Bad Habits – How to Stop Thumb Sucking

Bad Habits – How to Stop Thumb Sucking

It can look adorable when little ones do it, but thumb sucking is a bad habit that needs to be broken not just because your baby is growing up but also because thumb sucking can lead to serious dental and orthodontic problems if not corrected. “Most commonly, children naturally stop thumb sucking by the time their baby front teeth are ready to come out,” says Dr. Makowski. “It’s when they don’t stop by around age 3-5 that we have cause for concern.”

Unlike other nervous habits like nail biting and teeth grinding, thumb sucking is a natural reflex for babies. It gives them comfort and security, and they learn to do it to sleep or to soothe themselves.

How thumbsucking affects your child’s teeth and gums

Thumbsucking and excessive pacifier use can cause misalignment or flaring of erupting front primary (baby) or permanent teeth and deform the soft, developing roof of your child’s mouth creating a narrow palate, crossbites and overbites.

The problems are significant in that narrow palates lead to significant crowding of upper teeth. Crossbites can lead to asymmetrical facial development and significant wear and tear of the teeth from abnormal contacts between upper and lower teeth. While extensive overbites can be difficult to unravel even in children with strong growth in the lower jaw.

The extent of negative outcome from the habit depends on the intensity and duration of the thumb sucking. If the thumb just rests inside the mouth, that wouldn’t have much effect on the growing teeth or gums. But children who aggressively suck on their thumb, or even more passively do it for large amounts of time can develop problems with their teeth and jaws.

Breaking the habit

  • Buy stickers of stars or stamps as praise and reward for not sucking thumbs. Focus on the positive. Gently nudge your child to stop sucking his or her thumb this way instead of scolding.
  • If your child sucks thumbs when in need of comfort, provide that comfort and then divert the hands with a toy. Like with nail biting, keep their hands busy.
  • Have a ceremony for the pacifier. Put it under the pillow for the tooth fairy in exchange for a “special item payment.”
  • Let your dentist know. We can talk to toddlers and kids about what happens to their teeth if they don’t stop thumb sucking. Sometimes an explanation coming from their ‘doctor’ is more authoritative than one from Mom or Dad.
  • You can also try changing the texture of the thumb. Hiding it by bandaging or using mittens can work really well especially at night when your child may have a harder time breaking a bedtime habit.
  • Try changing the taste of the thumb using Mavala Stop nail polish.

We are well versed in this problem and we are ready to help you and your child if thumb sucking becomes a difficult habit for your child to break!

About Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontic Specialists of Michigan, the offices of Drs. Plunkett, Ralstrom, Makowski, Thanasas, Ker, and Associates

Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontic Specialists of Michigan have specialized in pediatric dentistry and orthodontics since 1968. Our family-friendly and newly renovated office gives patients and families a more comfortable and consistent experience with dentistry from the very beginning. Our pediatric dentists treat children from newborn to 18 years of age while our orthodontists provide care for both children and adults and are proud to be Premier Providers of Invisalign and Invisalign Teen services. The ability to treat all patients with compassion and individuality, including those that may have special needs reaches beyond our facility, which has treatment rooms available for children who require additional privacy and customized care options.  We pioneered valued hospital affiliations to allow dental services to be performed at DMC Children’s Hospital and St. John Macomb Hospital, when appropriate or necessary, and our specialists are also proud to be on staff at Henry Ford and Beaumont hospitals.

39400 Garfield Rd., Suite 200
Clinton Township, MI
Phone: 586-286-0700
Fax: 586-286-5932