How Does Thumb-sucking or Pacifier Use Affect the Bite?

toddler sucking his thumb

Alpharetta, GA – Watching your baby suck his thumb or a pacifier to calm himself can be heartwarming. But many parents wonder when these natural reflexes stop providing calming benefits and start causing problems with their child’s bite.

Thumb sucking is perfectly normal for infants. Most toddlers will stop this habit by age 2, and experts say it should be discouraged after age 4.

A habit that continues beyond this age creates the risk of problems with teeth alignment and the growth of the mouth, according to the American Dental Association. It can alter the roof of the mouth, too.

The potential harm caused partially is determined by how vigorously a child sucks his thumb or a pacifier. Simply resting the thumb in the mouth is likely to cause less damage than an aggressive thumb sucker.

Orthodontic Concerns

Aggressively sucking the thumb, fingers or a pacifier beyond age 4 means children run the risk of altering their bite. The upper teeth slightly overlap the lower when in a proper bite pattern. Sucking habits can prevent that from happening and create what is known in orthodontics as an “open bite.” The back molars may touch when the jaws are closed, but the front teeth don’t.

The constant presence of a thumb, finger or pacifier in the mouth while the two front adult teeth erupt can cause them to come in improperly. They can be crowded or out of alignment.

Tongue Issues

Thumb sucking can lead to abnormal tongue rest and functional patterns in children, according to RDH magazine. It also can alter breathing and cause children to keep their lips open when their mouths are at rest.

When a child has his thumb or finger in his mouth for long time periods, it can cause his tongue to rest in a downward and forward position instead of in the roof of the mouth.

Skin Problems

Even parts of your child’s skin can suffer adverse reactions to chronic thumb or finger sucking. This habit can lead to skin or cuticle infections, as well as calluses on the thumb/finger from the pressure being exerted, according to RDH magazine.

Eliminating the Habit

We look for signs of problems at your child’s dental checkups, but please tell us if you are concerned that your child’s thumb-sucking or pacifier habit may lead to dental problems down the road. We are happy to share information on how to encourage your child to break the habit. Appliances also are available for children who have difficult quitting on their own.

© 2018 Polkadot Pediatric Dentistry.  Authorization to post is granted, with the stipulation that Polkadot Pediatric Dentistry in Alpharetta, GA, is credited as sole source. 

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