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Will Thumb Sucking Harm Your Child's Teeth?

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As parents will quickly learn, thumb sucking is incredibly common in babies. It's a reflexive action in numerous primates, and it's this reflex that permits breastfeeding. For babies and toddlers, the act is soothing, offering comfort. It's an insignificant habit if a child organically grows out of it (as many children tend to do). Issues with dental development caused by thumb sucking only tend to develop if the habit continues until your child's permanent (adult) teeth begin to erupt. What are some dental issues that can be caused by ongoing thumb sucking?

Uneven Forces

The presence of the thumb in the oral cavity, when coupled with a reflexive sucking action, creates an uneven distribution of forces in the mouth. The tongue rests on the lower palate of the mouth, compressed by the thumb, and this can begin to affect the development and configuration of your child's teeth. The upper dental arch can narrow, and a crossbite can begin to form. Upper (maxillary) incisors and lower (mandibular) incisors can begin to grow at an angle. What can parents do about this?


Once abnormalities caused by thumb sucking have developed, they cannot be reversed without professional dental intervention. As such, prevention is the preferred course of action. Children should be encouraged to shed this particular habit and can be praised when they abstain for significant periods. This creates a positive association with not sucking their thumb. A removable thumb appliance can be useful in chronic cases, and this should be discussed with your family physician. Of course, if thumb sucking has led to a developmental abnormality, dental treatment will be needed. What can this involve?


Your local family dentistry clinic has undoubtedly treated many young patients whose dental development has been affected by thumb sucking. A functional appliance such as headgear and oral elastics may be needed, intended to correct the distribution of force to the teeth and jaw, which allows teeth to normalize their configuration as their development continues. Some children may need orthodontic treatment (braces) to correct the misalignment caused by thumb sucking.

The good news is that developmental issues caused by thumb sucking are slow to develop, and your child's dentist will notice the early stages of any problems during a regular checkup. This allows preventative action to occur. But if you are concerned about the effects that thumb sucking might have on your child's dental development, don't hesitate to schedule a consultation with your family dentist.