Thumb sucking is a habit usually associated with a child’s early years. Many people dismiss it as a harmless habit children will outgrow. However, preventing your child from thumbsucking is crucial to ensuring their long-term dental health. Thumb sucking can have negative effects on the development of your child’s teeth, jaw, and facial structure.
If your child simply places their thumb in their mouth, this habit’s effects are unlikely to be permanent. However, if your child vigorously sucks their thumb, the habit may damage their baby teeth or misalign their permanent teeth if they are old enough to have them. The pressure from sucking can even cause malocclusion or misalignment of the upper and lower teeth.
Malocclusion can cause issues such as open bites and overbites. These conditions can interfere with your ability to speak or eat properly. They may also cause more wear and tear on your teeth, leading to significant pain and even gum disease due to teeth hitting the gums. These issues may require more extensive and expensive dental treatments such as braces.
Since vigorous thumb sucking is an activity that involves the energetic use of the facial muscles, it can also change your child’s facial structure. Thumb sucking can result in unwanted facial distortions and shifts that affect your child’s physical appearance. It can also result in unhealthy tongue position, airway obstruction, and sleep breathing disorders. Sleep breathing disorders may become the catalyst for other problems such as bedwetting, sleep apnea, and restless leg syndrome.
If your child is already experiencing the negative effects of vigorous thumb sucking, a dentist can usually help by prescribing orthodontic treatments or myofunctional therapy. Orthodontic treatments such as braces, retainers, or clear aligners can usually fix issues such as malocclusion. On the other hand, myofunctional therapy is a method for retraining the facial muscles to work properly. Therapists will prescribe exercises that can reverse the effects of thumb sucking and develop the facial muscles correctly.
However, the best treatment is always prevention. Be sure to encourage good habits by dissuading your children from thumb sucking and rewarding them for not sucking their thumbs. Be aware of whether your child also sucks their thumb while they sleep. Explain the negative effects of thumb sucking in a way they can understand. Also, be sure to take them to routine dental check-ups and instill in them the importance of good dental hygiene.