Excessive Thumb Sucking Tooth Problems

As children, we all develop different ways to cope and self soothe; for some children it is a blanket or stuffed animal, for others it is thumb sucking. Most people have heard that sucking your thumb will damage your teeth, cause a problem with your bite, or ensure that you will need braces. But the truth is that not all people who suck their thumbs cause damage. The first way to know what the potential consequences are is if your child passively holds their thumb in their mouth or if they actively suck their thumb. When the child still has their baby teeth, the active sucking could cause some damage to those teeth. As the permanent teeth come in, the damage will sort itself out as the baby teeth slowly fall out.

When your child continues to actively suck their thumb after they have their permanent teeth, then the damage from this habit may start to show longer term effects. If thumb sucking is persistent and vigorous, then the teeth can come in or shift to misalignment, the shape of their jaw could be affected, and even the shape of the roof of the mouth can be altered. Finally, if your child sucks on their thumb without washing their hands first, the presence of bacteria, viruses, and debris can be easily introduced to their system. While one study found that children who suck their thumbs are more likely not to have allergic reactions to pollen and dust mites as adults, it is not a strong enough reason to believe that this is a healthy, sustainable habit.

Long-Term Effects

When your child intensely sucks their thumb over the course of years, their teeth and mouths will be altered. The pressure in the same areas of the mouth from the thumb on the teeth, roof of the mouth, and jawbone can lead to problems with their bite. They may have an overbite, or a condition where their front teeth stick out from their mouth and the rest of their jaw. In addition, the lower teeth may start to lean towards the back of their mouth. The end result may even be an open bite where the upper jaw and lower jaw no longer meet.

As time goes on and your child still sucks their thumb, they may change the shape of their jaw and the position of their teeth. The combination of any of these can leave your child with problems pronouncing certain words or sounds incorrectly or with a lisp. The roof of their mouth can develop more sensitivity that the rest of the inside of their mouth from the thumb. The longer the habit continues and the more permanent teeth that are present, the more likely they are to have to have corrective treatment later in life.

What Should You Do?

If your child is older than four and still sucks their thumb with regularity, then you may want to talk to the dentist or physician about strategies or possible treatments to help your child stop. Sometimes children stop sucking their thumb as they reach school age due to pressure from other children their age to stop. With other children, if you ignore the behavior, you are reducing the pressure to stop and the child will have an easier time letting it go.

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