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    • 15 JAN 19
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    Thumbsucking and Healthy Teeth

    A young blonde toddler that is sucking his thumb and looking at the camera.

    Thumbsucking is a way that many infants soothe themselves. However, over time, this habit can cause various oral health issues with the teeth. Thumbsucking can cause the teeth to shift position overtime, even making them push outwards. This can lead to speech impediments and orthodontic issues. The problem is worse when thumbsucking happens with the permanent teeth. Use these tips to help break the habit!


    Thumbsucking and the Baby Teeth

    Thumbsucking is a natural habit for infants, even though it can negatively affect the teeth over time. There are many studies that have found thumbsucking to be something that even infants in the womb do to soothe themselves. It’s a natural mechanism that infants do to receive comfort, especially when falling asleep at night.


    Age 4 is the time set by the American Dental Association when your child should definitely stop sucking their thumb if they haven’t already. The baby teeth come into the mouth between 3 and 18 months. All should be in by age 3. At that time, the teeth can start to shift position due to thumbsucking. This is because there is force exerted with a sucking motion that can eventually cause the front teeth to start shifting outward. That shifting can alter the natural placement of the teeth and make them point outwards instead of naturally being up and down.


    If your child passively sucks their thumb, there may be no cause for concern. This is especially true if you notice the habit happening less and less as they age. Many children will naturally stop thumbsucking on their own by age 4, especially if they are taught consistently not to do it. When vigorous thumbsucking happens—which you can tell by the sound that’s made when sucking—or if the habit is not stopped between ages 3 and 4, oral health can be affected.


    An asian baby that is a few months old. The baby is sucking on its thumb and looking at the camera.

    Stopping Thumbsucking

    With severe cases of oral health issues caused by thumbsucking, a child’s teeth can change position enough to cause speech impediments. Speech may be difficult to understand because of how the air passes through the mouth when hitting the teeth. Or, bite and alignment can shift enough to also cause speech issues. Those issues will also affect how a child eats, bites and chews, as well as how the permanent teeth start to come into the mouth around age 7 or 8.


    The goal is to stop the habit before changes to the teeth and jaws happen. At a young age, start encouraging your child to stop sucking their thumb. Instead of disciplining them for the habit, praise a toddler when they stop sucking the thumb or attempt to stop. Over time, that praise may be enough to stop the habit altogether.


    Studies have concluded that forceful correction can have the opposite effect on a toddler trying to quit thumbsucking. Because this habit is one that children do to soothe themselves, you want to employ methods in quitting the habit that won’t induce more anxiety or discomfort. That is why reward systems and praise work so well. If you have tried all that your dentist has suggested for helping your little one quit, you may need to use over-the-counter methods of quitting. One is toddler-safe nail polish that gives off a foul taste when the thumb is placed in the mouth. Another is using gloves or mittens on the hands to help discourage the sucking. Sometimes a band-aid will do or a simple covering on the thumb. Ask your dentist about the options are best for your child.


    A young toddler girl that is holding a pink pacifier in one hand and a blue pacifier in the other hand.

    What About Pacifiers?

    The ADA reports that pacifiers can have the same effects on the baby teeth as thumbsucking does. However, if you have to choose between one or the other, try quitting the thumbsucking by offering your child a pacifier instead. Then, take measures to start weaning off the pacifier. It’s generally easier to wean a child from a pacifier than it is a thumb. The experts say a pacifier is completely normal for infants. However, you want to start breaking the habit around age 2. Habits are harder to break as an infant ages.


    If you find that it is hard to stop the pacifier before age 2, that’s okay. Weaning from the pacifier is easier after breastfeeding has stopped. Some won’t want to wean until they are starting potty-training and have better cognitive strategies to manage their distress. That is around age 2. To wean off the pacifier, try:

    • Talking with your toddler often about why the pacifier can’t always be with them. Avoid clipping a pacifier to their clothes so it’s not always within reach.
    • If an infant sleeps with a pacifier, try taking it away in small increments during the day. Have them go without in the mornings, then add in the afternoon, and then make it a strictly-bedtime thing.
    • Try making the pacifier a crib-only benefit.
    • When all else fails, stick to one or two pacifiers. Try poking holes in them (1 or 2 each day). Eventually graduate to cutting bits off of the pacifiers. Those gradual changes in how a pacifier feels in the mouth may make your infant not want the pacifier anymore.


    Healthy Baby Teeth

    Whether thumbsucking nail polish or plastic thumb coverings works for you or you need other methods, always do your best to try. Much of a child’s oral health is determined by how much parents help them. That goes for sucking the thumb and avoid oral health problems. Always help your child to brush their teeth every single day.


    As soon as an infant has teeth, those teeth need to be brushed. Even flossing needs to happen if the teeth are touching. Sometime between 12 and 18 months, start having your child visit a dentist to establish good oral health care with a professional. We can help you with breaking oral health habits with both thumbsucking and pacifiers. Call Dr. Evanson’s office at (720) 409-0008 for the questions you have and to schedule your child’s dental checkup!

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