General Dental Informtion

The Effects of Thumb Sucking on Children’s Teeth

girl who is sucking her thumb

The bad habit of finger sucking, especially thumb sucking, in children and its impact on their teeth is something that cannot be ignored. For different reasons, children and newborns would suck their fingers. Although this bad habit has no detrimental effect on teeth by age five, after that age it would be followed by some irreparable consequences. Finger sucking is able to impose serious damages on both teeth and jaws, if it is continued until 6-7 years old. In this article, we are going to analyze the effect of finger sucking on children’s teeth.

child sucking thumb

Why Do Children Suck Their Fingers?

Finger sucking for children is reticent of sucking their mother’s breast, hence young children between the ages of 6 months and 4 years would suck their finger in order to soothe themselves on the one hand and to imagine sucking on their mother’s breast on the other hand. Most children would quit this habit by the age of 4 years, so there is no reason to be worried about them. However, if this habit would remain in a kid by the age of pre-school, it would damage both teeth and jaws seriously. In general, thumb sucking would occur in children for the following reasons

• A long gap between two breast-feeding
• Keeping the kid hungry for a long time
• Weaning the baby from their mother’s breast before the they are fully fed
• Weaning the kid before 2 years
• Psychological problems
• Living in a stressful environment either in home or in kindergarten

Consequences and Side Effects of Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking not only misaligned teeth from their natural rows, but would result in fundamental changes, shifting the growth path of jaws and transformation of both jaws. As well as affecting the teeth’s beauty, such changes would affect the function and even speech ability.

The Effect of Thumb Sucking on Teeth

Keeping thumb sucking after 5 years would result in misalignment of both upper and lower teeth. If the thumb sucking is repeated continuously for many years by a kid, the most prevalent disorder caused by children’s thumb sucking is open bite. Open bite is a condition in which when one closes his mouth his upper and lower teeth do not touch each other at the front side of teeth and there is a gap between them. Therefore, the lower row’s teeth get backwards and would cause overjet.

Diastema and malocclusion of teeth are other problems which would be caused by thumb sucking. All of the mentioned problems not only disturb the main functions of teeth, but also they influence the kid’s self-confidence.

before and after images of orthodontic treatment for open bite malformation

The Effect of Thumb Sucking on Jaws

Children’s thumb sucking not only affects their teeth negatively, but it would affect jaws and facial muscles, as well. Jaws and oral and facial muscles continue to grow until the adolescence age, so sucking fingers for a long time would disturb the growth process. Sucking fingers for a long time imposes a great pressure on both teeth and jaws and makes teeth move from their original location. Such movement in turn would affect the jaw structure and subsequently it would transform your facial form. Moreover, this pressure disturbs the balanced and proper growth of teeth and jaws and as a result people may need jaw surgery in higher ages. Temporomandibular disorders (TMD) or disorders of the jaw joints and muscles also may be developed due to sucking fingers by children in acute condition.

As well as disturbing the vital functions of the mouth, jaw disorders will considerably affect both the facial structure and beauty. In some cases, continuation of thumb sucking would result in tongue sucking, which is detrimental as thumb sucking is. If the thumb sucking is not stopped after 5 years and it continues for many years, the jaws have no more overlap, which in turn would bring about an open bite. However, if a patient tries to treat it at a young age and visits a dentist, it would be solved very easily using habit breaker and orthodontic treatments, otherwise they will need jaw surgery.

The Effect of Thumb Sucking on Speech Ability

If thumb sucking is kept active for a long time, it would negatively affect both teeth and jaws, which is followed by problems in the kid’s speech ability. In cases where a great deal of pressure is applied on teeth and an open bite occurs, it will be difficult for a kid to control their tongue, so after a while they start to talk loosely. Such children would additionally have problems in pronouncing certain vocal sounds. Here’s a few possible examples: s, sh, th, z, t, and r.

It is interesting to know that children and newborn would practice instinctively and naturally the pronunciation of different sounds from very young ages, but those newborns and children who suck their finger repeatedly will lose the chance for this practice, so they will find some weaker lip, tongue and facial muscles for talking.

How to Stop Thumb Sucking in Our Kid?

Thumb sucking is a common act which is seen in most babies and it is not necessary to be worried about it if it is quitted before five years old. However, in order to avoid becoming a bad habit and its continuation for a long time, we need to forbid our kid to do this as much as possible. There are a number of ways by which we can help our baby to quit their thumb sucking after five years old:

• Forbidding finger sucking in certain conditions; for example, we ask them to avoid sucking their finger while resting. Over time, it will make a limitation for our baby and prepare them for quitting their habit.
• Identifying conditions in which our baby is forced to suck their finger and then minimizing these conditions.
• If you find your baby stressed, hug them and do not let them to suck their finger in stressful conditions.
• Reward them for quitting thumb sucking.
• Make your baby put on gloves which hide their thumb.
• Ask help from a behaviorist.
• Use the thumb busters prescribed by a dentist or orthodontist.
• At the discretion of your dentist, you can use a habit breaker. Habit breakers are a device installed over the upper teeth and do not let your baby to suck their thumb.

habit breaker glove to prevent finger sucking

habit breaker glove to prevent finger sucking

Treatment of Effects Caused by Children’s Thumb Sucking

If thumb sucking is stopped in younger ages, it will impose less damage against your tooth and mouth and it will be treated very easily over time. However, if thumb sucking has caused dental problems and disorders such as open bite and other problems caused by thumb sucking, then you need to show your baby to an orthodontist to find the best way for treating their disorders. In most cases, orthodontics is a proper treatment for treating problems due to thumb sucking. However, it is the responsibility of an orthodontist to say something about it.

Effects of Thumb Sucking on Children’s Teeth FAQ

1-Since when should I be worried about my baby’s thumb sucking habit?

Most children quit their thumb sucking habit before five years, so the side effects and consequences caused by thumb sucking during this period of time will be removed automatically.However, in the case where it is quitted soon; but if your baby continues to suck their thumb even after five years old, you need to visit an orthodontist and a behaviorist.

2-How long does it take to treat problems caused by thumb sucking?

Treatment duration will vary on several factors including age of baby, type of disorder, intensity of disorders caused in teeth and jaws, facial soft tissue status, slope of jaws, etc. In most cases of patients, it varies from 2 to 4 years.

3-How much does an orthodontic treatment cost for treating problems caused by children thumb sucking?

The cost of orthodontic treatment varies based on type of used instruments, intensity of problem, patient’s age, time of visiting an orthodontist, so setting a fixed price for it is impossible. Firstly, an orthodontist needs to examine your baby in order to determine their treatment given their problems and age and finally the cost of the treatment will be set. To fix a consultation appointment with Dr. Jamilian Clinic, you can call us.

4-Can we use pacifiers to prevent our children from sucking their thumb?

A great and world famous product is pacifiers. They’re a product that recreates a sucking feel to sooth children & babies. It is a proper-alternative for fingers , only if your baby does not get accustomed to them. This is due sucking pacifiers will be followed exactly with the same side effects as your kid would suck their thumb. It is suggested to use orthodontic pacifiers for this purpose and for a limited time.

Dr Abdolreza Jamilian Orthodontist

About Dr Abdolreza Jamilian Orthodontist

Dr. Jamilian, an orthodontist, has a specialized fellowship in orthodontic surgery and maxillofacial abnormalities and is a professor in the orthodontics department of the Dentistry School of the Islamic Azad University. He is member of Iranian and European Board of Orthodontics (EBO) and is a member of the Iranian, American and European Orthodontists Association.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *