Thumb-sucking is a classic trademark of babies everywhere. 2 hours after birth, about 90% of newborns have already developed a form of thumb-sucking, and some even start while they’re still in the womb. Thankfully this widespread habit is usually harmless and tends to go away on its own between the ages of 2 and 4. However, there are times when thumb-sucking can disrupt a child’s dental development and cause long-term damage to their teeth. Read on to learn what to look out for and how to stop thumb-sucking in Poway before it can influence the development of your child’s teeth.

How Does Thumb-Sucking Impact Dental Development?

If your child is passively rests their thumb in their mouth, they’re not likely to develop dental problems from it. In aggressive thumb-sucking, the constant pressure exerted can influence the development of your child’s permanent teeth, jawbone, and overall mouth structure. Aggressive thumb-sucking can cause:

  • Overbite, or other bite alignment issues
  • Misalignment of permanent teeth
  • Changes to jaw shape and roof of the mouth

When Should You Stop Your Child From Thumb-Sucking?

Studies on child development suggest that children suck their thumbs as a means of self-comfort. They might suck their thumbs if they feel stressed, upset, hungry, tired, nervous, or bored. Generally, thumb-sucking goes away on its own between ages 2-4.

However, you should encourage your child to stop if you see they frequently or aggressively suck their fingers with lots of jaw movement, or if you notice any changes in their baby teeth. If they still suck on their thumb in the daytime past the age of 4, it could be influencing how their permanent teeth will align.

How to Help Your Child Stop Sucking Their Thumb

It’s important to remember to be patient with your child when stopping their thumb-sucking habit. Anger, disappointment, or mocking are not effective tools and can cause damage to your child’s development in other ways. Here are some effective ways you can help your child stop sucking on their thumb:

  • Identify their triggers and address them. Learn what is causing the anxiety that triggers the behavior and comfort your child to resolve the issue.
  • Use positive reinforcement. Praise your child when they don’t suck their thumb or establish a chart and reward system.
  • Gently remind them to stop. If your child wants to break the habit and you see them absentmindedly sucking their thumb, remind them to stop in a calm voice.
  • See your pediatric dentist in Poway. A pediatric dentist can explain to them how they might be hurting their mouth or suggest an orthodontic device like a thumb shield to help.

While your child sucking their thumb might be cute right now, it’s certainly not worth a big dental bill later. Addressing the habit now will set your child up for proper tooth development and a happy, healthy smile as they grow.

About the Author

Dr. Sambath Tiep, affectionately referred to as Dr. Sam, practices children’s dentistry in Poway at Bright Pediatric Smiles. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California’s Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry and obtained specialized training through the Pediatric Dentistry Program at Interfaith Medical Center. She is passionate about providing quality, smile-inspiring dental care for all her patients, including infants. If you need help getting your child to stop sucking their thumb, she can be reached at her website or at (858) 943-0750.

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