The Dental Problems Which Can be Caused By Thumb Sucking

There are few sights more likely to warm the heart of most parents than that of a tiny baby contentedly sucking on its’ thumb. The fact that most babies do this when feeling cosy and sleepy, indeed, only adds to the appeal of the image, but the truth is that it’s a habit which can have negative effects.

Most children who suck their thumb, or a pacifier, do so when they’re feeling tired or insecure, and for most, it is a habit which they grow out of by about their fourth birthday. Some children, however, continue doing it as they grow older, and the fact that many parts of a child’s mouth are still developing at this point means that the presence of a thumb on a regular if not daily basis can lead to some distortion.

If the sucking has stopped, as stated, by the age of four, then no problems should be caused. The difficulties arise, however, when older children continue sucking their thumbs past the age at which their permanent teeth begin to appear. At this point, excessive sucking of the thumb can lead to distortion of the cavity of the mouth in general, and of the line of the teeth in particular.

Although pacifiers may also cause problems, the advantage that they have over thumbs is that they represent a habit which is easier to break. After all, you can’t very well confiscate a child’s thumb, but a pacifier can be taken away and thrown into the bin. There is also a different level of distortion caused dependent upon the intensity of the way in which a child sucks their thumb. If the thumb is merely rested in the mouth, for example, then it may be less likely to cause problems in the future than if the child id actually sucking harder.

As well as causing problems with the positioning of the teeth, excessive thumb sucking can also have a detrimental effect upon a child’s speaking voice, shaping the mouth in a manner which means they have difficulty pronouncing certain specific letters.

If you’re concerned that your child is sucking their thumb at an age whereby it could cause problems in the future, then there are positive steps that you can take. The first and most positive step you can take is to encourage your child on those occasions when they don’t suck their thumbs. Rather than scolding them when you catch them thumb sucking, it’s best to praise them when you notice that they’re not. Similarly, providing as many distractions from the temptation to suck the thumb as you can will be highly effective. If your child is sucking their thumb because they are bored, then try your best to find ways of entertaining them whereas if, as is often the case, they suck their thumb when they feel anxious or insecure, try to get to the bottom of what is causing these problems in the first place, treating the thumb sucking as a symptom more than a cause. Often, it can be helpful to take a child to visit a paediatric dentist and have them explain, in a calm, non-frightening manner, just what kind of effect sucking your thumb can ultimately have. If all else fails, and if excessive thumb sucking has led to badly aligned teeth, then your dentist will be able to offer treatments designed purely with straightening teeth in mind. If the child or adolescent in question is worried about the ramifications of wearing obtrusive, metal braces, then have your orthodontist tell you all about the Invisalign system, which straightens teeth using ultra-lightweight plastic retainers which are all but invisible to the naked eye.

Thumb sucking, for a baby, is a normal and intuitive act. Carrying on beyond the age of six, however, is not only fairly unusual, but it might also have damaging side effects. If you’re worried about your child, and the damage they may be doing to their teeth, then follow the simple steps detailed above to help break the habit.

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