How Thumb Sucking Damages Teeth (3 Ways To Stop It)

Every one of us has seen it at some point. An adorable young child, thumb jammed firmly in their mouth. And another arm wrapped around their favorite stuffed animal. Their eyes are closed, their cheeks are suckling gently, and they look completely and totally at peace. Maybe you take out your phone and snap a picture or two, smiling as you wish for that kind of innocence and peace.


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…As undeniably adorable as that image is, it also comes with real problems. Children who suck their thumbs excessively are at a higher risk for developing a whole array of teeth related problems. Including damage to the palate (roof of the mouth) and the placement of their teeth.


The Basics of Thumb Sucking

First, the good news: You don’t have to forcibly remove your infant’s fingers from their mouths. It’s perfectly normal and comforting behavior which can help reduce separation anxiety and soothe a child to sleep. Indeed, most children will stop on their own as early as 6-7 months old, and as late as 2-4 years old.

The behaviour tends to exacerbate during times of stress. This is where the child is in need of comfort, or when they are trying to get themselves to fall asleep. This is why you often see an uptick in the behaviour at night.

Experts vary about when parents should start to intervene and get their children to stop sucking their thumbs. Some say you should start as young as three, others as late as five. The American Dental Association says that four is a good age to get kids to stop.


The Damage Thumb Sucking Causes

Depending on how aggressively and how often the child sucks their thumb, teeth damage can begin as early as age five. Specific types of teeth damage includes:

Teeth placement:

  • Teeth placement: A child’s front two teeth may jut stick out.


  • Overbite: As a result of the misalignment between the front and bottom teeth, a child’s bite may open and their front and bottom teeth will not properly touch. This is also known as an overbite.

Skeletal changes:

  • Skeletal changes: In more serious cases, skeletal changes may occur, damaging the placement of a child’s teeth. This can occur in more than a child’s front teeth.


There’s More…


Skin problems:

  • Skin problems: Problems when it comes to this behaviour are not limited to the mouth or teeth. They also can have a negative impact on a child’s thumb. Repeated suckling can damage the skin of the thumb in question. Leading to cracked or bleeding skin, callouses and an increased risk of infection.

Speech impediments:

  • Speech impediments: All of the damage to a child’s mouth and teeth can ultimately cause significant speech impediments, deforming sounds and particularly altering your child’s ability to pronounce “d” and “t” sounds.

Social issues:

  • Social issues: Unfortunately, as we all know, some kids can be cruel. This behaviour – particularly in public areas – can result in ridicule and social isolation for a child. Unfortunately, and ironically, this ridicule can increase a child’s stress and anxiety. This, in turn, may reinforce a child’s desire to suck their own thumbs.

It is important to note that children who actually suck will experience more damage than kids who simply leave their thumbs in their mouth. Indeed, it is the sucking behaviour (signified by suckling and the loud “pop which occurs when a child removes their thumb from their mouth) which causes the most damage.



How to Get Kids to Stop

As any parent or person with experience with toddlers knows, getting a willful child to stop a behaviour which has become a habit can be a challenge, to say the least! Fortunately, experts have developed an array of techniques which can be helpful in getting a child to cease this habit. Suggestions include:

Communicate with your child:

  • Communicate with your child. Remember, your child is an active participant in this behaviour. Rather than looking at this merely as something which must be changed, remember that your child should be actively engaged in the process. Explain the problems with your child, and your concerns, and ask what you can do to help your child stop this habit.

Don’t just scold – offer praise:

  • Don’t just scold – offer praise. Scolding reinforces anxiety or discomfort, which may, in turn, reinforce a child’s desire to suck their thumb. Instead, offer praise for a child when they aren’t sucking their thumb, particularly at a time when you know they may be otherwise tempted to do so.

Address the underlying issues:

  • Address the underlying issues. Remember, kids aren’t just sucking their thumbs at random times – they are doing it for a reason, and it’s often to seek comfort, self soothe or try to sleep. Instead of just trying to get a child to stop sucking their thumbs, see what the underlying causes of the thumb sucking may be.


There’s More…


Reward the child:

  • Reward the child. Set specific goals for your child and offer rewards if they can meet those goals. For example, “If you go two hours without sucking your thumb, you can stay up an extra half-hour before bed tonight.”

Increase the reward during times of stress:

  • Increase the reward during times of stress. If you know there are triggers which set your child off and cause them to become more likely to suck their thumbs, increase the rewards that you give them if they are able to avoid sucking their thumb during these stressful times.

Bandage or cover the thumb:

  • Bandage or cover the thumb. This will not only physically stop a child for sucking, but it will also reinforce your repeated warnings to stop.

Talk to an orthodontist or paediatrician:

  • Talk to an orthodontist or paediatrician. If you try all of the above and the behaviour continues to persist, talk with a professional. They can offer additional advice or expertise and may be able to prescribe a specific mouth appliance or medication which you can cover the thumb with. For example, an orthodontist may install a crib, which is a device which physically prevents a child from sucking on their thumb.



A FREE Consultation Awaits

If you are in the area of Larkspur, California, and looking for advice on this topic, or in need of a great Orthodontist, make sure to check out Drs. Gordon & Schmohl for all your dental needs.

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How Thumb Sucking Damages Teeth (3 Ways To Stop It)

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