Why Do Children Suck Their Thumbs/Pacifier?

Children suck on things because sucking 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 to break the habit.

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 a factor that determines 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, pacifier use 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 and the force or angle of the thumb or finger in the mouth. Possible effects of the habit are:

What parents can do to help

You can consider:

  • Instead of scolding your child for thumb sucking, praise him or her when they doesn’t suck their thumb, especially during difficult periods.
  • Put a band-aid on your child’s thumb or a sock over the hand at night. Let your little one know that this is not a punishment, but rather a way to help remember to avoid sucking.
  • Remember that children often suck their thumbs when feeling insecure or seeking 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?

If your child cannot stop thumb sucking by the end of their first year of school or if you notice changes in your child’s primary teeth or are concerned about your child’s thumb sucking, please give us a call at Specialist Kids Dentist and schedule a visit. We can help you assess the situation and will be able to recommend ways to change the behaviour, including 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 supporting bone structures begin to move toward their natural position and shape 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 clinic in Liverpool or Summer Hill.