Excessive Thumb Sucking Tooth Problems

Fortunately, not all thumb sucking will cause damage to the teeth and mouth. When a child passively holds their thumb in their mouth, it likely will not cause damage. Active thumb sucking, however, can damage the primary or baby teeth. While the damage often self-corrects once the permanent teeth erupt, it can create problems. When a child’s thumb sucking is persistent and vigorous, it can cause misalignment of their permanent teeth. This type of thumb sucking can also impact the jaw and the palate. Another side effect is that thumb sucking can create exposure to dirt, bacteria, and viruses.

One study found that thumb sucking children were less likely to experience an allergic reaction to certain substances later in life. Determining if or when thumb sucking is discouraged can involve various factors.

Long-term Effects

There can be many negative side effects on the teeth and mouth associated with vigorous thumb sucking. There is repetitive pressure placed on the teeth, jawbone, and roof of the mouth by the thumb and sucking. This habit can cause the following issues:

  • Overbite – front teeth protrude out from the jaw and mouth
  • Other bite issues – this can include the bottom teeth tipping inward toward the back of the mouth or an open bite, where the top and bottom teeth do not connect when the mouth is closed
  • Changes to the jawbone shape – this can also affect the alignment of the teeth and speech, including the child development a lisp
    Increased sensitivity – specifically on the roof of the mouth

When the thumb sucking ceases before the permanent teeth erupt, most of these issues will resolve themselves or will not develop at all. Children may be at increased risk for these side effects if they suck their thumb for an extended period and continue to suck their thumb vigorously.

It is recommended that children begin making regular visits to the dentist when their first tooth erupts or before their first birthday. If the child’s front teeth begin jutting out, or if the child seems to have an issue with their bite, the concerns should be discussed with a pediatric dentist.

A child’s permanent or secondary teeth typically begin erupting around the age of six. Unfortunately, their mouth can be damaged prior to this time or the issue may not self-correct. If there are concerns with the child’s habits or dental health, it is important to discuss these concerns with the dentist right away.

When children are older than four and still suck their thumb frequently throughout the day, or if there is concern about a child’s thumb sucking habits, follow up with the pediatrician or pediatric dentist. The dentist or pediatrician may suggest various treatments or strategies to aid the child in minimizing or stopping their thumb sucking. The dentist or pediatrician may also be able to put the concerns at bay and suggest allowing the child to outgrow the habit.

It is common for children to stop sucking their thumb on their own when they are around 2-4 years old. It is possible for consistent and vigorous thumb sucking beyond this age to negatively affect the shape of the child’s mouth and the alignment of the child’s permanent front teeth.

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