Will a thumb or dummy sucking habit affect my child’s teeth?

What is a sucking habit?

A sucking habit is when a child sucks their thumb, finger, or dummy during the day and / or night. It is one of the most common habits in childhood, beginning by the age of 3 months and normally lasting for around 2 years.

Young infants commonly enjoy a sucking habit which fades after a few years, but 1 in 8 children aged 7-11 adopt a prolonged digit sucking habit.

Children with prolonged sucking habits tend to do it for two reasons – either for security and comfort, or as a learned behaviour. A prolonged digit sucking habit is more common in girls.

Dummy habits on the other hand tend to stop well before the adult teeth begin to erupt around the age of 6 years old.

What is the result of prolonged thumb sucking?

If a sucking habit continues beyond age 7, problems with the position of the teeth can occur. The extent to which the teeth are affected depends on how often the child is sucking, how hard they suck, and at what age they eventually stop. Sucking for more than 6 hours a day or night is most likely to cause problems with the teeth.

As a result of sucking, the teeth can develop a vertical gap, also known as an open bite, making chewing food more difficult. The upper teeth can begin to stick out, and the upper jaw begins to narrow, making the bite inadequate. Such problems are likely to create a need for complex orthodontic work later on.

How to stop a child sucking their thumb

A digit sucking habit is not an easy habit to stop. The sucking needs to stop during the day before it will stop in the night. The child also needs to want the habit to stop.

The best way to help them stop is through encouraging positive behaviour. Praise them with daily encouragement, use a reward system if you feel it appropriate. Avoid nagging, teasing or shaming your child and instead be positive and build up their self-esteem.

Remember that for many children, sucking their thumb is a comforting thing.

A bandage, glove or bitter-tasting nail varnish may also be used to deter the habit.

If breaking the sucking habit still proves difficult, we can also construct a habit breaker to make thumb sucking more difficult.

Orthodontic treatment following a sucking habit

If a sucking habit stops before the age of 7, the teeth and jaws will usually correct themselves with normal growth. If however it continues beyond the age of 7, the adult teeth can be permanently affected, resulting in the need for complex orthodontic treatment.

This treatment will only be fully successful if the sucking habit has fully stopped.

As with all habits, the longer the habit persists, the harder it is to break. The sooner a sucking habit is stopped, the lesser the effect on the person’s teeth.

Will dummy sucking affect my child’s teeth?

A dummy habit is usually less damaging as most children stop before the age of 7. Children who use a dummy are also less likely to become a thumb or finger sucker.

If you do opt to give your child a dummy, never sweeten the dummy as this risks tooth decay.

Need orthodontic advice following a sucking habit?

If your teeth have been affected by a sucking habit as a child, or you are concerned about your child’s teeth, why not come and talk to us at Quayside Orthodontics where our team of friendly experts are always happy to help.