Breaking Your Child's Thumb Sucking Habit
Thumb sucking in young children is a very normal response to anxiety and stress. Still, this behavior should decrease by ages 2-4 and stop by age five. Many children are slow to break the habit, which can lead to anxiety for parents. Is it worth the stress to break the thumb sucking habit? Yes, because long-term thumb sucking can cause problems with chewing, speech, and facial appearance.
The longer and harder a child sucks his thumb the more harm is done to the teeth and jaws. Regular, strong thumb sucking makes front teeth move and can even reshape the jaw bone. Upper front teeth flare out and tip upward while lower front teeth move back and inward. But, how can something as small as a child's thumb or finger actually move bone?
Children’s jaws are rich in blood supply and fairly low in mineral content like calcium. This makes jaws of children under age eight especially soft and flexible. As a result, prolonged thumb or finger sucking easily deforms the bone around the upper and lower front teeth. The deformity produces a hole or gap when teeth are brought together, known as an open bite.
If a child stops thumb sucking before loss of baby front teeth and arrival of adult front teeth, most or all of the damage may disappear. However, if the habit persists, there may be lasting damage. Flared upper teeth, delayed arrival of front teeth, and open bites are all common problems. This can result in chewing difficulties, speech abnormalities, and an unattractive smile.
Last reviewedJune 2012by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.