How Thumb Sucking And Pacifier Use Affect Your Child’s Teeth

Pediatric Dentistry as a Featured Service at Dentistry for Children, UT

Thumb sucking can be useful for a child. It can help them feel calm and safe. In fact, it’s a natural reflex; some children have been seen sucking their thumbs in the womb, and that habit can last through the child’s toddler years.

But will thumb sucking — and pacifier use, which has similar effects — ruin a child’s teeth? And at what point should you as the parent intervene in this habit?

Read on to learn more about thumb sucking, as well as ways that Dentistry for Children in Murray, UT can help! Then, give us a call at one of our three convenient locations to schedule an appointment.  


How Does Thumb Sucking And Pacifiers Affect A Child’s Teeth?


Years of thumb sucking can be problematic for a child’s dental health, particularly if the habit lasts beyond the point in which the child’s permanent teeth start coming in. At that point, it’s possible that the habit will affect the development of the child’s palate — or the roof of the mouth. This can cause malocclusion, or an imperfect bite, and teeth misalignment issues that will ultimately require orthodontic work to correct.

Most often, thumb sucking can cause an open bite, where the upper and lower teeth do not come together when your child bites down. This can result in a gap between the upper and lower teeth. Sometimes, thumb sucking can push the front teeth forward. In severe cases, it can create an opening big enough for the child to suck their thumb even while their mouth is closed.

Thumb sucking can also result in a crossbite, a type of malocclusion where a child’s upper teeth fall on the wrong side of the lower teeth when the child bites down.

In addition to dental problems, prolonged thumb sucking can also cause speech problems, chapped skin, calluses, and fingernail infections.


Will My Child Outgrow Their Thumb Sucking Habit?


Usually, children stop sucking their thumbs between the ages of 2 and 4 years old.

Children who suck their thumbs beyond that point often stop because of teasing or peer pressure they experience in school. It’s estimated that one in five children suck their thumbs past their 5th birthday.

Some older children may also revert to their habit of thumb sucking if they feel scared or anxious, which is an important consideration for parents who want to help their child stop thumb sucking.


When And How Should I Intervene?


This is a tricky question. Generally speaking, if a child is still sucking their thumb past the age of 4 or 5, it’s time to step in to prevent dental complications.

You may have success simply talking with your child and lovingly encouraging them to stop sucking their thumb. If that doesn’t work, here are some other tactics you might want to try:

  • Praise your child when they don’t suck their thumb. One way to do this is to buy poster board and create a chart that tracks your child’s progress. Perhaps your child gets to place a sticker on the chart for each day they go without thumb sucking and can earn a reward at the end of the month.
  • Place a bitter-tasting liquid on the child’s thumbnail. This will remind your child not to suck their thumb and can be especially helpful at night.
  • Have your child wear gloves or a finger splint. Similar to using a bitter-tasting liquid, this will discourage your child from sucking their thumb.
  • Provide them reassurance. Some children suck their thumbs when they’re feeling anxious or frightened. Providing them with kind, reassuring words can comfort them in a way that thumb sucking usually does.

If all else fails, or if you notice that your child’s habit is already affecting the alignment of their teeth or bite, partner with your dentist to find a solution.

At Dentistry for Children, we’ll talk with you and your child about the habit and together formulate a treatment plan. We may recommend trying an over-the-counter thumb guard.

If the child is sucking his or her thumb past the age of 5 or 6, we’ll likely recommend a dental appliance that blocks the thumb when your child has the urge to suck.

If your child’s permanent teeth have been affected by thumb sucking, we may refer you to an orthodontist.


Choose Dentistry for Children For High-Quality Pediatric Care


At Dentistry for Children, we’re experts in dental growth and oral development. You’ll feel great entrusting your little one’s dental care to us!

After we work together toward a solution for your child’s thumb sucking, we’ll be able to provide high-quality care across a variety of dental disciplines. That includes general dentistry, restorative dentistry, and cosmetic dentistry! Give us a call at one of our three locations to schedule an appointment, or simply fill out our online form.



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