Will thumb sucking or dummy use damage my child’s teeth?

Many children suck their thumb and it is a natural reflex. Some babies will be sucking their thumb in the womb before they are even born! Sucking a thumb, finger or dummy can be soothing for your child and make them feel secure, comforted and help them fall asleep. But it can cause problems with their baby and adult teeth in the future.

What effect does thumb sucking have on the teeth?

Thumb sucking can affect the growth of the mouth, especially the roof of the mouth. How much this is affected relates to the intensity of the sucking. If your baby or toddler just rests their thumb in their mouth, they are less likely to have problems compared to a child who sucks their thumb intensely. Intense sucking can cause the roof of the mouth (the palate) to become narrow. This in turn affects the bite of the back teeth, constricting the upper back teeth so they sit inside the lower teeth. This is called a crossbite.

A sucking habit can also cause changes in the tooth positions and bite because there is something between your child’s front teeth for an extended period of time (whether it is a thumb, finger or dummy). The upper front teeth will tend to flare forwards and the upper and lower teeth may not meet together when your child bites down (an open bite).

When should my child stop sucking their thumb?

Most children will naturally stop sucking their thumb or dummy around the ages of 2 to 4 years old. This is ideal, as it is well before the adult teeth have started to erupt and it is less likely that any negative dental changes will become permanent. If your child’s habit persists past the age of 5 or 6 years old, it may be time to have a consultation with your orthodontist as it is important to stop the habit as soon as possible.

How do I get my child to stop?

There are several tactics to try and their success is dependent on how dedicated a sucker your child is, and if there are any underlying reasons for their habit.

  • The arrival of a younger sibling can be an excellent time to help stop a sucking habit. Perhaps the “dummy fairy” will come to take their dummy away because it is needed for the new baby. Their new grown up role as an older brother or sister can be emphasised and you may want talk with them about how babies suck their thumbs and need dummies, but big kids don’t.
  • Try to look for any underlying reasons for their need to self-soothe with their thumb/dummy. Can you teach them another way to calm themselves? This approach is much easier when your child is older and verbal.
  • Praise your child when they don’t suck their thumb and consider the use of a star or reward chart. This can work particularly well in older pre-school children, especially if there is a special toy they are wanting you to buy.

If the above suggestions are not working you may have a dedicated sucker on your hands! From here you can move on to the following strategies:

  • Cover the thumb with something like a band aid, or a sock on their hand at night. This can act as a reminder to keep their thumb out of their mouth.
  • Bitter tasting nail polishes do not work particularly well in my opinion. Children seem to just put up with the bitter taste briefly and it is quickly sucked off.

My child has started school and are they still sucking their thumb – help!

If your child is at primary school and still sucking their thumb with no sign of stopping it is time to see an orthodontist. Many children want to give up the habit but just can’t seem to stop on their own. Here is where we come in to offer a little help. An orthodontic appliance can be fitted to the upper teeth to provide a barrier between the thumb and roof of the mouth. Your child sucks their thumb because it feels good. When there is an appliance in the way, that nice feeling is gone, and the habit usually ceases rapidly.

There are 2 appliances commonly used to assist your child with stopping their habit. If your child has a narrow palate, an expander is often used to expand the upper jaw to its correct width. If there are no concerns with the width of the upper jaw, a simpler thumb crib can be used. Both appliances are glued temporarily to the teeth and are not particularly visible or obtrusive for your child to wear.

Now for the good news

Any orthodontic appliances are left in for a minimum of 6 months to ensure the habit is completely broken. Research shows that up to 80% of open bites resolve on their own once the habit has stopped.

The take home message is that the earlier the habit is stopped, the less chance there is of damage to your child’s teeth and bite. And if there have been negative dental changes, they will usually resolve once the habit is stopped.

If you think your child would benefit from an orthodontic consultation, or you are interested in treatment for yourself, please don’t hesitate to contact us online here or by phone on 9687 8243 to schedule a consultation with our specialist orthodontist.

Recent Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search