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Thumb-Sucking and Dental Health: When to Worry

Young Childing Being Shown a Dental Model Johns Creek GA

It is very normal for babies to suck their thumb or finger as a form of self-soothing. In fact, parents can welcome the habit of thumb-sucking because it can quickly and easily calm a baby down without the need for pacifiers, special toys or rocking. However, when the habit continues into or past toddlerhood, it can be a source of concern, particularly in regards to dental health. Here’s some insight as to when and how thumb-sucking can alter your child’s bite and how to break the habit when it poses a risk.

In a proper bite, the upper teeth slightly overlap the lower teeth. However, in a child that frequently sucks his or her thumb, normal tooth eruption and jaw growth can be compromised due to the pressure of the thumb resting on the roof of the mouth. In many cases, this leads to an “open bite,” or when the upper and lower teeth don’t overlap or even come together in the front.

When and How to Intervene

If your child is under the age of 3 and still thumb-sucking, don’t get stressed out just yet. Most kids break the habit on their own before the age of 4. However, if you don’t see signs that your child is dropping this self-soothing habit by the time they are ready for Pre-K or Kindergarten, it is time to take action. Keep in mind that positive reinforcement is often more effective. Be compassionate, as this is likely a sub-conscious habit and the only way your child has known to cope and soothe since birth.

Ideas for Breaking a Thumb-Sucking Habit:

  • Praise & Reward. Instead of scolding when your child puts a thumb in the mouth, try to praise them when they don’t do it. Go even further and reward your child with a non-candy treat to reinforce the good behavior.
  • New Coping Mechanism. Learn what situations cause your child to start sucking, such as boredom, stress, etc. During those moments, try to intervene with a new comfort habit or distraction.
  • Explain the Consequences. If you think your child is old enough to understand, simply explain why thumb-sucking can be a bad idea for their oral health and smile appearance. Some kids are motivated by knowing the hard facts and potential outcome. Always use non-threatening language!
  • Get Help. If all else fails, you can go to your dentist. In fact, we help parents and kids all the time with this common situation. In some cases, hearing the facts from a dentist can help. Other times, we can provide a special oral appliance (tongue crib) that can physically prevent a thumb-sucking habit. Sometimes, a special non-toxic nail polish that tastes bitter is enough to help your child stop.

If you are concerned about the effects of your child’s thumb-sucking habit, please contact Muccioli Dental. While bite alignment and future orthodontics is certainly a concern, it is also important to realize the risk of excessive oral bacteria, as not many kids wash their hands before every thumb-sucking session!

Posted on behalf of Dr. Randy Muccioli, Muccioli Dental

Muccioli Dental - Johns Creek Dentist
6300 Hospital Pkwy, Suite 275
Johns Creek, Georgia 30097
Phone: (678) 389-9955

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If you are looking for a skilled, yet gentle dentist in Johns Creek, our caring dental team is here to help! Here are links to some of our most popular services: Cosmetic DentistryDental ImplantsEmergency Dental CareTeeth Whitening for a peaceful dental experience.

Please contact our Office at Muccioli Dental today and let our family serve your family with a lifetime of quality dental care. Our practice is currently accepting new patients and we accept most dental insurances as well as a variety of other payment methods. We look forward to serving you with top quality, personalized dental care in our brand new state-of-the-art dental office located in the Johns Creek Medical Pavilion. We look forward to meeting you!

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