Thumb Sucking and Your Child’s Teeth

January 11, 2021

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex for babies. Often seen during newborn stages and early development, thumb sucking is a considered a normal coping mechanism as it is soothing and provides comfort. However, thumb sucking can cause dental issues after the permanent teeth come in. Specifically, problems with the proper growth of the mouth, alignment of the teeth and roof of the mouth changes can occur. With aggressive sucking, problems with baby teeth can also arise.

Most children will stop thumb sucking between the ages of two and four years old. If your child doesn’t stop thumb sucking by the time permanent front teeth are ready to erupt (the American Dental Association recommends by the age of 4) then it may be time to intervene.

Tips for Discouraging Thumb Sucking

  • Communicate and involve your child by choosing a plan together to stop thumb sucking.
  • Praise and your child (reward charts can be a great tool to monitor progress).
  • Focus on what is causing your child’s anxiety and comfort them during times they would usually suck their thumb.
  • Keep in mind that criticism (instead positive reinforcement) will usually make the problem worse as it adds to anxiety.
  • Purchase products that can discourage thumb sucking (usually to be placed on the thumb or fingers).
  • Visit your child’s dentist, as they can educate and encourage both of you along the way.

As always, if you notice changes in your child’s baby teeth, or are concerned about your child’s thumb sucking you should speak with their dentist.

A common misconception is that baby teeth are not as important as permanent teeth. Yes, they are temporary, but baby teeth are just as significant as permanent teeth. In fact, tooth decay that occurs in baby teeth could lead to oral issues once adult teeth appear. That’s why the American Dental Association and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends your baby’s first visit should be when the first tooth erupts in the mouth (usually takes place between 6 months and 1 year of age). Read more here, on tips for taking your child to their first dentist appointment.

As a reminder, one of the easiest ways to prevent tooth decay, is to never let your child fall asleep with a bottle or sippy cup. Baby bottle tooth decay is caused by frequent and long exposures of a baby’s teeth to liquids that contain sugar, such as milk, formula, or juice. As your child gets older, allow a balanced diet and good nutrition to maintain healthy gums, reduce the number of soft drinks and sugary juices and establish a good oral care routine early on.

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