if she wants to stop the habit. A colorful Band-Aid on the thumb or finger could be a bright way to remind your child.

3. When should my child be evaluated by an orthodontist?

The best age to see an orthodontist, especially if your child was prone to sucking her thumb, fingers, or on a pacifier for a prolonged time, is age 7. Dr. McFarland will be able to detect any issues caused by these habits, and can come up with a game plan for the future. In some cases, early treatment achieves results that are unattainable once the face and jaws have finished growing.

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