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The Effects of Thumb Sucking on Teeth

Thumb sucking is not only a natural reflex for babies and toddlers, it is one of the first actions they seek at the beginning of life: multiple sonograms show evidence that babies can begin sucking their thumbs as early as in the womb. And for the first few years, a child sucking on his or her thumb – or other fingers, pacifiers, and toys – is not a cause of concern for parents.

For young children, thumb sucking is a reflex borne of a need for comfort and security. The action may soothe babies who are separated from their parents or placed in an unfamiliar situation with strangers. It may satiate children who are bored, or ease anxiety in highly stimulating environments. Thumb sucking also initiates feelings of relaxation, and may induce sleep for young toddlers.

According to the American Dental Association (ADA) the majority of babies who suck their thumbs will cease independently between the ages of two and four, or when permanent front teeth start to erupt. At this time, children will begin to find other mediums to express anxiety and accept comfort, as their communication skills progress. Social pressure from peers during the early school years may also curb the thumb sucking habit.

And while thumb sucking is a natural and normal part of the first years of life for many children, prolonged use can cause damage to developing teeth and jaw structures. During these formative years of mouth growth, long and aggressive bouts of thumb sucking can influence a child’s bite, jaw, teeth, and tongue in the following ways:

  • The “open bite”: In a normal mouth, a proper bite develops when the front teeth grow to overlap the bottom teeth during the bite-down. However, constant pressure on the teeth and gums from a thumb or finger may upset normal growth and prevent the overlap from emerging – thus creating a space between the upper and lower teeth during the bite-down.

 

  • The crossbite: Extended periods of thumb sucking can cause the upper jaw to narrow, resulting in teeth that are misaligned and do not fit together properly.

 

  • The protruding upper front teeth: Pressure from a thumb, finger, or pacifier can push growing upper front teeth forward and out. In the future, this could lead to speech problems, such as a lisp.

 

  • The depressed lower front teeth: And vise versa from the protruding front teeth, pressure from thumb sucking can push growing bottom front teeth down and back, towards the tongue.

 

  • The thumb hole: Over time, persistent thumb sucking can leave a groove on the roof of the mouth.

 

Before the ages of five to six, it is unlikely that thumb sucking will affect the shape or development of a child’s jaw. And fewer problems are likely to arise from children who passively rest fingers in their mouths, as opposed to young ones who aggressively suck on a thumb, fingers, or pacifier.

For parents who are worried about their child’s thumb sucking, positive reinforcement and rewards for not sucking on a thumb or fingers will be more effective than punishments or scolding. Because thumb sucking is linked to comfort and security, negative reinforcements – such as admonishments or spreading a bitter medication over the thumb at night, to prevent sucking – may only serve to heighten a child’s feeling of anxiety, and in turn lead to increased thumb sucking. One of the best preventative measures parents can take is having a trusted dentist speak to their child about the dangers of continued thumb sucking. Here at Boyett Family Dentistry, Dr. Boyett is on hand to address any questions or concerns, and to provide information and relief to both parents and children. Call our office at 863-294-9200 and schedule an appointment today.

 

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