Thumb Sucking And Tooth Development.

Thumb sucking is the bane of parents around the world. Ultrasound images of infants in the womb show some of them avidly thumb-sucking even before they are born. Many children drop the habit naturally as they begin to engage with the world, but other children continue to suck their thumbs well into childhood. Unfortunately, this habit can cause deformity of the mouth tissue and problems with alignment of the teeth as they erupt. Orthodontics can help to improve many of these problems.

Why Does Thumb Sucking Occur?

Sucking is a instinct in infants that allows them to ingest nutrition that keeps them alive. It is also a calming mechanism that allows infants to comfort themselves when they are hungry, tired or stressed. This natural instinct is only bad when it continues well into early childhood, when the tissue of the mouth and teeth develop rapidly. Then, the constant pressure of thumb-sucking can cause distortions in shape and alignment.

How Common Is Thumb Sucking?

As much as 95 percent of babies suck their thumb to comfort themselves when hungry, tired or under stress. By the age of two or three, only 10 percent of these children continue the habit. By the age of four or five, only 5 percent will continue to suck their thumbs. A small percentage even continue thumb-sucking as adults during times of stress.

Thumb Sucking And Tooth Development.Effects on the Mouth

Years of thumb-sucking behavior can cause misalignment of the jaw, narrowing of the roof of the mouth, tooth decay, mouth sores and slanting teeth. The damage to mouth and tooth structures are often impossible to detect with the naked eye, but can be seen on x-rays and other diagnostic tests.

Breaking the Habit

The thumb-sucking habit is often a difficult one to break. Years of finding comfort with this habit may make it uncomfortable for the child to do without. Discussion with a dental health professional who has the knowledge and authority on the subject can often be helpful in getting the child’s cooperation in breaking the habit. The American Dental Academy has approved a number of appliances that can help children to break their thumb-sucking habit. In addition, instituting a reward system with token, points or other items toward a desired toy or play activity can help to motivate children to reduce, and even eliminate, their thumb-sucking habit. Covering the hands with mittens or soft cloths during the night can help deter unconscious thumb sucking.

Correcting Thumb Sucking Effects

Many malocclusions of the teeth can spontaneously correct when the child stops thumb-sucking. However, if the damage has already done, it may require wearing an orthodontic device to help re-mold the mouth tissues. Sometimes, surgery is required to correct the damage from long years of thumb-sucking. Orthodontics may also be necessary for a number of years to correct the misalignment of teeth caused by long-term thumb-sucking.

Educating Parents About Thumb Sucking

Orthodontists can use social media and other new technologies to educate parents about the dangers of prolonged thumb-sucking and what they can do to help their child break the habit. If required, they can meet with young children for a preliminary exam and a conversation about how thumb-sucking can damage teeth.


As a child psychologist, Emilie Rashman knows how thumb-sucking can be comforting to a child, but can also have a large impact on the growth of their teeth. She trusts experts like those at Brantford North Dental to help spread awareness of breaking this bad habit early before they require orthodontic treatments. They offer a variety of general dentistry, cosmetic dentistry and orthodontic procedures from the best Dentist Brantford has to offer. Visit their website to learn more.

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