Do You Really Need to Stop Your Child from Sucking Their Thumb?

Posted on: 20 March 2015

Sucking on their mother's breast or the teat of a bottle is comforting, provides nourishment and allows for bonding between baby and parent. It's no wonder that the desire to suck is strong in a baby. This is why they will suck your finger, and their thumb, a habit which can start as early as week 29 in the pregnancy. As thumb sucking can give a child comfort as they grow, do you really need to wean them off the habit?

The Damage Caused

The amount of damage thumb sucking can do depends on the individual child and their thumb sucking preferences. Simply holding their thumb in their mouth will do less damage than strong sucking, just as sucking their thumb every now and then will do less damage than a child who sucks their thumb all day long.

The damage caused by thumb sucking includes:

  • Movement of the front of the jaw. As the mouth grows, the top of the mouth may develop abnormally in order to create space for the thumb.
  • Just as the jaw effectively grows around the thumb, so will the teeth. The front teeth will often be pushed outwards to create an overbite.
  • As the teeth are pushed out, gaps can appear between the teeth. This movement in the baby teeth will mean that the adult teeth, coming up behind them, will copy their growth. The baby teeth are place holders for adult teeth, so if they grow out of place, the adult teeth will to.
  • If the adult teeth grow awkwardly due to the baby teeth being pushed out of place by thumb sucking, the larger adult teeth may not have enough room which can result in tooth impaction and invasion procedures to remove the offending teeth.
  • The abnormal growth of the roof of the mouth may cause speech impediments, such as a lisp, and in severe cases can affect chewing and swallowing.

How to Wean Them off Their Thumb

Ultimately, it's your choice whether you wean your child off their thumb. Some children naturally grow out of the habit whereas others continue into adulthood.

If your child takes great comfort from their thumb sucking and it is not causing speech problems, you may not feel the need to make them stop. Although you need to understand that the habit will affect their smile which may affect their confidence when they reach puberty.

If the damage has already been done by the time you and your child decide the habit needs to stop, then an orthodontist will be able to correct teeth alignment problems during the child's teens.

If you're concerned about the damage your child's thumb sucking is doing to their mouth and teeth, speak to your dentist (like those at Jeffcott Dental Clinic).


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