Thumb Sucking and Your Child’s Teeth


Dangers of Thumb Sucking.

Orthodontic Care in Buckhead, Atlanta

At Elite Smiles Chastain, we're proud to provide comprehensive pediatric dental treatment for children throughout Buckhead and the greater Atlanta, GA area. We take a long-term approach to dental health, designing comprehensive treatment plans that focus on prevention to help your child develop a healthy smile in the long-term. While most of our treatments focus on dental health and hygiene, there are some cases where we need to correct bad habits to ensure proper dental health: and one of those habits is prolonged thumb sucking.

Is Thumb Sucking Dangerous?

Now, we know what you're thinking: thumb sucking is a bad habit? Don't all kids suck their thumbs? And you're right: the sucking response is an innate reflex, and infants everywhere comfort themselves by sucking on a thumb or finger. And during infancy, there's nothing wrong with it.

However, if the thumb sucking habit continues too long – usually past the age of 3 or 4 – it can cause problems in dental development. Over time, the habit of sucking on the thumb places pressure on the upper and lower front teeth, causing them to tilt forward at an angle. This changes the alignment of the teeth and creates a condition called an "open bite," where the upper and lower front teeth don't come together when the mouth is closed, leaving a gap in the smile. Open bite is a serious malocclusion that can impair both speech and bite function, and if it isn’t prevented early, it can require extensive orthodontic treatment later in life.

How to Stop Thumb Sucking

Most children stop sucking their thumb on their own sometime between ages 2 and 4. However, sometimes, kids need a little help. If you notice your child still regularly sucks on a thumb or finger past age 3, here are some tips for helping them break the habit:

  • Use Positive Reinforcement: When trying to stop thumb sucking, it's important to rely on positive reinforcements like praise and reward instead of negative reinforcements like scolding. This is because negative reinforcement can increase anxiety and discomfort, causing your child to want to suck their thumb even more.
  • Identify the Triggers: Most kids have distinct triggers that cause them to engage in thumb sucking. These triggers are usually stressors that cause feelings of anxiety, or they may start from simple boredom. One effective technique is to identify your child's triggers, then provide a preemptive alternative to thumb sucking like a hug or an activity to keep their hands busy. Over time, they'll lose the urge to suck their thumb when they encounter the trigger.
  • Use Creativity: Finally, a little creativity goes a long way whenever trying to change a child's behavior. You know your child best: whether it's through specific rewards, "monster spray" to ease anxiety about childhood fears, or any other method, don't be afraid to try something that will speak specifically to your child.

Thumb Sucking Treatment

Finally, if all else fails, your Buckhead pediatric dentist can use certain pediatric orthodontic treatments to easily, painlessly stop the thumb sucking habit. We can use an orthodontic appliance called a tongue crib to physically prevent thumb sucking without causing pain or discomfort, making it easy for any child to give up thumb sucking, tear-free. Plus, we can provide more strategies for easing the transition and helping your child move beyond the habit of thumb sucking.

Schedule a Consultation with Your Buckhead Orthodontist

While thumb sucking is perfectly normal early in life, it's important for all children to give it up once they reach a certain age. If you have more questions about thumb sucking or how we can help your child break the habit, don't hesitate to reach out to us at our contact page or request a consultation online. We can't wait to hear from you, and we look forward to helping your child develop a beautiful, healthy smile!

Related Articles

Thumb Sucking - Dear Doctor Magazine

How Thumb Sucking Affects The Bite Thumb sucking can actually block the front teeth from erupting fully and can also push the teeth forward — sometimes more on the side where the thumb rested. How far out of position the teeth end up will depend on the number of hours per day the thumb was in the child's mouth and how much pressure was applied. When the pressure exerted by the thumb in the mouth is particularly strong and occurs over a long period of time, the forces can potentially influence growth of the jaws... Read Article

Thumb Sucking - Dear Doctor Magazine

Thumb Sucking in Children Sucking fingers or thumbs is completely normal for babies and young children. In fact, babies actually begin to suck on their fingers or thumbs even before they are born. Yet it's a habit that bears watching because it can influence the development of your child's teeth and jaws if it goes on too long... Read Article

Dentistry and Oral Health for Children - Dear Doctor Magazine

Dentistry and Oral Health for Children Dear Doctor magazine brings you this wide-ranging overview of milestones and transitions in your child's dental development. Learn how to protect your children from tooth decay, dental injuries, and unhealthy habits while getting them started on the road to a lifetime of oral health and general well-being... Read Article

Elite Smiles Chastain

91 W. Wieuca Rd., Suite 300 • Atlanta, GA 30342Orthodontics: 404.303.7400 • Pediatric Dentistry: 404.252.5900

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