6 Reasons to Be Cautious About Thumb Sucking

6 Reasons to Be Cautious About Thumb Sucking
Posted on 01/11/2023
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Why do some children suck their thumbs?

According to the Mayo Clinic, babies have natural rooting and sucking reflexes, often leading them to develop a thumb sucking habit while attempting to self-soothe. Many children stop this habit on their own between the ages of 2 and 4.


What is the problem with thumb sucking?

Thumb sucking isn't usually a concern until a child's permanent teeth come in, generally by age 5. At this point, thumb sucking might begin to affect the roof of the mouth (palate) or how the teeth line up, in other words, a “normal smile” vs overbite. The risk of dental problems is related to how often, how long and how intensely your child sucks on his or her thumb.

While no condition comes exclusively from thumb sucking, it's important to monitor this habit as it can lead to future dental issues if the behavior continues for too long. Oral problems for your child associated with chronic thumb sucking past a healthy age may include:

Misaligned bite
Palate issues
Speech problems
Overbite smile or overjet
Sore thumbs, infections, callouses on the thumb
Pushing the upper teeth forward


What can I do to encourage my child to stop thumb sucking?

Steps to help your child avoid sucking their thumb may include:

Replace their coping mechanism for stress with a healthy alternative, like holding a blanket, stuffed animal, or favorite toy.
Create a chart to track their behavior with stickers and reward them when they reach a certain number of stickers.
Avoid situations that may increase your child’s stress.
Reward healthy behaviors like not sucking their thumb with praise.
Try putting a bandage on their thumb or covering their hand with a sock at night to interrupt their automatic inclination.
If your child is old enough, communicate to them how thumb sucking can negatively affect their oral health.


What Should I Do?

If you observe changes to their teeth or bite alignment, we recommend that you schedule a visit with Dr. Daniel Eves, orthodontist in Rhode Island, at Tollgate Orthodontics. Dr. Eves is happy to give his expert insight on the best course of action to minimize long terms effects on the palate and teeth. 

Our thanks to The Mayo Clinic and Colgate Oral Care for information contained in this article.