The Long-Term Impacts of Thumb Sucking

Thumb sucking is a normal and soothing habit for babies and toddlers. While most children
grow out of this habit during their toddler years, some parents are faced with the reality that
their elementary-aged child is still sucking their thumb.

Thumb sucking is usually harmful if it persists beyond the ages of 5-6 years. What long-term
impacts is your child at risk for if they continue sucking their thumb?

An Improper Bite

Perhaps the most obvious effect of prolonged thumb sucking is a misaligned bite, also called a
malocclusion. Thumb sucking has the potential to cause an overbite, underbite, or an open bite
due to shifting teeth from the presence of the thumb being in the mouth.

The pressure of the thumb can cause teeth to shift outward and upward, leading to protruding
teeth or teeth that don’t touch when the mouth is closed. An improper bite normally requires
orthodontics to fix and may cause discomfort to your child when they speak, chew, or even
when the jaw is at rest.

Speech Problems

Speech problems such as a lisp or trouble pronouncing certain words can happen as a result of
thumb sucking. This is because constant thumb sucking can affect the development of your
child’s jaw, leading to a problem that could even require surgery to fix.

Thumb sucking may also prolong tongue thrust, a condition that infants grow out of once they
begin eating solid foods. Tongue thrust occurs when the tongue protrudes through the front
teeth, and can cause crooked teeth or a malocclusion.

Increased Risk of Infections

Children who suck their thumbs well into and beyond their toddler years are at greater risk for
infections due to constantly exposing the mouth to bacteria. These children are typically
introduced to antibiotics earlier than children who cease the thumb sucking habit.

If your child is old enough, explain to them that sucking their thumb can put them at risk for getting sick, something that will make you both feel bad!

How Can You Get Your Child to Stop?

It’s important that your child eventually stops sucking his or her thumb, but perhaps even more
important is how you go about discouraging this bad habit.

Be gentle when encouraging your child not to suck their thumb. They should be old enough to
understand the reasons why this habit is harmful. You can also try distracting them when they
begin to suck their thumb to help break the habit.

Remember, this is a behavior typically done under stress, so minimizing stress in your child’s life
may help prevent them from feeling the need to suck their thumb.

Is your child still sucking their thumb? This habit has long-term consequences for children if it’s
allowed to continue past the age of 5. You can also talk with your dentist about clever ways to
get your child to stop sucking their thumb if the habit proves difficult to break. Consider these
long-term impacts of thumb sucking when trying to get your child to stop!