How Does Thumb Sucking Affect the Teeth?

Thumb sucking is a common habit in infants and young children, stemming from natural rooting and sucking reflexes that often manifest before birth. In the early years of life, it is generally harmless - but prolonged thumb sucking can have negative effects on teeth development and alignment.

How thumb sucking can damage teeth

Sucking the thumb puts pressure on the roof of the mouth, the jaw and the alignment of teeth. Prolonged bad habits can cause malformation and misalignment that may require surgery to repair. In many cases, braces and retainers can address the damage, but the habit must first be stopped. Here are some of the ways thumb sucking can damage teeth.

Teeth and jaw misalignment

Early teeth and jaw development is an important process. Thumb sucking can alter this development, causing the teeth to develop in abnormal positions and potentially making the jaw develop in a way that fits to the thumb and not the natural way it should form. This is known as malocclusion, one of the most common reasons for referral to an orthodontist.

Overbites and open bites prevent teeth from closing properly

If the thumb continues putting pressure on the roof of the mouth, it may cause the jaw to overextend or raise the roof of the mouth high enough that the teeth don't close properly.

An overextended jaw constitutes an overbite, when the top front teeth protrude beyond the bottom front teeth. This can lead to jaw pain, gum disease, tooth decay and more.

Raising the roof of the mouth can cause an open bite, when the top and bottom teeth do not touch when the mouth is fully closed. Open bites often get worse over time, increasing the chance of gum disease, tooth decay, speech impediments and jaw discomfort.

Teeth issues lead to speech impediments

Overbites and open bites often impact a person's ability to speak properly. With an overbite, the overlap between the top and bottom teeth can cause unwanted whistling and lisps. An open bite, meanwhile, can make the tongue flit between the gap during speech. Lisps are common with open bites, and speech therapy is sometimes needed to address the issue.

The orthodontic price of thumb sucking

Braces and clear aligners can only do so much to correct misaligned teeth. If the patient continues to suck their thumb after these treatments, there is little they can do to avoid expensive orthodontic care later in life. They may need to get aligners a second time around, or even undergo jaw surgery in severe cases. The seemingly innocent behavior of thumb sucking can cause major orthodontic damage that could cost tens of thousands of dollars. Motto™ has the answers for all your questions about clear aligners and how they can help fix the damage.

When does thumb sucking become a major concern?

Most children stop sucking their thumb naturally between the ages of 2 and 4. By age 6, it is possible to still avoid major orthodontic issues. In general, thumb sucking past the age of 8 is considered a big problem. By this point, permanent teeth have come in and jaw development is starting to move quickly. If a child is still sucking their thumb by this stage of life, intervention may be necessary to stop the habit before more damage is done.

How to stop thumb sucking in children

Luckily, parents have many strategies at their disposal to address late-stage thumb sucking in their child:

  • Professional intervention: Be it an orthodontist or a therapist, there are people willing to find ways to make the child stop sucking their thumb. These professionals may be able to notice the reasons why the child continues to suck their thumb, making it easier to find a solution

  • Identifying triggers: Some children suck their thumbs in response to stress or other situations. By identifying the scenarios where thumb sucking becomes more prevalent for the child, parents can work to avoid those triggers and stop the habit before it festers.

  • Reward systems: Designing a reward system to give the child a positive reinforcement loop may be a way to encourage quitting. The child will be more receptive to a reward than to the overarching threat of long-term orthodontic care.

Motto™ aligners can help fix tooth damage from thumb sucking

Thumb sucking can be a hard habit to break, and the damage can be lasting. Talk with the professionals at Motto™ to understand the severe damage that could occur, and learn how clear aligners work to help correct the early damage from thumb sucking.