Can thumb-sucking damage your child’s teeth?

Prolonged thumb-sucking, as well as dummy use, can have a negative impact on your child’s smile over time. Most often, babies, toddlers and small children resort to thumb-sucking or dummy use as a way to soothe themselves or calm anxiety. While thumb-sucking and dummy use do have their benefits, they can be detrimental to your child’s dental health if the habit is excessive and continues past the age of 2 years. 

Why is it damaging?

Thumb-sucking and dummy use both have some positive benefits for babies and toddlers, giving your child a coping mechanism when feeling anxious or overwhelmed, and often starts when a baby is teething. Allowing thumb-sucking or soothing with a dummy could also mean fewer sleepless nights for already exhausted parents.

Unfortunately, along with the pros come the cons of dummy use and chronic thumb-sucking. If thumb-sucking is only a short-term habit, it typically won’t have much of an impact on your child’s smile. However, if your child is three, four, five, or even older and is still using a dummy or sucking their thumb, it can negatively affect their teeth, jaw and other developmental aspects.

Problems with an open bite 

Excessive thumb-sucking and dummy use can cause issues with malocclusion, or a misalignment of the upper and lower teeth. The most common malocclusion that develops is known as an open bite. An open bite means that the front upper and bottom teeth do not come into contact with one another, even when the mouth is closed.

Overbites are common among children who suck their thumbs or use dummies past the appropriate age. Overbites mean that the front teeth overlap the bottom teeth in an exaggerated way, causing issues with the way the front teeth are able to function.

Essentially, prolonged thumb-sucking can create gaps and incorrect alignments of the teeth and jaw. This can make it difficult for your child to chew and bite into foods, and even affect speech in some cases. Dealing with malocclusion issues will also make some children feel self-conscious about their appearance and avoid smiling altogether.

Changes to the Jaw and Facial Development

As a child’s growth and development continue, the jaw and face will make significant changes from infancy to adolescence. Extended use of a dummy or constantly sucking of the thumb can influence the development of the orofacial complex, which includes the jaw, muscles of the mouth and face, and the teeth. The recurring pressure from the excessive sucking motion causes the teeth to shift in an unnatural direction, affecting the child’s overall facial structure.

Having either a thumb or dummy constantly between the teeth simply doesn’t allow the jaw to position properly. With a severe enough misalignment, the facial muscles have to change the way they work for a child to effectively bite, chew or speak. This can have consequences that affect a child’s facial structure and appearance, and even lead to an orofacial myological disorder (OMD) that will require extensive treatment.

Speech Development Effects

Excessive thumb-sucking and dummy use can even affect your child’s speech. This is often because of the open bite or overbite that develops as a result of this prolonged habit. The tongue will also have a tendency to push forward through the teeth with children who habitually suck their thumbs. Severe malocclusions and poor tongue control can result in a lisp or difficulties with S, Z, L, and R sounds, in particular.

Additionally, it’s so important for babies to babble and practise different sounds by shaping their mouths and exercising facial muscles. Infants and toddlers who excessively suck their thumbs or rely on a dummy are missing out on vital opportunities to develop and practise these formative language skills. Although this is not an issue directly related to the teeth, it’s worth mentioning when talking about speech development and thumb-sucking.

The Overall Effects

Unfortunately, chronic thumb-sucking and dummy use can be detrimental to your child’s dental health and overall development in several ways, including:

● problems with malocclusion and misalignments

● changes to the jaw and facial structure

● difficulties biting and chewing

● hindering speech development and language skills

Can your Dentist help?

Yes, dentists at The Mall can help when you bring your children in for regular checkups, the dentist will examine their teeth to check for signs of cavities and other dental issues. This examination will include an x-ray of the teeth and a thorough check of any orthodontic problems, such as an overbite or open bite.

Once your child reaches an appropriate age, there are several orthodontic treatments that will correct even the most serious malocclusion. At The Mall, metal braces, ceramic braces and invisible braces, such as Quick Straight Teeth, can correct alignment issues successfully over time. Which option is best depends on each orthodontic patient and their unique situation. Your orthodontist at The Mall should be able to discuss the benefits of each treatment with you and your child.

How to Break The Thumb-Sucking Habit

Thumb-sucking and dummy use is simply a habit that your child has developed. It’s a common problem that many children face and parents struggle with as their children grow older. Getting your child to stop is similar to breaking any other bad habit, and requires persistence and careful monitoring. Here are some tips that might help:

● Limit the times your children are allowed to suck their thumbs or use dummies. It can be a simple restriction of only when they are napping or sleeping.

● Offer a substitute when your child is anxious. You can use a soft blanket or a teddy they can hold and cuddle to calm themselves down.

● Help your child become more self-aware. A lot of times, children don’t even notice when they’re sucking their thumbs. By mentioning it to them, they’ll slowly become more aware of the times they do it.

● Praise your child for making progress. If you notice your child is not sucking their thumb when they usually would, let them know what a good job they’re doing!

You can always use the ‘dummy fairy’ to bring fun into the letting go process. Suggesting leaving the dummy in a special place where the dummy fairy will take it to the babies who don’t have a dummy might help or even leaving it in a tree for the baby birds? This way, if your child asks for the dummy back, you can remind them of the magical story. Just remember to throw all dummies away. You don’t want your child to find any that they think the dummy fairy or the baby birds have! 

The sooner you help your child break the habit, the better off their dental health and smile will be. However, your dentist at The Mall is ready to help with orthodontic treatments that will fix the alignment and spacing issues your child may be facing as a result of excessive thumb-sucking. 

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