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Long-Term Impact of Thumb Sucking On Oral Health

Child sucking their thumb

Thumb-sucking is a normal habit for both babies and toddlers. It is a habit that babies find soothing and comforting. Most children will grow out of this habit by the time they are out of the toddler years. However, there is a number that will carry on sucking their thumb into school going ages.

Thumb sucking is harmful if it goes beyond the growth of the first adult teeth at between 5 and 6 years.

What are the long -term effects of thumb-sucking?

Improper Bite

An improper bite is the most obvious effect of thumb-sucking. Thumb-sucking will lead to malocclusion including open bite (upper and lower front teeth don’t meet), and overbite (upper front teeth that stick out). Presence of the thumb in the mouth causes teeth to move within the jawbone and also affects the development of the jaws.

The pressure of the thumb in the mouth leads to an outward and upward shift of teeth that makes them protrude.

The pressure of the cheeks against the upper teeth narrows the upper jaw and results in crowded upper front teeth.

Braces can later be used to correct the positions of the teeth and to encourage growth to normalise the bone of the jaws.

Difficulty with Speech

Children who habitually suck their thumb may experience problems such as speaking with a lisp and difficulty pronouncing specific words. The reason behind speech problems is the effect on development of the child’s jaw.

Thumb-sucking may lead to tongue thrust which is a condition where the tongue protrudes through the front teeth when swallowing. Normally, children will outgrow tongue thrust once they commence eating solid foods. Prolonged tongue thrust may lead to malocclusion and crooked teeth.

Increased Risk of Infections

Children who suck the thumb beyond the toddler years are at an increased risk of infection through introduction of bacteria in the mouth. Children with the thumb-sucking habit are more likely to need prescription antibiotics compared to those children that do not have the habit.

How to Help Your Child to Stop Thumb-Sucking?

In very young babies it is sometimes possible to prevent a habit from starting by moving the thumb away from the mouth in the early days and weeks.

Once a thumb sucking habit is established it can be difficult to persuade the child to stop. Whilst some children will typically outgrow the habit, other children will require some help to stop thumb-sucking.

In our experience it is best to wait until the child is old enough that you can explain why it would be a good idea for them to stop sucking their thumb. This tends to be around the age of six.

Once the child understands and has decided that they want to stop sucking their thumb they may still need some help breaking the habit. We have had great success with asking parents to apply woven fabric plasters to both of the child’s thumbs which helps to serve as a reminder and helps break the habit. We have also had successes with a type of removable brace called a habit appliance.


At Balsall Common Dental Practice we see children under four privately without charge. Children over four are seen privately under a monthly membership plan.

At present we have an offer of 6 months free membership to our child membership plan. Click below to apply.

6 months free care for children

Dr Ashley Davenport BDS MFGDP(UK)

I qualified as a dentist in 1995 and can honestly say that I have been doing a job that I love for the past 20 plus years. Most people who know me well know that dentistry is a passion for me and that if I won the lottery I would still want to have some dentistry in my life. I get huge satisfaction from treating patients and making a difference to ...

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201 Station Road
Balsall Common
West Midlands
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Last updated: April 20th, 2024

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