How Thumb Sucking Can Affect Your Child’s Teeth

Our Dental Blog | Info & tips | 11.13.2019

Thumb sucking – the cutest darn thing when watching your infant fall asleep.

But, what if your kid is 9 years old? When should kids stop sucking their thumb? What are the issues associated with prolonged thumb sucking? Should we be worried about our child’s thumb-sucking habits?

We, at Treehouse, have been asked these questions time and time again. For most parents, waiting for their kids to stop sucking their thumbs requires little involvement. But, this isn’t always the case!

So, for those of you with an avid sucker at home, here are our experiences and knowledge surrounding thumb sucking and weening.

Why Do Children Suck Their Thumb?

Infants have a natural reflex for sucking. In fact, babies begin to nuzzle on their fingers and thumbs before they even leave the womb.

Most unborn children gain their sucking reflex around the 32nd week of pregnancy. This is why we often see premature infants struggling with feeding, as their muscle memory has yet to develop.

To put it in its layman terms – thumb sucking starts in the womb as practice for eating. It’s a completely natural reflex to assist in sustaining our survival as a species.

As your child ages, thumb sucking eventually forms into a habit that provides comfort and relaxation.

Simply – thumb sucking is addictive.

When Do Kids Usually Stop Sucking Their Thumb?

Every child is different, so there is no need to worry if thumb sucking persists outside of the normal ages. With that being said, most children will stop sucking their thumbs between 6 months to 4 years.

Many children can also “relapse” to their thumb-sucking ways during times of stress or anxiety. Thumb sucking is comforting to young children, so it is best for parents to not punish their toddlers, as it will lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms and hiding their behaviours.

In fact, by the time children normally ween themselves, thumb sucking has been so engrained as a natural habit, your toddler might not even have been conscious of their decisions!

Long-term Effects of Thumb Sucking

Before we mention tactics for dealing with harmful thumb-sucking habits, we should mention complications that can develop if left for too long.

While it is normal for children to suck their thumbs, kids should be encouraged to curb their habits when adult teeth start presenting themselves.

Open-bite, prominent or buckteeth, constricted maxillary growth, lack of overlap between the upper and lower front teeth, and delayed full-eruption of the front teeth are all complications that can arise from prolonged thumb sucking.

Tongue thrusting (reverse or immature swallowing) and soft-palate deformations are also possible in extreme cases.

If interference is made early enough, many of these dental issues will correct themselves. However, in severe cases, pediatric dentists or orthodontists will be required to correct deformations of the jaw and restore teeth.

Can A Dentist Help My Child Quit Thumb-Sucking?

Plenty of psychologists and dentists feud about exactly when children should be weened, and emotional readiness or matureness is often the characteristic in question. While parents might feel like their offspring is getting too old for thumb sucking, some kids just might not be ready to quit.

And that’s okay!

Parents should only worry if thumb sucking is aggressive and frequent. It is these variables that can alter and possibly disrupt oral development in a child.

Pay close attention to your child’s habits when it comes to thumb sucking.

Is it a passing reflex they perform when bored or anxious? Try introducing activities that keep your child’s hands busy, such as drawing or playing with Lego.

Do your children only suck their thumbs at night? It may be a comfort factor that can be replaced with a stuffed animal or other alternatives.

Nonetheless, when worse comes to worst, bring your child to the dentist.

Often, as mentioned in our fussy brushers blog post, children will dismiss parents cautionary advise in favour of blazing their own trails.

Having a professional educate your child will enforce the importance of a healthy smile and how thumb sucking can be a detriment. Pediatric dentists have dealt with these issues for years and often know exactly what to say to influence positive habits.

If it is still relatively early in your kid’s life, try not to stress about who can help.

After all, your thumb sucking Avenger might just be your child’s best friend.

Really!!!

A majority of long-term thumb suckers will stop due to peer pressure. Advice from a friend holds a lot of value at these ages, and let’s face it – plenty of kids are blunt. However, don’t take this as a means to embarrass your child. You’re going to have to let that happen on its own.

Peer pressure isn’t the best plan. BUT, it is certainly one that yields results.

Already Too Late?

If your child is showing signs of teeth or jaw malformation caused by excessive thumb-sucking, don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance!

Treehouse Dental Care is here to help encourage your child to overcome troublesome thumb-sucking habits and replace them with healthier alternatives.

Your child’s oral health will thank you in the long run!

 

 

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