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How Does Sucking Thumbs Damage Kid’s Oral Health

Thumbsucking is a natural reflex for infants. Sucking thumbs, pacifiers and other toys brings comfort to young ones and helps calm and soothe them.

For most kids, thumbsucking is occasional and not concerning. There are cases when the habit is prolonged and presents serious oral health problems.

When Should Kids Stop Sucking Thumbs?

For infants, toddlers and even preschoolers, thumbsucking is natural and relatively harmless. But once a child turns four, it’s time to start getting serious about breaking the habit.

Thumb sucking after age four is more serious. Typically at this age the sucking starts to get more aggressive and habit forming, so most oral health professionals agree that thumb sucking should be stopped before a child reaches four years old.

Oral Health Problems From Sucking Thumbs

The problems that arise from thumbsucking are determined by the frequency, aggressiveness and duration of the habit. Naturally, the more frequent, aggressive and longer lasting the thumbsucking is, the greater the potential for oral health problems.

While it’s possible for thumbsucking to cause problems with baby teeth, the bigger concern is the long term impact on permanent teeth. The American Dental Association states that thumbsucking once permanent teeth start to come in may cause problems with tooth alignment and bite. This happens because the thumb puts pressure on the front teeth, causing them to jut forward so that they don’t touch the bottom teeth when the mouth is closed.

Additional problems can arise in the pallet (roof of the mouth) and the skeletal formation of the mouth.

How To Stop Kids From Sucking Their Thumbs

The potential problems that arise from thumbsucking aren’t small, and it’s best to try to stop children from hanging on to that habit past the age of four. Here are some tips to help:

  • Distraction: pay attention to the times and places kids most often suck thumbs and try to distract them with something else at that time/place
  • Positive reinforcement: offer rewards and excessive praise at times when your child doesn’t suck their thumb instead of scolding them for the behavior. Consider introducing a rewards chart with fun stickers and prizes for positive results.
  • Something on the thumb: products can be purchased that go on the thumb to discourage thumb sucking, like foul tasting nail polishes. Or you can find products in your own closet to help. It can be as simple as a bandage covering the thumb (make sure it’s too big to swallow) or a sock or glove covering the hand.
  • Wait it out: If you’ve tried everything and just can’t get your child to quit thumbsucking, be patient. It likely won’t happen overnight. All children will eventually give it up, often when they reach school age and feel social pressure to stop.

Oral & Facial Surgery of Utah is Here

If you are concerned about the impact that sucking thumbs has had on your child’s mouth, it’s a good idea to consult a professional. The board-certified oral surgeons at Oral & Facial Surgery of Utah are here to establish a treatment plan that you and your child feel comfortable with. We have offices throughout northern Utah in Cottonwood Heights, West Jordan, and Tooele. Contact us today!


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