How Thumb Sucking Affects My Child’s Oral Health

Thumb sucking is a common habit for young children. According to recent studies, this habit starts early in the child’s life and is seen in about 90% of young children. More often than not, it will stop around the age of three. Thumb sucking is a way that small children learn to comfort themselves. It is similar to using a pacifier as it simulates the feeling of breastfeeding. While it can provide emotional comfort to the child, it can negatively impact their oral health.  Read on to learn more about this habit.

When Does Thumb Sucking Become a Problem?

When determining whether or not thumb sucking is a problem, our pediatric dentists will consider the duration and the intensity of the thumb sucking as the child’s front teeth begin to come in. This is how they differ: 

Persistent Thumb Sucking

If the activity takes place over short periods, it is generally not a problem. If it is persistent, more than four hours a day, or throughout the night while sleeping – it could interfere with the placement of incoming teeth and even how they bite. Before going to bed, check on your sleeping child’s thumb sucking, gently and consistently remove their thumb from their mouth.  Prolonged oral habits may cause your child’s teeth to flare out and give the appearance of an “overbite.” For active children, the overbite exposes you more to trauma since the lips aren’t protecting your grill as they regularly would.

Intense Thumb Sucking

Like persistent thumb sucking, intense thumb sucking can cause problems with the proper placement of incoming teeth. If the child’s habit is sufficiently intense, it can cause the same problems caused by persistent thumb sucking in shorter amounts of time. It can also change the growth patterns of the jaw and cause significant misalignment of the teeth. Problematically intense thumb sucking is typified by loud sucking noises.

What To Do

Ideally, all habits should cease by 12 months, which seems easier with a pacifier because you can just throw it away. For thumbsuckers that can’t kick the habit, age 3 is the time to gently discourage your child to stop.  The first method is playing on vanity. Once your child understands vanity—whether they want to be a certain princess or superhero, or they want to have mommy and daddy’s pretty smile—they are mentally ready to stop thumb sucking.  Reinforce that your child needs to stop this habit if they want to look like a certain role model. Another method is playing on germs. It is a fact that pinworm eggs love to live under the fingernails and it’s a common occurrence for thumbsuckers to get pinworms.  Remind your child about all the worms living under their fingernails.  As a last resort, you can always do a thumb crib or thumb guard. 

If you observe your child engaging in persistent thumb sucking more than four hours a day, or throughout the night – or if the thumb sucking is intense enough to produce a loud noise – it may be time to consult your pediatric dentist.

Get in touch with Sunshine Smiles Pediatric Dentistry in Melbourne, FL today to schedule your consultation.