How thumb-sucking impacts dental health

Self-soothing by sucking the thumb, lip or finger is very common with babies – especially children ages 2 – 4. At around 5 or 6 years of age, children start to lose their first set of ‘baby’ teeth and wait for their adult set to come in.

It is very important before that set of permanent teeth appears to break the habit of thumb-sucking – as the continuous action can create problems in the alignment of new tooth growth and the overall development of the mouth. 

In terms of whether or not thumb-sucking is bad, the answer can vary. The intensity with which your child sucks on their thumb creates a difference in dental problems that can arise later on in their lives. Children who aggressively suck on their thumb are essentially at a greater risk of creating more damage to their permanent teeth than a child who does not. 

There is a wide range of ways a child can be coached out of sucking their thumb, such as positive reinforcement. When a child is caught without their thumb in their mouth, this is a great time to comment on how good that behaviour is. Along with this, active measures may be taken too, such as covering their hands at night in order to place a barrier between their fingers and their mouths. Even though these tips are useful and worth a try, the best course of action may be to enlist the help of a dentist. They will be able to provide a detailed, specific remedy to a child’s thumb-sucking habit that will be the best course of action for you and your child. 

Overall, once a child hits a certain age, it is in their best dental interests to phase them out of thumb-sucking in order to keep the integrity of their new, permanent teeth intact. While this may sometimes seem like a fight you are destined to lose, by using some of the tips provided and rallying the help of a dentist, your child should have a healthy and beautiful smile for many years to come.