What About Thumb Sucking?

When we see an infant sleeping with a thumb in their mouth, it’s adorable. When we see an eight-year-old doing it, we get concerned. We expect children to grow out of the practice. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), most children stop sucking their thumbs on their own between 2 ands 4 years of age. So, what are the pros and cons of thumb sucking?

Anything Good About Thumb Sucking?

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex, and often begins within the womb. It typically induces feelings of comfort or happiness for infants, even a sense of security, which is why many children suck their thumbs when separated from their parents or in an unfamiliar environment. Children often suck their thumbs when tired because it provides a relaxing effect.

A study from the journal Pediatrics attempted to find a correlation between thumb sucking and allergic reactions. The original hypothesis was that “early-life exposure to microbial organisms reduces the risk of developing allergies.” The results of the study did not prove this hypothesis, but it showed that children who suck their thumbs developed fewer allergic reactions to things like pollen and dust mites as they got older.

Cautions About Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking can have an impact on how the teeth, jaws, and roof of the mouth develop. Vigorous and prolonged thumb sucking adds repetitive pressure on these areas, and could result in things like:

  • Overbite
  • Open bite
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Abnormal speech patterns
  • Sensitivity in the roof of the mouth

Since children typically stop sucking their thumbs by 2 to 4 years, these concerns are not common, but excessive or prolonged thumb sucking puts a child at risk for these issues.

It’s possible that an issue might be rectified as the child’s permanent teeth come in, but that won’t happen until your child gets closer to 6 years old. In the meantime, it’s important to bring them in to the Placerville Dental Group. The American Dental Association recommends that you start them on routine dental visits about 6 months after their first tooth appears, or by the time they are 1 year old.

Breaking the Thumb Sucking Habit

Most children stop the behavior on their own. Often this is due to peer pressure as they meet other children in preschool and kindergarten. If you notice your child persisting in thumb sucking, take note of their triggers. Since thumb sucking is often a soothing reflex for when they are anxious, hungry, bored or tired, identify what starts the behavior, and then address that problem. Remember to use positive reinforcement — commend them for not sucking their thumb. Be gentle with your reminders. Other effective tools are thumb shields, like bandages over the thumb or applied medications to make them distasteful.

Of course, if you have any further questions or concerns about thumb sucking, the Placerville Dental Group is happy to discuss them with you. We can do so over the phone or at your next checkup. You can also use our convenient online form to schedule an appointment for a discussion or a checkup for your child. Bring them in for a calming visit — they’ll get to know us, we’ll get to know them, and you’ll get to know more about the pros and cons of thumb sucking.

Mar 4, 2021 | Oral Health


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