Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs/Pacifier?

Children suck on things because suckling a food source is one of a baby’s natural instincts. Sucking makes them feel secure and content, and may induce drowsiness. Most children stop thumb sucking on their own between the ages of two and four.

However, some children continue sucking beyond the preschool years. If your child is still sucking when his or her permanent teeth start to erupt (at around 5-6 years old), it may be time to take action. Taking action will stop the suck and protect the roof of the mouth as well as teeth.

Effects of thumb sucking on teeth and bite

  • Upper front teeth pushed up and forward,
  • Lower front teeth pushed down and back,
  • Inability to bite on front teeth due to gap between uppers and lowers,
  • Lips held apart due to prominent upper teeth,
  • Narrowing and distortion of the palate,
  • Abnormal swallow, tongue position, or speech,
  • Calluses or cracked skin on the sucked digit,
  • Psychological effect of poor appearance.

Many of these effects can self correct or improve once the habit stops if early enough or the effect has not been severe. (information and picture courtesy of Australasian Academy of Paediatric Dentistry- AAPD)

thumb sucking

Can problems result from prolonged thumb or pacifier sucking?

The intensity of the sucking is one factor determining whether or not dental problems may result. If the sucking is passive, with the thumb gently resting inside the mouth, it is less likely to cause damage. If, on the other hand, the thumb sucking is aggressive, placing pressure on the mouth or teeth, the habit may cause problems with tooth alignment and proper mouth growth. Extended sucking affects both the teeth and the shape of the face and may lead to a need for orthodontic treatment in the future.

Pacifiers can affect the teeth essentially the same way as sucking fingers and thumbs. However, a habit appliance like a pacifier is often an easier habit to break.

What problems does it cause?

Thumb and finger sucking has little effect on some children, but it causes problems for others. The severity of any problem caused depends on:

  • The child’s growth pattern
  • The duration of the habit each day
  • The force or angle of the thumb or finger in the mouth.

What parents can do to help

You can consider:

  • Instead of scolding your child for thumb sucking, praise him or her for anti thumb sucking behaviour, especially during difficult periods.
  • Put a band-aid or finger guard on your child’s thumb. This is not a punishment, but instead, a way to help remember to avoid sucking.
  • Children often suck their thumbs when they feel insecure or are seeking comfort, so provide security and comfort.
  • Focus on correcting the cause of the anxiety and comfort your child.
  • Reward your child when he or she avoids sucking during difficult periods, such as being separated from you.
  • Explain to older children the dangers of thumb sucking and involve them in choosing the method to break the habit.
Kids emergency dentist

When should I consult my paediatric dentist about thumb sucking?

Schedule a visit if your child cannot stop thumb sucking behaviour by the end of their first year of school. Similarly, if you notice changes in your child’s primary teeth or are concerned about your child’s thumb sucking, give us a call at Specialist Kids Dentist.

We can help you assess the situation. We will be able to recommend ways to change the behaviour. Methods include a mouth appliance that blocks the comfortable positioning of the digit in the mouth and – very importantly – reminds the child to stop. A fixed appliance is preferable to a removable one because there is no risk of forgetting to put it in.

After the habit is broken, the appliance remains in place for about three months as a reminder if the thumb slips back in. It is also an incentive for the child to stop the habit completely as soon as possible, so the appliance can come out.

In most children, teeth and jaws begin to align correctly as soon as the habit stops. The dental professional monitors these changes and adjusts the appliance regularly so that it does not impinge on the palate as it changes.

If you would like help with your child’s thumb sucking habits, please Contact us or visit us at one of our clinics in Liverpool or Summer Hill. We are open from 9:30-5:00PM Monday to Friday. Our friendly team eagerly await your call and will be happy to schedule you an appointment as soon as you’re available. Make sure to ask about the child’s dental benefits scheme and how your health fund can benefit your kid.