Willow Pediatric Dentistry of Tecumseh

Is thumb sucking harmful?

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex for babies and young children - it may provide a sense of comfort, happiness or security. More often than not, children stop sucking their thumbs between the ages of two and four.

Children can be at risk for dental and/or growth complications if thumb sucking persists. This of course depends on many factors including how strongly the child sucks on a finger/thumb/pacifier and how many hours a day. It is recommended that a child stop sucking by age 2-3 and certainly by the time the permanent front teeth erupt to allow for proper growth of skeletal aspects of the face and dental alignment. Constant pressure of a thumb resting on the gums could interfere with the normal tooth eruption and jaw growth. The pressure can cause the teeth to flare outward and the upper and lower teeth don’t align, causing a condition called open bite. If you have concerns about thumb sucking, please contact the office.

Pacifiers may also affect a child’s teeth in the same way as thumb or finger sucking. Watch that the pacifier is resistant to breakage, does not pose an airway obstruction hazard, is kept clean, and not tied around the child’s neck. Replace a pacifier that shows any signs of wear.

Below are some suggestions to help break the habit:

  • Help your child become aware of their habit.
  • Children have different triggers for thumb sucking such as boredom, anxiety, comfort, etc. Try to help eliminate those triggers.
  • We would be more than happy to speak with your child about thumb sucking - we are experts in explaining why it’s important to discontinue this harmful habit
  • Use positive reinforcement to encourage your child not to suck their thumb - a game, reward, a treat or anything else your child enjoys. Offer gentle reminders and praise them when they stop.
  • At nighttime, wrap your child’s hands in gloves, mittens or clean socks and use positive reinforcement when the child wakes up with a dry hand.
  • If necessary, we can fit your child for a special oral appliance called a tongue crib or a bluegrass appliance. This physically stops them from being able to suck their thumb and is good for children who want to stop sucking but need a reminder.

Make an appointment today to discuss your concerns

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