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The Consequences of Thumb Sucking

Adorable little boy sucking thumb

Thumb sucking is not only a common habit among babies, but it’s also a normal one.

Babies suck on their fingers to calm themselves. Sucking is so instinctive that babies can actually develop this habit while they’re still in the womb.

Thumb sucking continues to help children soothe and calm themselves in anxious situations for the next few years of their life.

But this natural habit can become a damaging one if it’s not checked in time.

How Thumb Sucking Affects the Smile

Sucking on a thumb or finger doesn’t usually cause problems to growing mouths. But some children use a lot of force and suck aggressively. This creates a strong vacuum in the mouth and puts a lot of pressure on the palate.

The palate can expand and morph at the site where the thumb presses against it. Eventually, the incoming adult teeth will start to jut out into an open bite.

The Serious Consequences of Thumb Sucking

An open bite is probably the most serious result of aggressive thumb sucking.

When teeth don’t fit together because of an open bite, this can lead to:

● Speaking difficulties ● Chewing difficulties ● Mouth breathing (leads to dry mouth and other problems) ● Needing braces ● Low self-confidence ● Dental issues later in life since tooth alignment affects dental health

Thumb sucking problems don’t stop with the teeth, however.

The thumb or finger your child prefers to suck on can also suffer some ill-effects. Chapped, dry, painful skin is one common issue. At worst, the fingernail can become warped and damaged and even develop an infection.

Lastly, there is the risk of exposure to germs, in general.

Small children are curious, often picking up interesting (and sometimes dirty) objects they find on the ground. Kids are also not as careful about avoiding disease the way adults are. Your child can pick up a serious illness because of habitually putting his or her hand in their mouth without washing it first.

Should You Stop Your Child From Thumb Sucking?

Thumb sucking is natural for babies and should not be discouraged. It’s healthy for a baby to self-soothe and your child may become very fussy if you try to stop him or her from sucking on their finger.

Additionally, a little microbe-exposure via a natural habit like thumb sucking is generally not harmful for babies. Some studies even suggest that such exposure to microbes is beneficial for the developing immune system.

Most toddlers naturally outgrow their thumb sucking habit. As children grow, they learn more appropriate ways to deal with their emotions and calm themselves down.

Older children should be emotionally and mentally developed enough to cope with anxiety rather than escaping it by sucking on their thumb. The trouble starts when a child sucks his or her thumb long into the years when adult teeth start coming in.

For this reason, the American Dental Association recommends that you start discouraging your child from thumb sucking when they are four years old, if they haven’t stopped already.

How to Stop a Thumb Sucking Habit

Avoid scolding your child for sucking their thumb. This may only create more anxiety which prompts them to suck even more.

Rather, seek to praise your child for not sucking their thumb, especially during times when they are prone to do so, such as at bedtime or when they’re scared.

If you notice your child is suffering from some anxiety or discomfort, try to address the root cause. Help your son or daughter feel comfortable around you and learn that they can come to you to express their feelings rather than seek solace in thumb sucking.

Set up a reward system so that your child has an incentive to leave their thumb alone. Give your child a sticker for a whole day of no sucking or take them on a special outing if they’ve avoided thumb sucking all week.

Children's Dentist in Tacoma to Treat Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking can have some serious consequences. But it’s a natural habit and one that often resolves itself before you can even start to worry.

If you’re concerned about your child’s thumb sucking habit and need some tailored advice, then it’s time to see a Tacoma family dentist. Make an appointment at Duke N. Bui, DDS, PS for a consultation for you and your child to learn more about how to quit thumb sucking.

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