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The Impact of Thumb-sucking on Teeth & Dental Health

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Most people are unaware of the impact of thumb-sucking on teeth and dental health. But parents with children who suck their thumbs should learn more about this subject. Kids who suck their thumbs frequently struggle with issues related to their bite and speech. Parents can avoid these problems by training out this habit at the right time, when the child is around four or five. However, if thumb-sucking persists for too long, the child may face many of the issues outlined in this article.

If you are the parent of a child who sucks their thumbs, read on for a better idea of what to look for and how to prepare. Hopefully, your child will not experience the worst outcomes of thumb- and finger-sucking.

Open Bites

One of the most common ways that excessive, prolonged thumb-sucking can impair a child’s dental health is that it results in an open bite as their adult teeth settle in. An open bite occurs when the upper front teeth cannot meet or overlap the lower front.

Children struggling with this problem have teeth that protrude from their mouths, and they often cannot close their mouths completely. Although this does not make for a visually attractive smile, open bites also create more dire health complications. They create opportunities for problems like improper jaw growth, redness of the gums, and poor functioning of the front teeth.


In most cases, a person’s front teeth protrude over their lower teeth by one to two millimeters. But when a child sucks on their thumb or fingers for a prolonged period, an excessive overlap may occur. In these instances, known as overbites, the upper teeth cover the lower teeth.

Just like with open bites, overbites may have a substantial impact on your child’s self-confidence. When we talk about the impacts of thumb-sucking on teeth and dental issues, we can never forget that poor dental health often leads to low self-esteem. As children grow and become more aware of their surroundings, they have enough reasons to be self-conscious. There is no use adding on another one simply because of a childhood habit.

Speech Impediment

The impacts of deformities in your child’s teeth and jaw will ripple outward and have a far more significant effect on how they eat and speak. A child who sucks their thumb may develop a lisp or other speech impediments. Certain consonants like “D” and “T” may also be difficult for a child who sucked their thumb for too long.

These children may need corrective dental care and speech therapy to correct the problems. However, it may be impossible to reverse the outcomes once they have settled into place. Finger- and thumb-sucking can deform a mouth so much that it cannot overcome speech impediments. This issue may make it difficult for your child to communicate correctly, leading to a lot of frustration, isolation, and anger.

Skin Problems

This issue may not necessarily relate to teeth and dental health, but it may affect the lips and mouth. Children who suck on their fingers or thumbs may develop skin problems in the areas around where they suck. When you expose skin to moisture too often, it becomes vulnerable to all sorts of injuries. Some children may experience skin that bleeds, cracks, or even becomes infected, both on their hands and on their faces around their mouths.

If your child sucks their thumb, look to see if the skin is calloused. The moisture and pressure may even warp the thumbnail, making it peel or cause an ingrowth.

Social Issues

Even though thumb-sucking is a perfectly natural part of a child’s development, as your boy or girl gets older, other kids may ridicule them if they do not break the habit. One of the most unsettling outcomes of a child sucking their thumb is how this habit will hamper their social skills. If kids treat your child more like an outsider because of their thumb-sucking, your child will quickly grow to internalize that and consider themselves lesser than the rest of their peers.

Children with this self-image will have a much harder time as they grow, and they will likely feel the scars of their childhood well into adulthood. You want your child to feel like they can accomplish anything, not like they have a habit that separates them from their friends. Unfortunately, you cannot make every kid in school accept your child. But you can be realistic about how other kids will respond to your young one and help them to feel more accepted.

Ways to Break the Habit

If you are concerned enough about thumb-sucking that you want to learn how it will impact your child’s health, you probably care enough to help them break the habit altogether. There are several ways parents can go about weaning their child off a finger-sucking habit. Some of these include:

  • Open up a dialogue about the topic with your child. There is a very good chance your child does not realize why they suck their thumbs. When you talk with them about it openly and without condemnation, you may inspire them to give up the habit themselves.
  • Create a rewards system in which you can praise the child for good behavior. For every day that they do not suck their thumbs, you can offer them, for example, stickers or tokens.
  • You can create boundaries to limit your child’s thumb-sucking. Allowing them to suck their fingers only when they watch TV or when they are in bed could help them progressively curb the habit.
  • You can use a visual reminder to keep your child away from their thumb. Just by tying a rubber band around the thumb or finger, you can communicate a reminder to the child to stay away. Just do not wrap it too tight.


The consequences of thumb-sucking are vast and sometimes unexpected. Many parents do not realize that when their child is sucking on their fingers, they are making potentially inalterable changes to their teeth and mouths. These accidental alterations can have massive impacts on their development, as well as their self-esteem.

As a concerned parent, pay close attention to how your child’s thumb-sucking habit is developing. A time may come when you need to step in. Hopefully, this article will give you some motivation to make changes in your child’s life.