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The Problems with Thumb Sucking

We’re guessing that, like many other parents, you are concerned about your child’s thumb sucking habit. The act is very natural for a child and many children start when they are in the womb. You may be concerned  if it is harmful, at what age should they stop or what could be the long-term effects if they don’t stop.

At least you can rest assured that sucking is one of an infant’s natural reflexes. Infants, toddlers and young children may suck on thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or other objects. It makes them feel secure and happy, some children also do it when they are bored.

However, research has shown that there are a number of problems with thumb sucking and finger sucking in children. If the act of digit sucking is prolonged, this may cause issues with the growth of the mouth and the alignment of child’s teeth. It also can cause changes in the roof of the mouth (palate) and can cause speech problems.

Recognition in the Dental Industry

In 2019 Thumbsies® was recognised for it excellence in the dental industry and awarded “Innovation of the Year” in the Dental Industry Awards  run in association with the BDIA (British Dental Industry Association)

What do dentists say?

We asked three dentists to give their views on thumb sucking problems and the effects on the teeth. They have also said why they recommend Thumbsies®.

According to Dr. Lina Kotecha from Glen Dental, Leicester, the intensity of the sucking is a factor that determines whether or not dental problems may follow later in life. In the event that children rest their thumbs latently in their mouths, they are probably going to cause fewer issues than the individuals who vivaciously suck their thumbs. Some forceful thumb suckers may create issues with their infant (essential) teeth and additionally their grown-up teeth.

Donna at iQ Orthodontics explains: “Digit sucking has a huge emotional attachment in young children and so it can be a very difficult habit to break. Thumbsie® is a great way to help to stop the habit, children can choose their own design and really make the Thumbsies® their own. We have had great success with patients using the Thumbsie® and regularly recommend it. It often means we don’t need to use orthodontic appliances to stop a thumb or finger sucking habit.”

Dr. Andrew McGregor, Park Orthodontics, Glasgow loves Thumbsie® because: “Anything that makes the process fun can be a massive help because getting a child to stop thumb sucking can be very difficult. Thumbsie® has helped several of my patients to successfully kick the habit. I now recommend it to every frustrated parent!”

What age do they stop?

Many children stop sucking their thumbs on their own by the time they are 4 or 5. For older children who continue to be thumb suckers, peer pressure at school can often end the habit. However, according to research, 15 percent are still sucking at the age of four, we have had many 12-year-olds using Thumbsie® fabric thumb guards to help them.

Remember, though, even a child who’s successfully stopped sucking his or her thumb, by whatever means, might revert to the behavior when he or she is stressed or anxious, so it’s worth keeping an eye on this.

Although some parents are keen for their child to break the thumb sucking habit before it becomes too much of a habit, it isn’t usually a concern, experts say, until a child’s permanent teeth start to come through but most toddlers are not interested giving up a constant source of comfort.

If you are reading this page then you, like so many others, are probably worried about the long-term effects of continuous and vigorous digit sucking.

Possible Side Effects

Problems may arise if the act is prolonged. According to research the possible effects of thumb sucking for children after the age of four/five are:

  • Improperly aligned teeth that have been pushed outward and upward
  • Lower front teeth can move inward
  • Open bite where the upper and lower front teeth do not meet
  • Speech problems such as lisping, imprecise pronunciation and thrusting out the tongue when talking
  • Change the shape of the roof of the mouth (palette)
  • Problems chewing
  • Chapped skin: Constantly sucking on a thumb may cause irritated and dry skin or nail infections

Once the sucking habit has stopped, natural improvement of the teeth can occur within 6 months. If the habit stops before the adult teeth are starting to develop (age 7/8) then your child is unlikely to experience any problems. According to experts, these children will be lucky enough to not have caused any long-term damage to their teeth.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says treatment is usually limited to children who continue thumb sucking after the age of five.

If you notice changes in your child’s baby teeth or are concerned about your child’s thumb sucking you should consult your dentist or orthodontist.

You can read more about the problems with thumb sucking by clicking on these links.

The British Orthodontic Society have a pdf leaflet that you can download on dummy and thumb sucking habits.

Read more from the American Dental Association

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Award-winning Thumbsie® was created from a real need when Jo Bates’s, founder Thumbsie Ltd, third daughter Isabel needed help to stop thumb sucking!

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