Thumb Sucking and Your Child

Is your child using a pacifier or sucking his or her thumb or fingers?

Thumb sucking at a young age, particularly before children begin teething, is completely natural and will not harm your child’s teeth. In fact, thumb sucking is actually okay as long as the behavior is stopped before a child’s permanent teeth begin to come in. The effects of thumb sucking and pacifier use are usually reversible up until the age of seven, because children still have their primary (baby) teeth. If thumb sucking continues beyond the age of seven, when the permanent (adult) teeth are coming through, permanent dental problems can occur, changing the position of your child’s teeth, resulting in malocclusion.


What is malocclusion?

Malocclusion, refers to the alignment of the teeth and the way that the upper and lower teeth fit together. Thumb sucking can cause crooked teeth, overcrowding, or a bite that doesn't fit together properly. Ideally, the top teeth should evenly and neatly overlap the bottom teeth, but if thumb sucking has affected the alignment of the teeth then there will a diastema (gap) between the teeth. Over time, prolonged thumb sucking can push the teeth out and at that point orthodontic treatment will be needed to correct the problem.


Other Effects of Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking can affect more than just your child’s teeth. Prolonged thumb sucking can change the shape of the roof of a child’s mouth and can affect your child’s voice. A  "lisp" can often develop and they may have difficulty pronouncing words and articulating certain letters.


Types of Thumb Sucking

Passive Thumb Sucking: Children who rest their thumbs passively in their mouths are less likely to experience difficulty than those who vigorously suck their thumbs.  Passive thumb suckers create less suction causing less damage to the mouth and teeth.

Active Thumb Sucking:  Children who actively suck their thumbs create more suction than passive thumb suckers.  When an active thumb sucker removes his or her thumb from the mouth, a "popping" sound is often heard. Some aggressive thumb suckers may cause problems with their primary (baby) teeth as well as their permanent (adult) teeth.


Orthodontic Evaluation

If you are concerned with your child's oral development and are unable to stop your child from sucking his or her thumb or using their pacifier, please contact our office at (480) 331-9995 for a consultation. We can evaluate your child's teeth and mouth to identify any current orthodontic needs and/or identify potential problems that may arise in the future.


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