Dental Health Topics

How Harmful Is Thumb-Sucking to My Baby’s Teeth?

Thumb-sucking is extremely common in babies – and very cute! Babies have very few items in their self-soothing arsenal, but when all else fails, a good ol’ thumb will do the trick to calm them down.

For some babies, thumb-sucking comes and goes. For others, the habit lasts well beyond when it should. What’s the harm exactly? And when do we need ensure our kiddos stop?

Why do babies suck their thumb?

Babies are born with the need to suck; in fact, sucking is a reflex and baby will suck anything that hits their palate. This reflex ensures baby sucks and swallows the good stuff – breastmilk or formula – which is their only form of nutrition until they’re ready for solids.

The act of sucking is innately soothing for a baby. When babies are tired or stressed, you’ll often find that milk, a pacifier, or a thumb will do the trick to calm them down.

What’s the harm in it?

A baby sucking her thumb needn’t worry about any future orthodontic concerns. But thumb-sucking beyond the baby years can affect how a child’s teeth and palate are shaped. That is – when a child’s permanent teeth are coming in, usually after the age of five, continued thumb-sucking can cause teeth to be misaligned.

A child’s front teeth may protrude out and his palate may be misshapen due to constant upward pressure. Due to the teeth being misaligned, your child may also have speech problems. The severity of dental and speech problems will depend on how vigorously and frequently your child sucks their thumb.

How do I get my child to stop thumb-sucking?

The sooner you help your child curb the habit, the better. But if your child is still sucking her thumb after the age of five, you’ll want to put in a more concentrated effort (without creating any power struggles). Try some of these tips from the University of Michigan Department of Medicine, or ask your dentist or pediatrician for other ideas.