Your child might self-comfort with the help of a pacifier or thumb sucking, which can be a valuable soothing habit. But it’s important to talk to an orthodontist to see just how long this soothing habit should last. Around the age of four, aggressive thumb sucking or pacifier use can lead to problems for permanent teeth.
What is normal thumb-sucking behavior?
Most children begin sucking their thumbs or fingers from a very young age; many even start inside the womb. Sucking is a natural reflex for an infant and it serves an important purpose. Sucking often provides a sense of security and contentment for a young one. It can also be relaxing, which is why many children suck their thumbs as they fall asleep.
According to the American Dental Association, most children stop thumb sucking on their own between the ages of two and four. They simply grow out of a habit that is no longer useful to them. However, some children continue sucking beyond the preschool years (although studies show that the older a child gets, the lower the chances are of continuing the habit). If your child is still sucking when their permanent teeth start to erupt, it may be time to take action to break the habit. Vigorous sucking puts pressure on the teeth and gums, and can lead to a number of problems.
Our bites are considered normal when the upper teeth slightly overlap the lower where they touch in the front of the mouth. But with aggressive thumb sucking, teeth are pushed out of alignment. Sometimes this results in a condition called “open bite,” where the upper and lower teeth don’t make contact at all. An open bite almost always requires orthodontic treatment.
Your child’s palate and jaw are still growing. Aggressive thumb sucking can actually change the shape of the palate and jaw, and even affect facial structure.
Prolonged thumb sucking has been suggested as a risk factor for speech disorders such as lisping, the inability to pronounce certain letters, or tongue thrusting.
If your child finds it especially hard to stop the thumb-sucking habit, there are dental appliances and mouthguards available that can discourage thumb sucking. Contact our office and we will work with you and your child to prevent future orthodontic problems and begin a lifetime of beautiful smiles.