Thumb Sucking and Your Kid’s Teeth

Posted on: February 16, 2019

Thumb sucking is a perfectly normal habit that infants develop around the time they start breast or bottle feeding. Over time, this habit can evolve and continue well past the bottle feeding age, impacting their oral health in the long term.

Why do children do it?

Children often suck their thumbs as a form of self-comfort. It is an entirely normal and expected piece of behavior from a child as it is their way of self-soothing. Your child should stop this habit by the age of four. Your child may also develop a habit of sucking on pacifiers and other objects, especially when they begin teething for the first time.

Long-term effects on the teeth

Long-term negative effects of thumb sucking occur when the permanent teeth have come in and the child has not stopped sucking their thumb. Though thumb sucking can impact baby teeth, it is the effects on the permanent (adult) teeth that are most concerning for their dental health. Thumb sucking habits can severely affect the growth and alignment of a child's teeth. The roof of the mouth, if the child sucks aggressively enough, can also be negatively affected. These result in bite issues, changes in speech, such as a lisp, and mouth sensitivity.

Ways to discourage thumb sucking

  • Encouraging the use of a pacifier because it will be easier to decrease the use of it over a extended period of time
  • Comfort your child or figure out why they need soothing instead of letting them rely on thumb sucking
  • Reward your child for not sucking their thumbs. For an older child, involving them in a reward system to deter thumb-sucking will assist in stopping the act of it
  • Putting some sort of cover over the appendage, like a bandage or sock
  • Visiting the dentist is also a good option in order to educate your child on why they should stop thumb sucking

Treatment needed if it continues

If your child does not stop their thumb sucking habits, then treatment and interventions may be required. Your dentist could recommend a bitter medication to apply to the thumb in order to deter the habit. If the teeth alignment has shifted enough, a referral to an orthodontist for braces or even a dental appliance for the roof of the mouth may be required. This can be quite costly. If left untreated for longer, it can impact your child’s lifestyle and eating habits.


It is important first to discover why your child may be continuing their thumb sucking habit, then decide on the next step. If they have not stopped by their preschool years, your dentist can be a useful resource for both education and treatment options if you are unable to cease the child’s habit on your own. In order to prevent long term effects of thumb sucking, the sooner steps are taken to stop this habit the better it is for your child’s dental health.

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