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The Long-Term Effects of Thumb Sucking as Children Age

Thumb sucking is a comforting behavior that many children exhibit during infancy and toddlerhood. While the habit may seem harmless, it can have long-term developmental effects as children grow.

When parents understand potential negative outcomes, they can help their kids avoid them. Consider the long-term effects of thumb sucking as children age so that you can help your child stop thumb sucking.

Oral Health Risks

Thumb sucking affects the development of the teeth, jaw, and bite. It can cause overbites, misaligned teeth, and, in extreme cases, speech problems and difficulty eating. If a child is still engaging in the habit when they reach school age, they’re at risk for these complications.

Social Problems

Social problems can arise due to thumb sucking as children age. Thumb sucking can be a source of embarrassment for kids, potentially leading to teasing and bullying from peers.

Long-term thumb sucking can lead to poor self-esteem, especially if children are unable to break the habit on their own. Knowing the potential social impact, parents should work to help their children stop the habit before they become victims of bullying or retreat into social isolation.

Tips for Parents

There are a number of ways that parents can help their children break the habit of thumb sucking. It’s important for parents to be patient and understanding rather than punishing or shaming their child for engaging in the behavior.

Talk to Your Child

Parents can talk to their children in simple terms about potential health risks (“germs on your thumb are yucky!”). They could also explain how they may feel embarrassed at school if they don’t break the habit.

Offer Alternatives for Comfort

Kids suck their thumbs because the sucking sensation releases “feel good” hormones in the brain. These sensations ease anxiety and help kids cope with frustration. Parents can offer alternatives for kids seeking comfort, reassurance, or a release from irritation. 

Although many alternatives won’t provide the soothing sensation that thumb sucking generates, there are other things that could help kids feel less anxious. These include stuffed animals, calming activities, or some extra attention. These could deter them from using thumb sucking as a means of self-comfort.

Remove Triggers

Parents should take note of the circumstances surrounding times when their child resorts to thumb sucking. If parents can identify the trigger for anxiety, boredom, or frustration that leads to thumb sucking, they can try to remove it. Whether it’s a particular type of noise, anxiety about going to school, or watching a parent leave for work, parents can find ways to reassure their child that everything is OK.

Because the dangers of thumb sucking are real and potentially serious, we developed the AeroThumb and the AeroFinger devices to help kids break the habit. These remove the pleasurable sensation kids get from thumb or finger sucking, reducing their motivation to engage in the practice. Parents then have time to get kids interested in healthier ways to reduce stress and anxiety or comfort themselves when they feel lonely or upset.

When parents are aware of the potential long-term effects of thumb sucking as their kids age, they can take steps to ensure that their children don’t suffer from those negative outcomes.