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How Does Thumb-Sucking Affect Children’s Teeth?

Thumb-sucking is a normal behavior that we don’t pay too much mind as parents of young children. However, it can have a major impact on their oral health. While it’s a natural reflex for infants, prolonged thumb-sucking can lead to dental problems that may require professional intervention.

Here are some of the potential long-term effects and what you can do as a parent to help break the habit for the sake of your children’s dental health.

When should I be concerned about thumb-sucking?

Thumb-sucking is a normal, natural behavior that infants develop to soothe themselves. Most children grow out of it by age 4, so if you notice the habit continuing beyond that age, it may be time to think about ways to break the habit.

Why is thumb-sucking bad for my kid's teeth?

The pressure that thumb-sucking puts on the teeth can cause them to shift out of place and eventually lead to an open bite. An open bite is a gap between the upper and lower teeth when the mouth is closed, and can contribute to issues with speech, chewing, and tongue-thrusting.

It can also lead children to develop a higher palate, which can cause breathing and sleeping problems. 

Finally, the most commonly-known issue caused by thumb-sucking is a misalignment of the teeth, resulting in the need for braces later in life.

How can I get my child to stop thumb-sucking?

Breaking the habit can be challenging, but it’s achievable as long as you take action early on and support your child throughout the process. Here are a few tips: 

Talk to them about it.

In age-appropriate terms, explain the potential consequences of thumb-sucking and importance of breaking the habit to your child. 

Use positive reinforcement.

Offer praise when your child refrains from sucking their thumb, and reward their progress along the way. Use small toys like matchbox cars or other treats that align with their interests.

Distract them and redirect their behavior.

Identify a few other ways for your child to soothe themselves, and try to get them to do that when they go to start sucking their thumb again. Hugging a stuffed animal or a favorite blanket are some good options to start with. 

Try bandages or gloves.

Cover your child’s thumb with a fun, brightly-colored bandage or glove to deter them from sucking their thumb.

If all else fails, consider professional intervention.

If you’ve tried everything and are still unable to help your child break their thumb-sucking habit, it may be time to consult their dentist to learn about other options.

While it’s undeniably cute at first, thumb-sucking can pose significant oral health issues for children that continue the habit beyond age 4. In order to prevent such issues from arriving, keep an eye on your child and try to employ some of the tips in this blog to help them break their habit before it becomes harmful to them.

If you have concerns about your child’s thumb-sucking habit, please don’t hesitate to contact us or request an appointment to learn more.

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