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Thumbsucking and Its Effects on Your Child’s Teeth

Thumbsucking in infants is a normal reflex. Babies obtain nourishment through sucking, and this reflex relaxes and comforts infants. Sucking on thumbs, fingers or pacifiers helps babies learn about their world and causes feelings of security.

Toddlers and young children suck on their thumbs to soothe themselves as well as to help themselves fall asleep. If the sucking continues for a prolonged time or is especially vigorous, then the thumbsucking could interfere with normal dental development. If your child does this, be sure to make an appointment with a pediatric dentist.

When Will My Child Stop Thumbsucking?

Children usually stop sucking between the ages of two and four years, or by the time their permanent front teeth are about to break through the gums. Some children, though, continue sucking beyond the age of four.

Can Thumbsucking Affect My Child's Teeth?

Sucking thumbs, fingers or pacifiers after the permanent teeth come in could interfere with normal development. Your child's thumbsucking could create problems with teeth alignment, affect the proper growth and shape of the mouth, and cause changes to the roof of the mouth.

The dental effect of thumbsucking depends in part on the intensity of your child's sucking. Aggressive thumbsuckers, or children who vigorously suck their thumbs, are more likely to experience difficulty with mouth and teeth development than children who just rest their thumbs in their mouths passively. Aggressive thumbsuckers also are more likely to develop problems with their primary, or baby, teeth.

What Can I Do to Help My Child Stop Thumbsucking?

  • Compliment and praise your child for not sucking.
  • If your child sucks when needing comfort or feeling insecure, then focus on providing your child comfort or eliminating the source of anxiety.Involve older children in choosing a method to stop the thumbsucking.
  • Ask your dentist to explain to your child what continued sucking could do to their teeth.
  • Bandage the thumb or put a sock on the hand at night.
  • Ask your dentist about prescribing a bitter medication to coat your child's thumb.

Consult your child's dentist if you notice any changes in your child’s primary teeth, have concerns that your child's thumbsucking could cause dental problems or need advice on how to wean your child from the habit.

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