Thumb Sucking And Oral Health: What Parents Need To Know

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Thumb sucking is a normal activity of young children. It is a natural instinct for many children who use this action to self-soothe. Although thumb sucking is an innocent activity, it can do some damage to the teeth of children who do not drop the habit. Here are some things you should know about oral health and thumb sucking:

How Does Thumb Sucking Impact Oral Health?

For some children, the act of sucking a thumb can cause issues with alignment. This can happen especially when children continue to suck their thumb well into childhood. As children get older, their permanent teeth begin to erupt. As this happens, the continued thumb sucking can alter the alignment of the jaw. This makes their permanent teeth not erupt with correct alignment. To repair this issue, your child will likely need braces or some form of orthodontic treatment.

Should You Discourage Thumb Sucking?

This is a decision parents will have to make based on the developmental and emotional needs of their child. If you do want to discourage thumb sucking, approach the topic in a calm, non-confrontational manner. You do not want your child to believe they are doing something wrong, as this is a natural action for many children. To start, you need to talk to your child about the habit and why they need to stop if they are old enough. You might want to get your child something to keep their hands busy as a way to self-soothe. This can be done with a stress ball, a fidget device, or a hobby that uses the hands. You can also use the rewards system in which you give your child a small reward after so many days without sucking their thumb. Over time, your child may give up thumb sucking.

Do You Need To Worry?

Although thumb sucking seems innocent enough, you need to keep an eye on the shape and alignment of your child's teeth. If the teeth begin to stick out from the front of the mouth or if you notice a change in the alignment of your child's jaw, you need to see a dentist as soon as possible. If your child begins to develop a speech problem due to the change in their teeth, this can also be a concern. If your child simply cannot give up thumb sucking and they are reaching upper elementary age, you may want to get your pediatrician involved as well. The doctor and your child's dentist may be able to provide you with methods to help your child stop sucking their thumb.