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The Tongue Problems That Can Occur From Thumb Sucking

Finger sucking is a common habit amongst children during early childhood. The self-soothing habit has its benefits at the appropriate age, but the behavior can create long-term oral and dental health problems when prolonged.

Concerned parents should be aware of the potential consequences of persistent sucking habits, including the influence on tongue movement and posture. Here is what you should understand about the tongue problems that can occur from thumb sucking or finger sucking.

The Basics of Tongue Thrusting

Prolonged digit sucking is known to cause oral habits that negatively affect teeth, jaw, and mouth development. Tongue thrusting is one of the tongue problems that can occur from thumb sucking. Tongue thrusting is an irregular swallowing pattern where the tongue presses between the front teeth as a child swallows.

According to the Academy of Orofacial Myofunctional Therapy, this tongue positioning is incorrect as the tongue should be behind the upper front teeth and held against the roof of the mouth. Oral health specialists note that this improper tongue position is often difficult to remedy, as the learned action becomes just as instinctual as non-nutritive sucking.

How Persistent Sucking Causes Thrusting

A prolonged sucking habit—one that persists after permanent teeth grow in—can create underlying problems for proper facial and skeletal growth. The core reason behind this is that the constant sucking motion causes the front-of-mouth lip muscles to overdevelop.

On the other hand, other significant oral muscles are not as active. For example, the masseter is a facial muscle that typically supports healthy jaw closure. Without the adequate muscle strength, tone, or function to retain it, the tongue easily and intuitively thrusts forward whenever a child has a finger or thumb in their mouth.

Improper Tongue Posture

Long-term sucking habits affect the movement of the tongue. If digit sucking persists beyond the age of five—or when a child’s permanent teeth begin coming in—the resulting tongue movement can create telltale dental or orofacial consequences. Tongue thrusting is a posture problem to keep a close eye on as the action may cause misaligned teeth, a poor bite, or the inability to transition to an adult swallowing pattern.

As the medical experts at Healthline note, improper tongue thrusting is apparent when you see excessive forward movement during speaking and swallowing. The tongue is noticeably in an incorrect forward position, meaning the involved muscles may need retraining. Children who do not transition to proper swallowing habits after infancy can develop oral health problems from the pressure on their teeth.

Breaking Thumb or Finger Sucking Habits

Correcting complications of improper tongue position requires first halting the sucking habit. When your child’s digit sucking habits continue beyond the recommended age, consider using a thumb or finger guard to help stop the habit for good. Finger guards disrupt the suction that drives the sucking habit.

When searching for ways to stop finger sucking, concerned parents can turn to the medical grade AeroFinger from TGuard.  We also have a product for thumb sucking, the AeroThumb. Learn more about these efficient and ergonomic solutions on our website.


“What Is Proper Tongue Posture And Why Does It Matter?” from Colgate

“Tongue Thrust in Children and Adults: What You Should Know” from Healthline