What You Really Need To Know About Thumb-Sucking?

Everyone loves to give advice to new parents. Whether it has to do with sleeping, eating or thumb sucking, every parent or grandparent or aunt has THE answer for dealing with whatever issue presents itself. 

 What you REALLY need to know about thumb sucking

For new parents who are trying to wade through the fog of exhaustion this amount of input from others, can be overwhelming and add to the burdens of parenting. While we can’t comment on how to get your newborn to realize it’s time to sleep at night, or get your toddler to eat green vegetables, we are able to help with one question we receive frequently: will prolonged sucking (whether it be on a pacifier or thumb) impact the alignment of my child’s teeth? 


Sucking is a natural self-soother that babies start to do in the womb, so it’s no surprise that many continue once they’re born. To calm any fear you may have about your child’s pacifier or thumb sucking habit we have broken down the dos and don’ts and when it is actually time to break the habit.  


Breaking the habit 


Thumb-sucking is a natural reflex for children that makes them feel secure before they have the language skills to communicate needs. Most children naturally drop the habit between the ages of two and four. 


Thumb-sucking and teeth formation become a real concern after the permanent teeth begin to come in. In addition to causing changes in the alignment of the teeth, vigorous sucking can also change the structure of the roof of the mouth. 


Interestingly, it is not the length of time a child sucks on their thumb that can cause the damage, but the intensity of the sucking that can cause problems. If you have a child who passively puts their fingers in their mouth, it’s less likely that they will develop problems than a child that aggressively sucks on a pacifier or their thumb over time. 


Dental implications 


There are several common issues that occur as a result of aggressive thumb sucking, all of which could require orthodontia to fix in the future. 


The first common problem is the anterior open bite that occurs when the front teeth don’t come together. 


Next is the posterior cross bite, meaning the front teeth overbite and the molars underbite, creating misalignment throughout the teeth. 


Finally, an anterior excessive overset can occur where there is a deep overbite where the top teeth significantly hang over the bottom teeth. Having your child visit the dentist regularly from a young age will allow a dentist to identify any of these issues and create a corrective plan before it gets too severe. 


How to break the habit 


Have you ever tried to negotiate with a toddler? They are formidable opponents that are defiant by nature and have the innate sense of knowing when their parent really needs them to do something. 


If your dentist has indicated that it’s time to break the habit of thumb-sucking, here are a few tips to ensure it’s a success: 


  • Don’t turn it into a fight: Don’t turn this into a confrontation. Toddlers have remarkable endurance! Each time they pop a finger in their mouth, verbally remind them what they are doing. Make sure the child is cognizant of what they are doing and that it isn’t a passive action. 


  • Set limits: Don’t go cold turkey. Give the child appropriate times or places where they can suck their thumb. This could be in bed or in the car, but the goal is to limit where they can do it until they lose the desire all together. 


  • It’s a phase: remember with all things parenting that this is only a phase. Don’t put too much stress on your child (or on yourself) to quit immediately. And you can rest easy, no one went to college with a pacifier! 


If you have a thumb sucker and are concerned about their teeth, give our office a call today for an exam! Dr. Marchbanks and the staff enjoy serving whole families and are dedicated to helping you break this habit!  

Also published on Medium.