How Thumb Sucking Can Harm Your Child’s Oral Health

Thumb sucking

Thumb sucking brings comfort to many babies and toddlers. Unfortunately, it can become habitual and harmful to their oral health development if they continue it beyond the toddler years. If you have concerns about your child’s thumb-sucking habit, here’s what you need to know.

Thumb Sucking is a Normal Part of Childhood

Babies often use thumb sucking at bedtime to fall asleep or feel insecure. This is acceptable until their teeth begin to erupt, and by this time, most babies have learned how to self-soothe.

However, although most children stop sucking their thumbs between one and four years old, it isn’t uncommon for elementary school-age children to continue the habit. If their thumb sucking stops by age seven, your child’s teeth can often correct themselves.

Whether or not your child is a thumb sucker, your child’s Hinsdale pediatric dentist monitors their oral health for signs of irregular tooth and jaw development as part of their semi-annual dental checkup.

Dental Health Issues Related to Thumb Sucking

Persistent thumb sucking beyond the infant years can cause changes in the roof of the mouth (palate) and the jaw. This can affect how teeth erupt through the gums and tooth alignment.

Narrowing of the palate and jaw can affect your child’s face as they grow. Many thumb-suckers develop bite issues, such as a posterior crossbite or an anterior open bite, making it difficult to chew or speak correctly.

Chronic thumb sucking can result in speech issues, such as a lisp or problems sounding out L, S, R, and Z. This occurs when their tongue pushes through the teeth creating an open or overbite.

How to Correct Dental Issues From Thumb Sucking

Side effects from prolonged thumb sucking may require orthodontic treatment or jaw surgery in severe cases.

Their dentist may recommend an orthodontic evaluation at around age seven. During the assessment, their dentist looks at crowding and spacing issues that may impact their eating habits, speech, and confidence now and in the future.

Some children are fitted with a palate expander to widen the upper jaw. This ensures the jaw grows sufficiently to support its permanent teeth.

Their dentist addresses bite misalignment with orthodontic treatment once your child’s permanent teeth have grown in. Braces are placed on the upper and lower teeth to gradually move them into the correct position, straightening their smile and boosting their oral health and confidence.

If their thumb-sucking habit has significantly altered your child’s facial structure, they may need to wear headgear in addition to their braces. The headgear provides a stronger anchor point than standard metal brackets, providing the extra force required to correct severe structural issues.

Schedule Your Child’s Pediatric Dental Appointment

Our dentists are your partners in your child’s oral health. We can provide advice on weaning your child off thumb sucking, monitor their oral development as they grow, diagnose and correct dental issues or refer them to a specialist if necessary.

A healthy smile is one of the best gifts you can bestow upon your child. Contact us today at (630) 323-5200 or email our team at [email protected] to schedule an appointment and give your child a lifetime of healthy smiles.

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