Thumb sucking is a completely normal habit for children between the ages of 2 and 4. It is said to comfort and calm your baby/ toddler or it can be used as a source of entertainment or method to fall asleep.

However, thumb sucking can become a risk to the development of your child’s permanent teeth, if they continue to suck their thumb when they are 5 or 6 years old. Around this age is when they will lose their milk teeth and their permanent teeth will erupt; and their jaw bones are growing and developing, which means they are still soft and more easily manipulated.

It depends on the intensity of the sucking that will determine the effects, if any, that the activity may have on your child’s teeth.

Some of the negative, long-term effects of thumb sucking past the age of 5 or 6:

  • An overbite or underbite may develop due to the pressure placed on the teeth.
  • Thumb sucking can affect the positioning of the jaw and cause your child to develop a lisp.
  • Germs sucked off the thumb can cause disease in the mouth and body.
  • The shape and structure of your child’s palate (roof of the mouth) can be altered or become more sensitive.

Thumb sucking is a habit that naturally stops around this time. However, if you are worried that your child may still be or is still in the habit of sucking their thumb at this age, there are positive ways in which you can discourage the behaviour.

Tips to discourage thumb sucking:

  • Encourage and praise your child when they stop themselves from sucking their thumb.
  • Infants can be offered pacifiers to suck on instead of their thumbs, as they can be taken away.
  • Establish a reward system to encourage your child to quit thumb sucking.
  • Eliminate the sources of stress or anxiety that would cause the child to suck their thumb.
  • Educate your child about the affects thumb sucking can have on their teeth.
  • If your child starts to suck their thumb, you can try distracting them with a toy or a song.

It is not constructive to punish or humiliate a child for thumb sucking as the stress of the punishment may encourage the child to continue sucking their thumb as a source of comfort.

It is important to take your child to a dentist or orthodontist around the age of 6 to ensure your child’s permanent teeth will erupt in the correct positions to avoid future dental conditions.
Your dentist will also be able to give you advice on how to discourage sucking behavior and educate your child on its dental effects.