Longterm Thumbsucking Effects

Updated November 20, 2023
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Long Term Effects of Thumb Sucking on Teeth Alignment

Thumb-sucking: A Common Behavior Pattern

Thumbsucking is common in young children, but does this seemingly benign habit carry possible long-term effects on the alignment of permanent teeth?

Sucking one’s thumb or finger is a self-soothing behavioral pattern most frequently encountered in children under four. The child may display this behavior especially often when bored, tired, or distressed. Most children outgrow thumbsucking naturally, but others, who stick to this habit longer – past kindergarten age, more specifically – may experience long-term effects on their oral health.

How Does Thumb-sucking Affect the Teeth?

This would depend not just on how long the child sticks with the habit of sucking their finger or thumb, but also on how vigorous the sucking is. An especially frequent and forceful pattern of finger sucking may affect the child’s bite.

Most commonly, thumbsucking may push the upper teeth forward and the lower teeth backward, creating an effect known as buck teeth. Another possible consequence of this habit is a gap between the upper and lower front teeth, more commonly known as an open bite.

In more serious cases, thumb-sucking can affect the development of the palate and jaw bones and the shape of the child’s face.

Some children who outwardly appear weaned from thumbsucking develop an alternative behavior pattern known as tongue-thrusting – mimicking the thumbsucking motion as they chew, swallow, or talk. The pressure of the tongue may also affect the position of the teeth.

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What to do?

It is vital to prevent and, if needed, correct these problems early, before baby teeth begin to be replaced by permanent ones. The longer the problem is left to run unchecked, the higher is the chance of needing serious orthodontic treatment later on.

If you notice a behavioral pattern of thumbsucking in your child beyond the age of five or six, you may have to intervene in order to help the child overcome this behavior. Gently discourage thumb and fingersucking and offer rewards when the child refrains from this habit.

When to See a Professional Orthodontist?

A visit to a professional orthodontist will help you assuage any potential concerns you might have regarding your child’s oral health. If needed, the orthodontist may recommend a thumb-sucking guard, which is a device meant to help motivate the child to stop sucking their thumb or finger. Thumb-sucking guards come in several types and act either by preventing the child from sticking their thumb in their mouth or by interfering with the sucking motion. Eventually, the harmful habit is broken.

Long-term Treatment Options

Sometimes, if the thumbsucking habit has already caused damage such as buck teeth, an open bite, or crossbite, it might be necessary to consider additional treatment options even after the habit is broken.

A qualified orthodontist who specializes in dentofacial orthopedics,  like Dr. Harrison, can recommend treatment that may prevent serious, long-term issues with the child’s permanent teeth. The sooner you request a consultation with a specialist, the more effective the treatment will be.

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