For children, thumbsucking is a natural reflex. Sucking on fingers, thumbs, pacifiers, or other objects is believed to make infants feel safe and happy. They suck to fall asleep more easily and to soothe themselves. But what impact does this habit have on teeth?
Thumbsucking and Permanent Teeth
Sucking tends to cause problems after permanent teeth grow. There can be a misalignment of the teeth and mouth roof changes. Pacifiers have a very similar impact on teeth as sucking a thumb, or a finger does. However, it is not as strong a habit.
The likelihood of dental problems is determined by the intensity of the sucking. Children who suck vigorously are more likely to have tooth problems than those who are more passive. Aggressive thumbsuckers tend to have trouble with primary teeth.
How Long Do Children Suck Their Thumbs?
Children usually stop sucking when permanent front teeth are about to appear, which is between the ages of two and four. One long-term effect of vigorous thumb sucking is an overbite. This is where the front teeth extend out from the mouth and jaw. There can be changes to the shape of the jaw. These impact the alignment of the speech and teeth patterns, such as developing a lisp.
There can be other bite issues, such as an open bite, where bottom teeth don’t meet in a closed mouth. In some cases, the bottom teeth tip at the back of the mouth. Sensitivity of the roof of the mouth can occur. These issues are because there is repetitive pressure of the thumb on the roof, jawbone, and teeth.
The good news is that most of these problems resolve by themselves. If the child has stopped thumbsucking by the time their permanent teeth have appeared, they may never occur. However, children who suck their thumb past the age of 4 usually face an increased risk for these issues.
How to Stop Thumbsucking
Offer praise to a child that has stopped sucking or is sucking less vigorously. It’s important to recognize the reasons thumbsucking persists. It makes children – and adults – feel comfortable and safe. Try to provide comfort and limit anxiety. If your child is older, ask them to choose how to try to stop.
You can put a sock on their hand or bandage the thumb to raise their awareness. We at Blue Island Smiles can explain the damage sucking causes and help your child break the habit. We are proud to offer quality pediatric dentistry services on par with the highest national standards.
The First Dental Exam
To help your child prepare for their first trip to the dentist, practice the exam, or read them a book. Pretend you’re the dentist and ask them to say “Aaaa” as you count their teeth. This way, they will know what to expect. There are many books about children’s first dental visits, many of which are available for free download online. Reading books can help establish the exam as an exciting upcoming event in their minds.
Children imitate our behavior, so be as positive as you can. They will be more relaxed if you are. Do they have an older sibling? They might be able to help by expressing positive sentiments about a visit to the dentist.
Like thumbsucking, good dental health starts at an early age. This is why our specialists always aim to foster awareness of dental hygiene. Taking care of your teeth should not be perceived as a tedious obligation. Call us today to schedule an appointment!