Thumb-sucking is a normal habit in children. It is a reflex that calms them and causes them to feel more secure, and it can even help them sleep. But, if it persists, thumb-sucking can cause various dental problems.

As permanent teeth are replacing the milk teeth (baby teeth), thumb-sucking can hinder the general growth of the mouth, including teeth-alignment. It can also cause abnormal changes to the roof of the mouth.

For the most part, children cease sucking their thumbs at the time permanent teeth are ready to come in—somewhere between the ages 2 and 4. The children who continue to suck their thumbs past this age are at a higher risk for damage.

An additional influence that determines whether or not damage will occur is the magnitude of the child’s sucking. Children who suck their thumbs with force will have more dental issues than children who simply stick their thumb in their mouth. In fact, children who suck their thumbs vigorously have been known to develop issues ahead of the emergence of their adult teeth.

Here are a couple of ways to get your kids to cease sucking their thumbs:

– Discovering and treating the cause of anxiety that is provoking them to suck their thumb in the first place.

– Giving your child praise for not sucking.

Asking Dr. Craddock or Dr. Godat to offer advice and explain the risks.

If you see that your child is still sucking his or her thumb beyond the emergence of their adult teeth, and you aren’t able to correct the issue yourself, it’s a good idea to make an appointment—before problems arise.