Thumb Sucking: How Does It Impact Teeth?

Toddler with thumb in mouth

As a new parent, you have many questions. The good news is you don’t have to go it alone. There are plenty of resources available to inform, educate, and support. When it comes to your questions about your baby’s (soon-to-be) teeth, your local pediatric dental office has the answers.

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One of the most common questions is, “How does thumb sucking affect my child’s teeth?” Parents are often worried that persistent or aggressive sucking is going to have a negative effect on their children’s future oral health.

In short, thumb sucking is perfectly normal in an infant/toddler, though it is something that you will want to curtail eventually. Here is what you need to know about thumb sucking in your infant and how it could impact their teeth.

It’s Natural

As mentioned, thumb sucking is natural in infants. They may choose to suck on a thumb, finger, toy, blanket, or anything else that can fit into the mouth, but this is not something to be worried about.

Until the age of three, sucking is common and is actually used as a form of comfort and support. What you want to watch for is if it continues past the age of three…

3+ and Still Sucking

After age three, it is possible that sucking could affect your child’s teeth and jaw—specifically the way in which they are growing. While most children stop the sucking habit on their own, some continue to do so, whether as a comfort action or an anxiety-driven urge. When this happens, gentle reminders to stop are often enough. In more extreme cases, you may want to speak to your dentist about an apparatus that can help curtail the urge.

Bite Problems

One of the most common problems that can emerge is an abnormal bite. In a normal bite, your children’s top teeth will overlap their bottom teeth. Sometimes, the pressure of a thumb or other object when sucked on can interfere with normal tooth eruption and cause your children to get an “open bite.” This occurs when the teeth don’t overlap when your child bites down.

Habit Forming

Prolonged thumb sucking may also transform into tongue thrusting. This can have a negative effect on eating, speaking, and swallowing. The tongue thrusting then encourages the detrimental force placed on the teeth and jaws, which could later cause jaw problems, headaches, or other related issues.

Skeletal Changes

One of the worst-case scenarios in prolonged thumb sucking is a change to your child’s skeletal structure. Misalignment of the jaw or secondary teeth can cause a whole host of problems that will need to be corrected later in life with some intense orthodontic procedures. There’s very little that a registered orthodontist can’t help correct, but the cost and time commitments down the road need to be considered.

In general, thumb sucking is not a bad habit and is actually an important step in your child’s early childhood development. The problem comes when they are unwilling to give up the habit, which in turn will potentially damage the growth of your child’s teeth and jaw.

There’s nothing to worry about until age three, and after that, just keep an eye on your children’s habits and seek the advice of a skilled pediatric dentist if you feel the habit is persisting. You’re not alone in the care of your children and their oral health.


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