Is thumb sucking bad for my child’s teeth?

Why do some children suck their thumbs? What problems can arise? And how can you help your child break their thumb sucking habit? For all the ins and outs on thumb sucking read our article and see if thumb sucking could be a problem that needs resolving in your family.

Thumb sucking is a baby’s first instinct and starts in the womb. Thumb sucking is a natural reflex in babies like other natural reflexes such as the rooting reflex which helps baby find the breast or bottle or the grasp reflex that makes a baby hold your finger when you stroke their hand. An estimated 75% of babies and toddlers have been thumb suckers according to

Thumb sucking can decrease when a baby starts eating solid food and according to the Australian Dental Association most children lose interest in thumb sucking around 2 to 4 years of age. However, for children who continue to suck their thumb or fingers after their permanent teeth have appeared they risk developing crooked (“bucky”) teeth and/or speech problems.

The intensity and regularity of the thumb sucking habit will also determine the extent of the resulting concerns. Malocclusion (teeth positioned out of expected alignment) can occur as a result of a thumb sucking habit and usually results in the teeth being pushed forward and out of position. This can result in something called an overbite, with the shape of the child’s jaw being altered from a U to more of a V shape. Some children may also experience difficulties with the growth of their palate or the roof of their mouth with severe thumb sucking habits which can lead to problems with chewing, swallowing and talking. Speech problems in the form a of a lisp, or problems with the ‘s’ and ‘th’ sounds can occur as a result. It is for these reasons that it is important to try and break or reduce any thumb sucking habit if possible before your child’s permanent teeth start appearing in around the age of 6 or 7.

When should I consult my dentist about thumb sucking?

If your child cannot stop thumb sucking by the end of their first year of school or if you notice changes in your child’s primary teeth or are concerned about your child’s thumb sucking it’s best to consult your dentist. Book an appointment with one of our child friendly dentists at a location near you.

What can I do to stop my child sucking their thumb?

If you have a more determined thumb sucker who is having trouble stopping, ask yourself about the reason behind the thumb sucking. Is the thumb sucking more of a habit or is it a behaviour that makes your child feel safe and secure? Does the thumb sucking only happen at night to self soothe to sleep or does it happen during the day or at times of uncertainty or even boredom? Try to look at the reason behind the thumb sucking to help find a solution to changing the habit that works for your child.

Some tips to stop thumb sucking include:

  • Praising your child for not sucking their thumb or rewards such as star charts
  • Encouraging bonding with a special toy
  • If your child sucks their thumb when feeling insecure or needing comfort, focus on the anxiety and provide comfort to your child.
  • Offering distractions for example in the car have toys to play with to keep them busy or offer an unsweetened healthy snack instead.

If you would like help with your child’s thumb sucking then book an appointment online or call your local Pacific Smiles Dental Centre today.

Book an appointment with your dentist

Book your dental appointment

Related articles