Finding your baby asleep in the crib sucking on his or her thumb is completely normal behavior. Right along with the use of pacifiers, thumb sucking is a natural way your child feels a sense of security and self-soothing. However, unlike pacifiers, your baby is equipped with a thumb to suck on 24/7, so it’s a lot easier for them to pick up the sucking habit. This is a perfectly acceptable habit within a reasonable age while being monitored closely.

How long should I allow my child to continue thumb sucking? Approximately 90% of children between the ages of 2 and 4 years old suck their thumbs; however, once they reach the age of 5 to 6 years old their permanent teeth will begin to come in. Once the permanent teeth come in, the habit becomes problematic and can cause dental issues and affect the teeth, gums, and jaws. Some dental problems caused by the thumb sucking habit are:

  • Dental or Skeletal Open Bite: Prolonged thumb sucking can affect the position of the teeth and your child’s bite. If you catch the habit early on, their dental bite may self-correct; however, if not, you may be looking at an immense amount of dentist or orthodontist appointments for treatment.
  • Tongue-Thrusting Habit: After picking up a thumb sucking habit, you child may pick up another habit that causes your child to you thrust their tongue up while eating, speaking, and swallowing. The tongue thrusting habit then induces force on the dentition and jaws. If this isn’t corrected with time, it can affect the jaw placement and may require corrective surgery.

Thumb sucking is a completely normal habit for toddlers, but shouldn’t continue on following the toddler years otherwise risking some serious dental issues for the future that may require extensive treatment. To discourage this habit before it becomes problematic, look into moving towards pacifiers because they’re easily taken away, establish a reward system for not sucking, utilize positive reinforcement and encourage your child to stop the habit, and visit your child’s dentist to learn more about thumb-sucking and their teeth.

At Triangle Pediatric Dentistry, Dr. Porter and Dr. Buddy will examine your child’s occlusion at every 6 month check-up to make sure that habits are not causing any long term problems with tooth eruption or jaw development. Some eruption and development problems can require intervention with early orthodontic treatment. If we notice any such problems developing we will be sure to make a timely referral to an orthodontist. Most children will stop their habit of thumb-sucking with the help and support of their parents and pediatric dentist. Through rewards, positive reinforcement, and encouragement, you’ll be able to help your child stop thumb-sucking and prevent and dental issues in the future!