Thumb Sucking and Oral Health for Children

baby with fingers in mouth
Young children suck their thumbs as a natural reflex. While thumb sucking provides comfort, it can also cause dental health issues if the child doesn’t stop by a certain age. Learn the facts about thumb sucking and oral health to help keep your little one’s smile healthy.

Why Children Suck Their Thumbs

Children have an instinct to suck their thumbs because it serves many positive purposes, including:
  • Feeding behaviours: The reflex to suck lets babies get nutrients from breastfeeding and bottle feeding. Proper feeding helps them grow up happy and healthy.
  • Comfort: Sucking on fingers and other objects calms children down and makes them feel secure. It helps them fall asleep and improves their moods.
  • Health:Research suggests that sucking on a thumb or pacifier reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Some studies even show that sucking could reduce the amount of pain that children feel during medical procedures.

The Effects of Thumb Sucking on Dental Health

As you can see, thumb sucking has numerous benefits. However, when a child keeps sucking their thumb after a certain age, it causes more harm than good. Continuing the behaviour once permanent teeth begin to erupt can result in oral health issues such as:
  • Cavities
  • Misaligned teeth and bite
  • Gum recession
  • Changes in the roof of the mouth
In short, thumb sucking at a later age can negatively impact the way the mouth grows. It can also result in damage to the teeth and gums. So, what counts as too late an age to suck thumbs or pacifiers? Experts recommend stopping by the age of four. Many children automatically quit before then. But, you should still make a plan to wean your little one off sucking in case they keep the habit.

How to Help Your Child Break the Habit

To ensure your child stops sucking their thumb by age four, try strategies like:
  • Providing a pacifier: Getting your child in the habit of sucking a pacifier makes it easier to encourage less frequent use later on. As the Canadian Paediatric Society points out, you can throw away a pacifier, but you can’t throw away a thumb.
  • Offering alternative sources of comfort: Children suck pacifiers and thumbs to feel secure. Their need to suck goes away at a certain age, but they still need to feel comforted. Provide healthy outlets for anger and anxiety such as cuddles.
  • Involving your child: Help your little one feel in control of breaking their habit by working together with them. Create a reward chart or praise them when they avoid sucking. Emphasize that giving up sucking is part of growing up and provide positive reinforcement.
Stopping the sucking habit doesn’t have to feel stressful for you and your child. When you use the right methods, it can become a memorable milestone in your little one’s growth. We help patients in the Grande Prairie area by offering general dentistry services. Call us at 1-780-539-3555 or contact us online to get more information or book an appointment. Related Resources: