Consequences of Thumbsucking on Children’s Oral Health
While thumbsucking and pacifier use is extremely common with young children, prolonged behavior of this kind can actually produce some repercussions. The consequences of thumbsucking in particular shouldn’t be ignored when taking oral health into account. While young children and toddlers generally perform these actions as a beneficial coping mechanism or way to relieve stress and anxiety, they can have detrimental effects on their oral health in the long run if they continue past the toddler stage.
Below, we’ll go over what some of these consequences look like, as well as easy ways to stop thumbsucking and pave the way for a better oral future.
Effects of Thumbsucking
As stated before, thumbsucking and pacifier use can certainly benefit a young child, provide ways to cope with anxiety, and can even give parents a much needed night’s rest. However, if a child continues this behavior past the age of four or five, it can have detrimental consequences toward both the development and structure of the child’s teeth and jaw. Some specific effects of thumbsucking include:
Malocclusion Issues – Thumbsucking can trigger issues with malocclusion, aka a misalignment of the upper and lower teeth. One of the most common malocclusions is referred to as an open bite, which is when the front upper and bottom teeth do not come into contact with one another, even when the mouth is closed. Overbites may also form as a result of malocclusion, which can make biting, chewing, and breaking down foods much more difficult to accomplish.
Jaw and Face Development Complications – Since a child’s mouth, jaw, and tooth structure are in constant development shortly after their toddler years, extended thumsucking or pacifier use can alter the way these parts develop. Reoccurring pressure from excessive thumbsucking directly alters our orofacial complex, and causes our teeth to shift in an unnatural direction, affecting the child’s overall facial structure.
Effects on Speech Development – When an open bite, overbite, or other malocclusion occurs from extended thumbsucking, it can have an effect on a child’s speech development. For children who habitually suck their thumbs, their tongue has a tendency to push forward through the teeth, and can contribute to poor tongue control. As a result, children who suck their thumbs are more prone to a lisp or difficulties with S, L, R, and Z sounds.
Easy Ways to Stop Thumbsucking
Thumbsucking and extensive pacifier usage is simply a habit that a child has developed in their early years, and like most habits, these can be altered or prevented through targeted applications. Some easy ways to stop thumbsucking include:
Limiting when and how often a child can suck their thumbs is perhaps the most productive way to stop thumbsucking. By limiting their ability to do so, you are directly targeting the habit when it’s happening, and keeping the habit to one specific area or time of day.
Making your child more aware of their habit is another way to help them wean off. When the child knows they shouldn’t be doing it, and is reminded when they do so, it helps them associate a muscle memory to stop performing the action altogether.
Giving your child a substitute can certainly help in preventing thumbsucking. Offer them something such as a blanket, pillow, or stuffed animal when they’re feeling stressed or anxious, to create a more positive association with those feelings.
Praising a child’s progress is also beneficial to helping them stop. Why do children suck their thumbs? Because they are coping with their feelings in perhaps the only way they know how to. By praising them on their progress, they can not only lessen the frequency of these habits, but feel better while doing so, alleviating this stress to begin with.
Dr. Hank Barreto Holistic Dentistry
As one of the leaders in holistic dentistry, Dr. Hank Barreto is providing an alternative approach to caring for teeth and gums that focuses on the relationship between the health of the mouth and the health of the rest of the body. We believe that patients should be provided with all of the information that they need to make smart choices about their dental health, and we strive to provide as much of that information as we can.
Get care from a professional Coral Gables dentist whose holistic approach is helping patients beyond their dental health. It’s important to choose the dentist who treats your whole being—not just your teeth. Dr. Hank Barreto has more than 25 years of experience with holistic, biological dentistry, and is always eager to help you meet your health goals. Contact the office of Dr. Hank Barreto to book an appointment today!