Is Thumb-Sucking Really Bad for Your Child’s Teeth?

For a child who uses their thumb constantly to find comfort, dental problems might be significant enough to cause concern.

Pediatric Dentist St Louis

Every parent who has a thumb-sucker has felt the sting of someone reminding them that their child’s habit is going to come back to bite them  – no pun intended. So, is it an old wives’ tale that thumb-sucking can lead to tooth decay and the need for braces, or is it really harmless to a child’s oral health?

Since it’s a self-soothing habit, you might hate to take it away from them. However, you also don’t want to let them persist with a bad habit that can cause harm.

The Truth About Thumb-Sucking

The truth is that when your child has their temporary teeth, there isn’t much they can do to hurt the permanent ones that lay dormant. Any behaviors like thumb-sucking and brushing teeth might be best developed early on in life so they become habits with more staying power as they age, but those issues really might not have any bearing on their oral health until they have lost their baby teeth and the permanent ones have grown in.

As they begin to get their permanent teeth, however, thumb-sucking may cause problems with the alignment of their teeth. It can also create a significant change in the formation of the roof of their mouth. Allowing children to use pacifiers is no different from thumb-sucking. The only difference is that pacifiers are easier to take away, and therefore the habit is easier to break.

For the occasional self-soothing thumb-sucker, the consequences might be mild. But for a child who uses their thumb constantly to find comfort, dental problems might be significant enough to cause concern. In fact, if your child is an aggressive enough thumb-sucker, you might begin to notice problems developing with their baby teeth early on.

When Should You Try to Break Their Thumb-Sucking Habit?

The best time to break a habit like thumb-sucking is sooner rather than later. From the ages of two to four years, a child begins to shed their baby teeth and their permanent ones will start to grow. If you notice that thumb-sucking is having a profound impact on your child’s baby teeth, then it’s imperative to stop it immediately, and it might warrant some advice from your pediatric dentist. But the best time to break the habit is before you notice baby teeth falling out.

Because thumb-sucking is a habit that many children find so comforting, it can be a persistent one and hard to break. The best thing you can do is to approach it with understanding and try not to be too harsh. Praise them for not thumb-sucking, and try not to use punishment as a means to control or eradicate it. Explain why it isn’t good for them, and perhaps work with them to find an alternate means to soothe themselves during those times when they need to find comfort.

Thumb-sucking isn’t the worst habit that your child can engage in, but it is one that you should try to limit and remove from their behavior patterns as soon as you can so that you can stop it from impacting their oral health in the future.

St. Louis Pediatric Dentistry

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s oral health, please call us to schedule an appointment. Your child’s initial oral examination includes a visual exam, charting, diagnosis and treatment recommendations. We will also take x-rays, which includes the panoramic x-ray for proper diagnosis of the anterior (front) and posterior (back) teeth as well as the bite-wing x-ray series for proper diagnosis of proximal decay of posterior teeth.

Call us at (314) 862-7844 to schedule your child’s visit. We looking forward to meeting you!

Updated: January 18, 2019

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