Does Thumb Sucking Negatively Affect the Outcome of Your Child’s Teeth?

Does your son or daughter suck his or her thumb? Did you know that thumb sucking, and even prolonged pacifier use, could affect your child’s oral health? While thumb sucking and pacifiers are used to soothe teething and upset infants, these habits can affect the health of teeth and gums—especially when they carry over beyond infancy. We recommend that parents break the habit of thumb sucking or the use of pacifiers when children become toddlers. For tips on breaking these habits, talk with our children’s dentist at your next appointment.

How does thumb sucking affect teeth?

Thumb sucking and prolonged used of a pacifier can affect the placement of teeth—especially the anterior teeth. The action of repeated sucking forces teeth forward over time. Since children’s teeth and jawbones are still developing, thumb sucking can significantly affect the positioning of teeth.

Are there other oral health implications?

While it is a little easier to keep pacifiers clean, both pacifiers and one’s fingers can transfer bacteria into the mouth. Children are especially prone to having bacteria on their hands. The thumb and other digits are also ripe with bacteria because bacteria and debris easily become trapped under nail beds.

Controlling oral bacteria is important for preventing gum disease and tooth decay. Both of these conditions affect children just as much as they affect adults. In addition to breaking the habit of thumb sucking and pacifier use, our children’s dentist encourages parents to help their children with oral hygiene. Children’s teeth should be brushed twice a day and flossed daily.

When does thumb sucking become a problem?

Thumb sucking becomes a problem when permanent teeth emerge and/or when a child is between the ages of two and four. To help break the habit of thumb sucking or extended pacifier use, we recommend using positive reinforcement in the form of small rewards or praise. Parents should also try to identify triggering circumstances that contribute to thumb sucking such as stress. After triggers have been identified, thumb sucking can be replaced with another comforting habit such as holding a stuffed animal.

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