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Thumb-Sucking & Your Child’s Oral Health

February 16, 2023

Filed under: Uncategorized — islanddailydentalcareteam @ 10:56 pm
a child sucking their thumb

The month of February is not just a time to show love to your partner on Valentine’s Day—it’s also a celebration of your child’s smile since it’s Children’s Dental Health Month! You want to do everything you can to help keep their teeth and gums healthy as they grow. While it is perfectly normal for children to suck their thumbs until they are a toddler, it can potentially negatively affect your child’s oral development if it becomes a habit that lasts too long. Read on to learn more about thumb sucking and its impact on your little one’s precious growing smile, along with helpful tips.

How Does Thumb-Sucking Impact Oral Development?

As mentioned before, thumb sucking is a natural reflex that many experts believe acts as a means of self-comfort. In most cases, babies and toddlers who partake in this habit are very unlikely to negatively impact their oral development. Children usually grow out of sucking their thumbs between the ages of two and four.

After the age of four, key parts of your little one’s mouth and jaws begin to develop. If they are still sucking on their thumb by the age of five or six, or if their finger sucking is aggressive and involves a lot of jaw movement, this once harmless habit can begin to cause long-term complications. The extra pressure can significantly influence how their mouth forms, leading to issues like:

  • Crooked baby teeth and permanent teeth that don’t come in correctly.
  • Misaligned jaws and bite issues, such as overbite or crossbite.
  • Changes to the shape of the roof and floor of their mouth.

These problems can usually be corrected by orthodontic treatment or—in more severe cases–surgery. If your child sucks their thumb aggressively or if they continue this habit as their permanent teeth come in, it’s time to seek help from your child’s dentist.

Helpful Tips to Break the Habit of Thumb-Sucking

While some dentists may recommend that you wean your child from thumb-sucking around the age of 2, that may be too young for some children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the age of 3 or 4 is a more appropriate goal, with 4 being when the efforts should be more concerted.

Here are some helpful tips to help your little one to begin to stop this self-soothing habit:

  • Offer a substitute when your child is feeling uneasy, like holding a favorite stuffed animal or comforting blanket.
  • Put a bandage on their thumb during the day and a soft sock around their hand while they sleep.
  • Reinforce healthy behaviors with a sticker chart of how many days in a row they don’t suck their thumb. Lots of praise always helps too!
  • Discuss with your child the effects of thumb sucking on their smile to make them more self-aware of their habit. You can find a great kid-friendly video to engage them and help them understand.
  • Give them a non-food reward to encourage them to break the habit, such as letting them choose the movie for family night.

If your child has a continual habit of sucking their thumb, there is no need to worry. With this useful information and the guidance of your dentist, you can place them on the best path so they can have a whole and healthy smile for years to come!

About the Practice

The Smilist Dental Medford is eager to keep you and your family’s smiles healthy and bright through their team of dental experts. They offer a full range of services, including children’s dentistry with various specialized treatments to keep their teeth and gums in top condition. With a focus on personalized care, they are open seven days a week, offer affordable financing, and are conveniently located. To schedule an appointment for your little one, contact them through their website or call (631) 286-9000.

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