Thumb sucking is natural for children and can be an effective way for them to self-soothe, but many parents worry about the potential negative side effects of this habit. If you’re concerned that your child’s thumb sucking habit may be out of hand or about how thumb sucking affects teeth alignment, continue reading to learn more about when you should be concerned and what you can do to help your child learn other more healthy behaviors.

What Causes Thumb Sucking?

Did you know that thumb sucking actually starts while babies are still in the womb? Many new parents are surprised when they first observe their unborn child sucking their thumb through ultrasound pictures. Thumb sucking is completely normal for young children and is a natural comforting and coping mechanism similar to the instinct to nurse.

However, thumb sucking can become problematic if it becomes too aggressive or continues until the age when your child’s permanent teeth are coming in because it can affect teeth alignment and the structure of the jaw or top of the mouth leading to the need for braces or surgery.

Serious problems that can be caused by excessive or prolonged thumb sucking include an overbite, open bite, cross bite, collapsed palate, lisp or speech impediment, in addition to overcrowding or pulling teeth out of alignment.

When Should My Child Stop Sucking their Thumb?

Many times children stop sucking their thumb on their own so there is no need to be concerned, but it’s also normal for children to need a bit of help to stop at the appropriate age. If your child is still sucking their thumb after the age of 5 or if their habit seems excessive or aggressive, it’s an appropriate time to intervene.

How Should I Intervene?

Many children suck their thumb to self-soothe, so it’s important to remember that they are simply comforting themselves the best way they know how. When intervening, it can be helpful to use positive reinforcement and redirect them to other, healthier behaviors through which they may experience comfort or distraction.

Offering a pacifier may be helpful for younger children. Start with easy limits like no thumb sucking for an hour before dinner, an hour before bedtime or while watching a favorite show. It can be fun and encouraging to set up a reward system for your child when they succeed, such as letting them put a sticker on a chart or calendar for each day or hour they are able to refrain from sucking their thumb.

If they revert back to thumb sucking, gently remind them. You may also want to talk to them about how thumb sucking affects teeth alignment and why it’s important to stop. Be careful not to sound harsh when correcting them or explaining, as feelings of shame or anxiety can increase their need for thumb sucking.

Talk to Your Dentist

If you’re concerned about your child’s thumb sucking behavior or how thumb sucking affects teeth alignment, it may be helpful to make an appointment for your child to see a dentist and ask their dentist to help explain to them how thumb sucking affects teeth alignment and for some extra tips on how they can stop.

Call our Fort Worth, Weatherford, Granbury, Azle or Aledo dental offices to make an appointment with a dentist who may be able to help you find out more about this topic, and improve your oral health.