child sucking thumb

Thumb Sucking: Is It Normal?

Does your baby, toddler, or preschooler suck their thumb or finger? Up until around 3 years of age, thumb sucking is a normal behavior. It’s known as a soothing mechanism that some children use from the time they are in the womb through their early childhood years. 

While it may be developmentally normal in early childhood, thumb sucking can eventually cause some dental and orthodontic issues if it goes on too long. When a child continues to suck their thumb or finger regularly past the age of 3, it can start to have long term effects, even when there are no permanent teeth in place yet.

Dental and Orthodontic Issues That Stem From Thumb Sucking

There are a variety of oral issues that can arise from excessive thumb or finger sucking, such as:

  • Overbite. Thumb sucking can cause the front teeth on the top row to stick out too far over the bottom row of teeth. This is one form of bite misalignment that can occur from thumb sucking. 
  • Open bite. An open bite is when there is a visible gap between the front teeth on the top and bottom row when the jaw is closed. Thumb sucking can be one possible cause of this. 
  • Jaw issues. Thumb sucking can change the shape of the jaw, possibly causing misalignment that can lead to orthodontic issues later or even the need for jaw surgery in the future. 
  • Speech issues. There is an increased risk of lisps and other speech issues when thumb sucking is present and continues for too long. 

Irritation to the roof of the mouth. The thumb may scrape against the roof of the mouth as the child sucks, potentially causing irritation.

By What Age Should Thumb Sucking Stop?

With all of these potential problems that can result from thumb sucking that goes on too long, it is best to encourage your child to drop the habit before kindergarten (or by age 5). Some children will naturally give up the habit as they grow and develop. Others will need a little more encouragement to be successful. 

It is best for children to give up thumb sucking before the permanent teeth come in, as orthodontic issues can worsen then. For most children who give it up in time, the early habit won’t have any effect on the permanent teeth.

Strategies for Helping Your Child Give Up Thumb Sucking

It can be more difficult for some children to give up thumb sucking or finger sucking than others. Here are some strategies that can be used to help your child drop the habit. 

  • Encouragement. Some children respond well to positive encouragement. Praise your child when they make an effort to stop sucking their thumb or finger. 
  • Rewards. Some children require an actual reward for giving up thumb sucking. Offer them a toy or a treat if they can avoid sucking their thumb for a certain period of time to help them break the habit. 
  • Tactile reminder. Try placing a bandaid on the thumb or finger they usually suck or have them wear a glove on that hand. Just the tactile reminder will help them to think before just absentmindedly sucking. 
  • Physical barrier. In extreme cases where the habit is particularly difficult to break, there are appliances that can be placed in the mouth to prevent thumb or finger sucking from being possible. 

        Do not criticize or nag your child about their habit. Negative reinforcement can lead to anxiety that may make the habit harder to break.

        Concerned About Your Child’s Thumb Sucking? Visit My Town’s Little Dentist

        If you have concerns about your child’s dental health and how their thumb or finger sucking habit may affect them in the long run, My Town’s Little Dentist in Levittown, NY can help. We can evaluate your child’s teeth and bite alignment to determine if the habit is causing any negative effects. We will consider all of the information to decide on the best solution for your child. 

        My Town’s Little Dentist provides a complete range of pediatric dentistry and orthodontic services for children and teens. 

        Call 516-226-7337 today or request an appointment. We look forward to helping your child get the right start toward a lifetime of dental health.