Should I be worried about my child sucking their thumb?

When it comes time to talk to an orthodontist, a lot of parents are (understandably) more than a little bit nervous about the habit of their children sucking on their thumbs and the potential damage it may do to their teeth – not only in the short term but in the long term as well.

All parents understand that thumbsucking is about as common for children as breathing and new research shows that fetuses are often detected sucking on their thumbs when ultrasounds are able to pick up the activity.

When children are particularly young, thumbsucking isn’t going to pose any threat to their teeth or their smile. This is particularly true if they don’t have any teeth in their head at all quite yet!

Once they start to develop their baby teeth, however, things can start to get kind of crazy if they continue with the thumb sucking habits. Children that suck on their thumbs later on in childhood development inevitably have to contend with teeth that are crooked, jaws that do not grow or develop quite as straight as they could have or should have, and problems with their bite that can be a bit of a challenge to correct until they are much older – and by then NONE of them are going to be excited about having to wear braces!

At the end of the day, it’s always going to be a judgment call to determine whether or not it’s time to stop this habit and really discourage your child from sucking on their thumb. It’s all going to come down to their age, how often they do so, the development of their teeth and their smile, and a whole host of other factors that your orthodontist is going to be able to help you out with.

Children aged three years old or younger

When children are really young, right up until the age of three or so (as a general rule of thumb, no pun intended) you really don’t have much to worry about it – if anything – when they spend time sucking on their thumbs. At this stage in the game their teeth are still very immature (if they have any teeth at all), and their smile, jaw development, and bite aren’t going to be negatively impacted by them spending time with their thumb or a binky/pacifier in their mouths most of the time.

Children between the age of three and the age of five

As your children get a little bit older, however – between the ages of three and five years old, for example – you’re going to want to start gently encouraging your child to put this habit behind them. You don’t have to pressure them, you don’t have to shame them, and you don’t have to come down like a hammer on them every time that they slip up and start sucking on their thumbs again, but you do want to gently push them in the right direction and get them to give up on this habit as soon as they are comfortable doing so.

Believe it or not, new sour tasting and 100% safe nail polish can be applied to your child’s thumb to get them to speed up this process of abandoning the habit with zero negative side effects whatsoever.

Children between the age of six and nine

If your child is still sucking on their thumb between the ages of six years old and nine years old the odds are very (VERY) good that their bite, their smile, and their jaw is going to be negatively affected by this habit.

You as a responsible parent are going to want to take more drastic measures to break this habit just as quickly as possible, and you want to make sure that you are doing so as consistently as you can to really cement the new behaviors. It’s also a good idea to visit your orthodontist to take advantage of habit breaking devices that they can provide parents of young children to protect them from the long-term damage this habit can have.

Children older than nine years of age

If we are talking about children nine years old or older that continue to suck on their thumbs we are going to be talking about children that have already done a significant amount of damage to their smile, to their teeth alignment, to their bite, and to the proper development of their jaws.

Children that continue to suck their thumbs for this long are going to require braces, may require tooth extractions, and may even need jaw surgery to repair the damage that has been done already and to prevent things from getting even worse as they continue to mature. Prompt and immediate action is necessary, and you’ll want to contact your orthodontist to move as swiftly as you can to avoid things getting even worse.

You want to also read “when should you take your child to the orthodontist?