Understanding How Thumb Sucking May And May Not Be Bad For The Teeth

Posted on

If you have a child who sucks him thumb, then you may be concerned about the way that the behavior affects the teeth. This is a real concern, and your dentist has likely started to discuss the problem with you. However, if your child is still young and still has his baby teeth, then you do not need to worry about the problem just yet. You will need to worry about the issue though once the central incisors begin to erupt at around the age of six. To understand why thumb sucking does not cause an issue with the baby teeth but does with the adult teeth, keep reading.

Why Is Thumb Sucking OK For Baby Teeth?

Your child will start to develop their baby teeth around the age of six months. The milk teeth begin to develop as your child grows in the womb, and the teeth continue their formation as your child ages. Baby teeth look similar to the adult teeth with a crown and a root. The baby teeth are the place holders for the adult teeth that develop in the jaw after the baby teeth emerge. Milk teeth are typically small and are much weaker than the adult teeth. As each adult tooth starts to move up into the mouth, the adult tooth crown will place direct pressure against the root of the baby tooth. The root dissolves and the biting edge falls out of the mouth.

As the roots of the baby teeth start to wear away, then dental crowns become easier to shift. A great deal of pressure is placed on the front teeth when your child sucks his thumb, and this can force the front teeth to migrate a little bit. The migrating teeth will not disrupt the movement of the adult teeth. This means that the position of the baby teeth and their slight movement will have little effect on the adult teeth. 

Thumb sucking is a self soothing technique that can help children calm themselves. The habit is beneficial to children and helps them deal with emotions like fear, hunger, boredom, and sleepiness. This means that thumb sucking can have some benefits, and your child should not be completely dissuaded from the habit at a young age.

Why Is The Habit Bad For Adult Teeth?

Once the adult teeth come into the mouth, thumb sucking is no longer a soothing habit for your child. Thumb sucking can actually start to hurt your child's oral health. The thumb can push on the adult teeth and move them outward a little bit at a time. As pressure continues, the teeth will force the bone along the jaw to wear away and the teeth will continue to move. Since the most pressure will be placed at the base of the teeth, the incisors will angle and also move out over the bottom teeth a significant amount.

Tooth pressure can cause a permanent overbite. An overbite can lead to future TMJ issues, sleep problems, gum damage, tooth cracks, and eating issues. While overbites can be repaired by an orthodontist, it is best to avoid the problem if this is possible. The best way to prevent the misalignment issue is to work with your child and dentist to stop thumb sucking habits before the incisors erupt. The good news is that most children grow out of thumb sucking behaviors around the time they start preschool. Watch your child closely between the age of five and six to make sure the behavior resolves itself.

If your child sucks his thumb, then this may not be an issue until your child develops his upper incisors. However, you should work closely with your dentist to make sure the habit stops before it permanently changes the position of the teeth.