Thumb Sucking and Teeth (BEST FACTS HERE)

It’s not unusual to see a baby or toddler sucking their thumb as they go through their day. This innocuous and self-comforting habit can start as early as in the womb. And can continue once that child is born. Some babies may be transitioned to sucking on a pacifier for self-comfort. A habit which is more easily broken than sucking their thumbs. Some children persist in solely using their thumbs and may continue doing so for many years.


girl with leaf


The Thumb Sucking Thing

As these children mature to preschool and school ages, medical facts show that continued thumb sucking can create speech, dental, and oral health problems. These may require professional intervention to remedy. Some dental problems may require the experienced help of an orthodontist to address the structural changes within the mouth that can occur when a child sucks their thumb for years.


Infants and Toddlers

For infants and toddlers, sucking a thumb or a pacifier is a natural and soothing behavior. It helps the child deal with everyday stressors such as fatigue, hunger, fussiness, or overstimulation. As infancy progresses to toddlerhood and primary teeth erupt, this behavior often begins to wane as this stage makes it more challenging and potentially uncomfortable to effectively suck their thumb.

Even though sucking a thumb is a natural and commonly seen self-soothing behavior, parents should be aware that this behavior. It can introduce unwanted germs or contaminants into your child’s mouth from their thumb or fingers. With infants, this may not be of great concern. This is because young babies that do not yet crawl or sit up. Thus, are not as likely to have dirty hands. Once a child is active and able to crawl, sit up, and walk, the risk for germs, dirt, and other potentially unhealthy contaminants on their hands and thumbs increases.

As your baby begins to speak and enters toddlerhood, where language acquisition is critical, sucking a thumb or fingers can interfere with the formation of good speech patterns. Gently prompt your child to take their thumb out of their mouth before speaking and praise them for doing so. This gentle and positive reinforcement of good speech habits can also help to eliminate the unwanted sucking of their thumb or fingers.


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In these early years of life, there are several simple steps you can take as a parent to help your child wean from sucking their thumb for comfort. Try introducing a pacifier when they are in infancy. Used as a substitute for a thumb. Pacifiers can be discarded as your child grows older; some parents even get creative and plan a fun ceremony or event at age two or three or four. Where the child gets to be a part of giving up the pacifier and becoming a “big kid.”

Other simple steps you can take to decrease sucking of thumbs or fingers in these early years is to offer a substitute to this self-soothing behavior. Such as a favorite stuffed toy to hug or a soft blanket to snuggle. These small changes, when lovingly and consistently applied, can provide positive results in reducing this unwanted habit.


Preschoolers and School-Aged Children

In this age group, sucking of the thumb and fingers can become increasingly problematic. Medical facts to be considered for the need to reduce and eliminate this behavior are many. They include potential changes to the alignment of the jaws. Also, potential changes to the structure of the roof of the mouth, and continued challenges with proper speech formation as well as additional social challenges as your child enters preschool, kindergarten, or elementary school.


Changes to Alignment

Adult teeth typically begin to emerge when children are five or six years old. As the primary, or baby, ones are lost – usually, the bottom middle two and top middle two – adult ones erupt and slowly grow into place. Sucking a thumb at this stage of development can drastically change the alignment of the top middle two teeth. Causing them to protrude forward and out from the jawline. This can cause an overbite will require intensive orthodontic intervention to correct, including braces, headgear, and other orthodontic devices.


Changes to the Roof of the Mouth

Long-term sucking of a thumb or fingers can also lead to changes in upper palate, or roof, of the mouth. For children whose sucking is intense, with a strong pull on the fingers, the risk is even greater. This intense sucking of their thumb or fingers for years will alter the natural shape and growth of their upper palate. In some cases, children may require an orthodontic appliance. This is to help reshape their upper palate and allow for correct growth and alignment of their upper and lower jaws.



Speech and Social Challenges

Children who continue to suck their thumbs as they enter preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school may have developed habits of poor pronunciation. Or even enunciation, or other speech development issues. Therapy with a trained speech-language pathologist may be required to correct and remedy these issues. Socially, children in preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school who still continue to suck their thumbs may face negative social pressure from their peers. As well as from their teachers.

If you are a parent of a child who has a long-standing habit thumb sucking or finger sucking and you are concerned about the long-term effects of this behavior, Dr. Adam Schulhof is here to help. An experienced orthodontist who is a leader in lingual braces, Dr. Schulhof and the team at his orthodontic practice are happy to answer your questions about your child’s thumb or finger sucking habit. And how it may be impacting their dental and oral health.


Contact Dr. Schulhof Today

Accordingly, if your dentist has referred you to an orthodontist for your child or if you wish to seek a consultation with Dr. Schulhof, contact our orthodontic practice today by phone or by email or through our website. Finally, we look forward to partnering with you to help you achieve the optimal orthodontic results. And of course, dental health for your child at all ages and stages.

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400 Kinderkamack Rd.
Oradell, NJ 07649
Phone: 551-231-5323

Thumb Sucking and Teeth (BEST FACTS HERE)