The Effects Thumb Sucking can have on your Child’s Need for future Dental Work

thumb suckMost children suck their fingers at some stage. In fact, it’s the norm for 0-5 year old children, with research showing that the habit affects around 80-90% of children in this age group. There’s nothing unusual about it and humans aren’t the only mammals who suck their thumbs; Lemurs and chimpanzees do too. It’s a self-soothing reflex which develops the sucking ability necessary for breastfeeding. Nevertheless, if thumb sucking continues beyond the age of around six or seven it can have severe consequences for a child’s dental health.

Effects of thumb sucking

Thumb sucking rarely continues past the age of 5 years old. As long as your child stops thumb sucking before the onset of permanent teeth the majority of dentists will tell you that there will be no permanent damage to teeth. However, some children do continue to suck their thumbs past this age and even carry the habit into adulthood. When this happens, it can affect the shape of the oral cavity and the position of the teeth.

Young children have very soft and flexible jaw bones, relative to adults, so fingers or thumbs can reshape them over time. The most common problems include flared or protruded upper teeth and a delay in the eruption of upper and lower teeth, both of which can produce unsightly gaps. As a result, children who cannot break the thumb sucking habit develop problems with speech and chewing, which can lead to psychological problems as well.

How to combat thumb sucking

Thumb sucking can lead to lots of expensive dentistry if it begins to harm the normal growth of teeth. So if you’re worried about your child’s habit, you should first seek expert advice from someone familiar with the problem: A dentist at a reputable dental practice like Livingston Smile Design. They might recommend a “crib” – a type of brace which is placed on the upper teeth and sits on the roof of the mouth. By preventing thumbs and fingers from touching the gums behind the teeth and the roof of the mouth, a “crib” takes away the gratification of thumb sucking and is a safe and harmless way of breaking the habit.

There are plenty of other home remedies for the problem. One of the most common is to apply a bitter substance to the affected fingers, though this is not encouraged by the American Dental Association. Preventative measures usually revolve around taking away the pleasure of the activity – placing gloves on the child’s hands, or even bandages – but other methods involve a more therapeutic approach. Ask your child why they still suck their thumb and make sure they know the consequences it can have on their teeth. If your child begins sucking when they feel nervous, try to find the root of any anxiety. If your child does it out of boredom, then find ways to distract their attention with games or other activities.

So if you want your child to grow up with a smile as dazzling as New Jersey politician Cory Brooker’s, then keep an eye on their thumb sucking.


–photo credit: deb sch


Jesica H

When she isn’t drowning in a pile of never-ending laundry or picking up Legos, Jesica is busy helping other parents make their lives a little less stressful with homemaking hacks, easy recipes, fun DIY projects, and more. On her successful blog, The Mommy Bunch, her Cricut crafting tutorials are the most popular articles and are what sparked her passion for helping others build a business of their own. Jesica started where you can find loads more craft tutorials and business advice. In her FREE Facebook group, Rock Your Craft Business, Jesica teaches other entrepreneurs how to take their craft business to the next level by building their brand, targeting the right customers, and utilizing smart social media strategies. Join us!

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4 thoughts on “The Effects Thumb Sucking can have on your Child’s Need for future Dental Work

  • August 31, 2013 at 12:16 pm
    Check out Thumbuddy To Love...a fun way to help children stop thumb sucking in a positive way. Also helps finger suckers and they even make a product to help let fo of pacifier sucking. Google Thumbuddy To Love... Reply
  • September 2, 2013 at 8:39 am
    This is a very important topic for parents as many children as old as 10 and 11 still suck their thumb when they are tired or upset. It is their way of calming or soothing themselves when stressed. And, yes it certainly does impact their teeth and many times requires orthodontics to correct as they mature. I have seen this in my own family. Reply
  • September 2, 2013 at 7:20 pm
    My youngest daughter sucked her middle 2 fingers when she was a baby. I was worried about it, but luckily she outgrew it. Her doctor had said that if she was still doing it at a year, they would have put some kind of brace on her hand to stop her from doing it! Reply
  • November 22, 2013 at 1:09 pm
    As the parent of a child who really loved sucking his thumb, I know how hard it is for some kids to stop - even when they want to. When my son was 7, our orthodontist told us that he was going to need an expander within the year and had to stop sucking his thumb before it could go on. I wasn't willing to make my son suffer with any of the products on the market used to MAKE kids stop thumb sucking: plastic sheathes, neoprene thumb sleeves and bitter tasting ointments just to name a few. I also didn't want him to feel bad about needing to stop sucking his thumb. So we talked about it - a lot. He wanted to stop, he just couldn't. He would suck his thumb unconsciously during the day and all night in his sleep. First we tried using a regular knit glove, but he would pull it off in the night because his hand would get too hot. I had him sleep in my bed and spent all night pulling his thumb out of his mouth. Clearly, we needed another solution: Thumb-Thing. By eliminating all of the fingers but the thumb, his hand stayed cool and he would wear it all night. During the day he would put it on while we watched a movie or read a book, or anytime he thought he might suck his thumb. I didn't have to do anything but make sure his Thumb-Things were clean. He never forgot to put it on at night, and instead of feeling bad about himself, he was proud. Wishing you and your little one all the best! Teri Reply

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