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Thumb Sucking and Jaw Alignment: What To Know

Parents of young children watch their kids’ growth and development intensely. Children’s oral health becomes a concern even before teething. For example, there are many things to know about thumb sucking and jaw alignment, including possible developmental problems for the jaw and upper palate, as well as difficulties with speech.

Thumb sucking is a natural reflex that many infants develop as a source of comfort and self-soothing. Although it is common in young children, thumb sucking can lead to various issues with the development of the jaw and upper palate if the habit persists beyond the age of four. Learn more about how thumb sucking can affect jaw alignment and other dangers of thumb sucking.

Altered Jaw Development

Persistent thumb sucking can create uneven pressure on the teeth and jawbones, leading to misalignment and improper growth. This pressure can cause both the upper and lower jaws to become misaligned, which could eventually require orthodontic treatment, such as braces, and in extreme cases, even surgery, to correct.

Narrowing of the Upper Palate

The constant suction created by thumb sucking can cause the upper jaw and the upper palate to become narrower than usual. This narrowing can create a crossbite, where the upper teeth close inside the lower teeth. This deformity in the jaw can also cause tooth crowding and even changes in facial appearance.

Protrusion of the Upper Teeth

As the upper palate narrows and the jaw becomes misaligned, the teeth can push outward. This condition, known as an anterior open bite, is characterized by the front teeth not touching when a child closes their mouth.

Other Health and Developmental Concerns

In addition to these potential jaw and palate issues, thumb sucking can lead to other problems, such as delayed speech development, increased risk of infections by introducing germs from the hands into the mouth, and social development issues. Kids who still suck their thumbs when they enter elementary school can be the victims of teasing and bullying.

When To Consult a Pediatric Dentist

Pediatric dental care should start as soon as baby teeth emerge. If your child adheres to the thumb sucking habit when permanent teeth come in, or if you notice issues with jaw alignment, consult with a pediatric dentist immediately. They can assess your child’s oral development and recommend appropriate treatment options, including referrals to orthodontic specialists.

Remember that it’s essential to approach the issue with patience and understanding, as thumb sucking is often a self-soothing habit and may be challenging for your child to give up. Providing support, positive reinforcement, and alternative means of self-soothing can help your child overcome the habit and avoid the effects thumb sucking can have on jaw alignment.