A child sucking their thumb as they sleep.

Thumb-Sucking And Dental Health

Thumb-sucking is common. In the U.S., nine out of ten newborns begin sucking their hands or fingers before they’re one day old. 

It’s natural for parents to worry about the effects of thumb-sucking and whether it’s something they should discourage. Learning about how thumb-sucking affects your child’s dental health can help you reinforce healthy oral health habits.

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Home » Dental Services » Nevada Dental Services » Las Vegas » Pediatric Dentistry » Thumb-Sucking And Dental Health

How Does Thumb-Sucking Affect Teeth?

Thumb-sucking has a minimal impact on oral health within the first few months of life. The central incisor — the bottom front tooth — typically erupts when a baby is between 6 and 10 months old. Most of your child’s baby teeth arrive by the time they’re 2, and toddlers often stop thumb-sucking without intervention by age 4.

Children are more likely to have issues with their teeth after sucking their thumbs in the following scenarios:

  • The child applies a lot of pressure when sucking their thumb
  • The child is 5 or older
  • The child’s front teeth have erupted

Long-term and high-pressure thumb-sucking can cause severe oral health issues. Children can damage their palate. Depending on the severity of the damage to the roof of their mouth, palate damage can affect your child’s face shape, and some children may need surgery to correct the damage. Children can also develop an overbite. Some children need an appointment with a cosmetic dentist to realign their teeth.

Is A Pacifier Or Thumb Better?

There are several reasons to consider using a pacifier instead of promoting thumb-sucking.

It’s easier to sterilize a pacifier. Using a clean pacifier can help prevent infections.Pacifiers reduce the amount of pressure on your child’s mouth.

Thumbs are harder than pacifiers, which makes it more likely they’ll damage your child’s teeth.


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Should I Stop My Baby From Thumb-Sucking?

Fortunately, most children stop sucking their thumbs when they’re toddlers, and they don’t need any intervention to break the habit. However, suppose your child is 4 or older and still sucking their thumb. In that case, you may be concerned about breaking the habit before their permanent teeth arrive.

Strategies you can use to encourage your child to stop thumb-sucking include the following:

  • Eliminate triggers: Some children suck their thumbs when they experience stressful situations. Avoiding stressful situations could reduce their need to self-soothe by sucking their thumb. You can also intervene and help soothe them during stressful situations by hugging them or giving them their favorite toy.
  • Hand coverings: You can use custom hand covers, socks, or mittens to make it difficult or impossible for your child to suck their thumb
  • Positive reinforcements: Using verbal praise and simple rewards your child responds to can encourage them to stop sucking their thumb. The rewards can be simple, such as giving your child a sticker or a special treat.

You can also have a dental appliance installed in your child’s mouth to prevent thumb-sucking.

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We Accept Most Dental Insurance

Absolute Dental is a preferred provider for most insurances, unions, and hotels that include: Aetna, Ameritas, Boon-Chapman, Caesars Palace, Cigna, Delta Dental, Diversified, Geha, Guardian, Harrah’s, HealthSCOPE Benefits, Health Plan of Nevada (HPN), Humana, Liberty, Met-Life, MGM-MIRAGE, Premier Access, The Standard, Station Casinos, Teachers Health Trust, United Concordia, United Healthcare, Venetian, and The Zenith. We also accept Medicaid.

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First Dental Visit 

Babies should have their first dental appointment when their first tooth erupts. You can promote a positive dental experience by scheduling an appointment when your baby is usually awake. Avoid nap times when you schedule your appointment so your baby isn’t tired, and make sure your baby has something to eat before their appointment so they aren’t hungry. You can help your baby prepare by getting them to practice opening their mouth and speaking positively about their first trip to the dentist. 

Early Childhood Oral Care

Children should see a dentist twice a year after their first tooth arrives. You can take your child to a pediatric dentist or your family dentist. Your dentist will provide guidance and tips promoting good oral health care habits, such as brushing their teeth twice daily and using fluoride toothpaste. 

Thumb-Sucking And Dental Health

A young girl smiling next to her pediatric dentist.

Long-term thumb-sucking habits past 5 years old can negatively impact your child’s dental health. Your child’s thumb-sucking could damage their teeth and cause an open bite by affecting the alignment of their teeth. Teeth alignment issues can cause long-term dental health issues. In addition to dental health issues, thumb-sucking can also cause infections, calluses, and speech disorders. 

Sources:

DiMaggio, D., et al. (2022). Baby’s First Tooth: 7 Facts Parents Should Know

Keysler, M., et al. (2022). Impacts of Skeletal Anterior Open Bite Malocclusion on Speech

Thumb Sucking. (2024).

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