Soon to be parents can all relate to the excitement that you experience when you see your little one during your ultrasound appointment, a lucky few get to see their peanut suck their thumb for the first time. About 90% of babies will show some form of hand sucking within 2 hours of birth. But should you worry if your child is thumb sucking? Most children will stop thumb sucking by age 2 to 4 but might be of concern if it goes beyond 6 to 8 years of age.

Risks of Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking can create problems with the proper alignment of teeth, causing an overbite to occur. The upper and lower teeth may also begin to slant outward. This is known as an anterior open bite. The lower incisor teeth may begin to tip toward the tongue. During vigorous thumb sucking, the cheek muscles flex. This may work to alter jaw shape and cause crossbite (another type of tooth misalignment). Thumb sucking can cause the roof of the mouth to indent and become concave. The roof of the mouth may also become more sensitive to touch and sensation.

Without vigilant hand washing, thumb sucking may introduce dirt and bacteria into the mouth, potentially causing an infection in a tooth or in the gums. Vigorous or long-term thumb sucking can change the shape of the thumb, making it thinner or elongated. Speech problems could also occur.

How to Break the Thumb Sucking Habit

If it is time to have your child to break the habit, the American Dental Association recommends:

  • Praise children for not sucking, instead of scolding them when they do.
  • If a child is sucking their thumb when feeling insecure or needing comfort, focus instead on correcting the cause of the anxiety and provide comfort to your child.
  • If a child is sucking on their thumb because of boredom, try getting the child’s attention with a fun activity.
  • Involve older children in the selection of a means to cease thumb sucking.
  • The pediatric dentist can offer encouragement to the child and explain what could happen to the child’s teeth if he/she does not stop sucking.
  • Only if these tips are ineffective, remind the child of the habit by bandaging the thumb or putting a sock/glove on the hand at night.