Can thumb sucking affect my child’s teeth?

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Can thumb sucking affect my child's teeth?

Thumb (or finger) sucking is a normal behaviour pattern for infants. So at what age should parents be concerned? And what can happen if a thumb sucking habit persists?

Don’t panic!

Most children stop thumb sucking by 4 years of age, and only 1 in 8 children aged 7-11 years continue. So if your toddler is still indulging, there is every chance that he or she will stop in time. And once school starts, such behaviour will tend to reduce in the presence of peers.

When can problems start?

If thumb sucking stops before 7 years of age, any disruption in the position of the teeth will probably correct spontaneously according to the British Orthodontic Society.

But if thumb sucking persist past 7 years of age when the adult teeth start to appear, the position of the teeth can be permanently affected. By how much? That depends on how often the thumb is in, how hard the thumb is sucked and at what age the habit stops.

As with all habits, the longer it lasts, the harder it is to stop… and the more likely that the position of the adult teeth will be disrupted.

What dental problems can occur?

  • A vertical gap between the front teeth (called an “open bite”)
  • Sticking out upper teeth, often with gaps
  • Crooked lower front teeth
  • Disruption in the way the back teeth meet (called a “crossbite”)

Treatment with braces may be the only way to correct these problems. And any treatment may be more complicated, even requiring the extraction of teeth that might have been avoided had thumb sucking been stopped earlier.

Orthodontic treatment cannot be started until the habit has stopped completely.

How to kick the habit

The child must want to stop him or herself! So a gentle and caring approach is best. Here are some tips:

  • Encourage and boost esteem!: give praise for any successes, use a wall chart, try a daily reward scheme (not sweets!). Avoid nagging or teasing.
  • Professional advice: maybe some friendly advice from your dentist or orthodontist might make an impact and reinforce what is being said at home
  • Use a “reminder” such as an Elastoplast on the thumb, a glove, a sock or bitter-tasting nail varnish
  • “Habit breakers”: these can be fitted to the teeth by an orthodontist. However this treatment is NOT available on the NHS in England.

Further information

“Charlie’s Thumb” is a short story about a little boy who sucks his thumb all day and all night. Written by orthodontist Runa Copley, this is a great book for parents to read with their children.

(Available to purchase in our practice at £5.99 or on amazon.co.uk)

www.safekids.co.uk is a great site for all sorts of child health and safety issues.

About Cleveland Orthodontics

Our specialist-led practice has been established since 1996 and provides brace treatment to people of all ages from across the North East and Teesside, including Middlesbrough, Yarm, Stockton-on-Tees, Billingham and Redcar.

We offer NHS orthodontic treatment for children and a range of modern white and “invisible” braces for adults of all ages such as Invisalign. FREE consultations are available… you can either telephone for an appointment on 01642 243 020 or book through our website.

Image courtesy of digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net