If you’re a parent, it’s likely that you’re familiar with the debate about toddlers and thumbsucking. Many children develop the habit of sucking on their thumb at a very young age, during infancy or even when they are newborns, as a source of comfort and solace. At Pavlik Orthodontics, we frequently hear from parents who are concerned about their child’s thumbsucking habit. The truth is, thumbsucking is very common and is completely harmless in children under the age of four. As most kids will break the habit of thumbsucking on their own by the age of two or two-and-a-half, it is often the case that parents have nothing to worry about when it comes to a child’s thumbsucking habit.

On the other hand, if a child has not kicked the habit by the age of around three or four (when adult teeth begin growing in), this is when thumbsucking can potentially begin to cause oral problems for kids.

If your child does not stop sucking his or her thumb by the time their adult teeth begin to grow in, or if you notice that your child’s thumbsucking has increased in frequency rather than tapering off, it is a good idea to seek a consultation with an orthodontist. Due to the way in which the thumb is repeatedly forced up against the inside of the upper front teeth, thumbsucking can lead to the development of “buck teeth”. The habit can also cause problems with teeth alignment and proper mouth growth and development.

Long-term negative effects of thumb sucking beyond the age of 4-6 years can include:

  • Teeth being pushed around, which can lead to an overbite or an underbite
  • A lisp being formed (because constant thumb sucking can affect the jaw bone positioning)
  • Germs from the thumb and surrounding areas causing health problems
  • The roof of the mouth becoming altered, sensitive, or scarred

Because of the potential oral dangers of long-term thumbsucking, it is a good idea to begin to wean your child of the habit by the time they are two years old. Here are a couple of tips for how you can help stop your child from thumbsucking:

  • When your child sucks their thumb, attempt to distract them with a toy or a song.
  • Don’t nag or punish your child for sucking his or her thumb, as it may create stress and actually turn into a reason for them to suck their thumb more.
  • Educate your child about the reasons why they they shouldn’t continue to suck their thumb. Explaining the long-term effects of the habit can help a child understand why thumbsucking is a bad idea.
  • Eliminate sources of stress which could be the reason why your child sucks their thumbs.