The Long term Effects of Thumb Sucking and What Parents can Do about It

It’s rather cute to see children thumbsucking. As adults, we see thumbsucking as a common habit that they will outgrow when they reach the age of 2 or 3. Not surprisingly, there are about 90% of all children who do thumbsuck at this age range. Toddlers thumbsuck to express hunger, stress, or boredom because they are not capable of saying exactly how they feel yet. To some children, they find thumbsucking to be so comforting that they continue doing it even after 3 years old.

By this time, parents have a good reason to worry. Thumbsucking doesn’t only open doors for harmful bacteria, but they also pose damaging effects to your child’s teeth structure as they grow older. Some of the long term effects that your child might suffer from are:

Long term Effects

Underbite or Overbite

When thumbsucking during the early emergence of a child’s teeth, he can develop an overbite or an underbite later on. When the teeth is being pushed around at this delicate period, they have the tendency to grow in the wrong direction. While there are dental procedures that can correct underbites and overbites, maintaining naturally well-aligned teeth is always preferred and a lot more affordable.

Lisp Formation

Notice how some children pronounce letter s as “sh” or z as “th”? They probably engaged in a lot of thumbsucking when they were still young. This oral activity causes the jawbone and the teeth to position differently. Although they pose no real physical harm for the lisper, they might have to deal with other kids making fun of their lisp.

Germs and More Germs!

As parents, we like to keep germs off our children as much as possible. However, thumbsucking is the perfect way for germs to enter our delicate children’s young gums and oral environment. At the time of birth, a child’s mouth is basically sterile until it comes into contact with the bacteria from the environment outside the womb. The mouth has enough bacteria already, and thumbsucking won’t help.

Ideally, children outgrow thumbsucking between the ages 2 and 4, but some children may continue the habit until their pre-school days. This should call for your attention since their milk teeth is starting to develop completely. For parents, here’s what you should do to help your children overcome their desire for thumbsucking:


  1. Avoid scolding them. Remember that one of the reasons of thumbsucking is anxiety. Do not put more pressure on them because they may do it even more especially when you’re not looking.


  1. Explain why thumbsucking should stop at this point. Use videos, images, and other paraphernalia to make children pay attention to what you’re saying. Show your children what could happen to their teeth if they continue the habit. An educational video or picture book may be just what they need to take what you are saying seriously.


  1. Guide them by consistently but gently reminding them every time they thumbsuck. This is best done when there are no other people around or you whisper to him so that no one else hears you but him. Children who are developing friendships with other children are known to be very careful about how other people perceive them to be. Avoid scolding the child in public as this will only pull down his self-esteem and cause him to thumbsuck more.


4. Schedule regular appointments with your dentist. A dental professional is the best person who can explain the problem of thumbsucking to your kid. Choose a pediatric dentist who has a reputation of dealing well with children. Part of finding the right dental professional is taking your child with you while inspecting the dental office. Look out for the proper equipment for kid dental care and if their place has a kid-friendly vibe. Dental offices that do not have too much of a serious and “clinic-like” feel is much prefered.

I am Valerie M. Preston, DDS with more than 20 years of experience in the dental industry. I’m an expert in restorative and cosmetic dentistry and a proud member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Dental Association and the North Carolina Dental Society. I own VPreston Dental in Raleigh, NC, a dental clinic known for its spa-like ambiance. For more details, you can check out my website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

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