The Ugly Truth About Thumb Sucking

If you have ever witnessed an unborn child sucking a thumb during an ultrasound, you know just how cute thumb sucking can be. Unfortunately, regardless of the cuteness associated with the practice, thumb sucking does have an ugly side.

Problems from Thumb Sucking

Although it appears harmless, thumb sucking can actually alter the facial structure of your child. In addition, it can cause problems with your child’s breathing, teeth and speech.

Here are several issues associated with sucking the thumb:

  • Protruding Front Teeth- The two teeth in the center of your child’s upper palate endure a great deal of pressure from thumb sucking. As the thumb is pressed onto the roof of the mouth, it pulls the front teeth forward, causing the front upper teeth to buck outward.
  • Jaw Distortion- The sensitive bones of your child’s developing palate can also be affected, altering the natural dimensions of your child’s face and distorting his or her appearance.
  • Receding Lower Front Teeth- As the force of the thumb presses against the upper palate, it also pushes the lower front incisors backward.
  • Opened Bite- When your child closes his or her mouth, the teeth of the upper and lower palate should meet. This includes the teeth in the front and back of the mouth. Due to the dental misalignment caused by thumb sucking, when your child’s back teeth meet, there may still be a gap between the upper and lower front teeth. The opening that results will likely resemble the shape of your little one’s thumb.
  • Narrowed Upper Palate- As your child’s upper jaw forms, thumb sucking can cause the roof of the mouth to curve more intensely, reducing the amount of space between the teeth on the left and right side of the upper jaw. The strong flexing of the cheek muscles as your child sucks exacerbates the narrowing effect. Over time, the narrowness of the upper jaw prevents it from resting properly on the lower jaw.

How can problems from thumb sucking be resolved?

If problems with your child’s teeth and palate develop because of a thumb sucking habit, the issues may be treated using orthodontic options, such as braces. However, problems from thumb sucking can be avoided if your child stops the habit soon enough. Thumb sucking that is not prolonged is generally harmless, but when a child continually sucks his or her thumb as the little one’s permanent teeth erupt,  issues may start to surface.

To avoid ongoing problems, a child should stop thumb sucking by the time the youngster reaches the age of five. At younger ages, the alignment of the front teeth may start to suffer. but once the little one becomes five or six years old,  the actual shape of the child’s jaw may be distorted.

Here are a few other factors that affect the severity of thumb sucking-related issues:

  • Intensity- How hard a child sucks plays a part in the number and severity of thumb sucking-related problems. Children who suck their thumb with great intensity will suffer the most damaging effects.
  • Frequency- The frequency with which a child sucks the thumb also plays a role in the oral outcome. Children who suck their thumb throughout the day and night are most likely to incur long-term issues.

Helping Your Child Overcome Thumb Sucking

Since the thumb is always readily available,  it may be more difficult to overcome sucking a thumb than a pacifier. Nevertheless, you can help your child break the habit by trying the following:

  • Praise your child. Each time your child avoids thumb sucking– especially in stressful situations– give the little one lots of verbal praise. Because youngsters love to please their parents,  praise is one of the best rewards for avoiding the negative habit.
  • Offer your youngster gum. Sugarless gum has multiple benefits for your child’s oral health, as it incites the release of saliva, helps keep the teeth clean between brushing sessions and encourages strong jaws. If your child’s mouth is already occupied,  the little one is less likely to resort to thumb sucking.
  • Coat your child’s thumb with a bitter substance. Children are less likely to suck a thumb that is coated with something distasteful, such as vinegar.

For more advice to help your child avoid long-term problems from sucking his or her thumb, schedule an appointment with our office.